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Gaddesden Estate News May 2020

As many readers will know, we write a regular update, most months, in the Great Gaddesden Parish Newsletter. Because of Covid 19 Coronavirus, publication of the Newsletter was briefly suspended, partly as the Church is closed, with services live-streamed from the Vicarage or, more recently, from the church.  

Unusual times!
In a change of routine, in these unusual times, I started to write early in April, the day after the Queen’s very reassuring address. We had a wonderful spell of weather, a time which is sometimes called a “Blackthorn Summer” throughout Holy Week and beyond. The blackthorn blossom was stunningly beautiful and the blossom of the wild cherries, sometimes called “gean”, puts me in mind of A E Houseman’s poem from “A Shropshire Lad”:

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bough”.

If you know the poem it is particularly poignant for those who have passed their threescore years and ten.
We were very sorry to have had to cancel our 500th anniversary celebrations, a festival evensong on 4th April and a farm walk and open day on 16th May. We hope that when this virus is under control, or we pray, has run its course, we will be able to commemorate the anniversary in some other way.

Natural History
We had the longest and wettest winter that anyone can remember, so the sunny spell came as a great relief. Although it was very dry, we received enough rain to get our spring crops on the way.  One of the beneficial results of the wet winter was the most marvellous display of wild flowers; the Lent Lilies (Wild Daffodils) were the most spectacular that I can remember, both in the woods and the hedges, and there have been masses of primroses.

As we move on through May, most of the older woods have been carpeted with great swathes of Bluebells. And now the hawthorn bushes, sometimes called Quickthorn or May, are displaying their mounts of blossom.  There are several pairs of Lapwings on various fields with their very distinctive cry, and we hear the sound of woodpeckers and the hooting of the tawny owls. A Great spotted woodpecker has been at our bird feeder and a Green Woodpecker, sometimes called a “Yaffle”, has been around. We have only heard a cuckoo on a couple of occasions. There are wagtails and gold finches in abundance.

One noticeable effect of the lock-down has been the return to quietness, with hardly any aeroplanes coming over form Luton airport and the lanes returning to levels of traffic not encountered since the 1950s. When the wind is in the east we still get a hum from the M1 Motorway, though less than usual. Let us hope that when we return to something approaching normality governments around the world will build on the dramatic reductions in carbon omissions brought about by the pandemic slowdown.
Farm work continues, irrespective of the virus, but has little problem with social distancing!
We ploughed-up, metaphorically as we no longer use a plough, the Oil Seed Rape, which had failed due to Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle, in the fields overlooking Great Gaddesden called Under the Hoo, Glennisters and Crosspaths, and part of the land which overlooks the “Red Lion” in Water End. These areas have been drilled (sown) with a ground cover crop, which acts as a “green manure” and will give a good lead in to next year’s Winter Wheat.  We also lost the Winter Barley in Bingham’s Bottom and much of Elmtree Park. This has been replaced by Spring Beans. The planned spring cropping area has been drilled with two different crops, Spring Oats and Linseed, both of which are looking well. It was cheering to see farm work getting underway at last and to hear the distinctive sound of the Cambridge Rollers.

Sub-compartment 7k in Big Wood, which readers may remember we replanted with Oak, Douglas Fir and Coast Redwood a couple of years ago, has again received the attention of the fallow deer, with the bucks trashing the tree guards, notwithstanding the protection which the mounds of bramble have partially given. We have “swiped” (flailed) between several of the rows and we are now able to see that many of the young trees are alive, indeed the redwoods are romping away, but frequently their growth is being impeded by the bent over guards. Clearing them is a job to do in the near future, to allow them to grow straight and true.

Oak Processionary Moth
Covid 19 is not the only nasty thing that has arrived in the UK! If you are walking in woods or near oak trees watch out for Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars. You can identify it by going to the Forestry Commission or Forest Research website. Not only does the moth cause damage to trees, but the caterpillars have hairs which can give an unpleasant rash to people and animals. If you find a nest or a procession of caterpillars, these should be reported to the Forestry Commission.

During the initial lock-down the Ride was closed and the monthly Park & Ride events suspended. We opened again 18th May, following guidance from the British Horse Society. The going is very hard, because of the lack of rain and we are advising members not to use the jumps.

Estate matters
Work virtually has stopped because of lock-down. We are progressing, slowly, with the refurbishment of the Golden Lodge. Having re-tiled the roof and re-pointed the chimneys, the two decorative brackets on the front gables have been renewed. The next task is the replacement of some of the windows.

We have been in regular touch with residential and business occupiers, several of whom have had difficulties due to the situation and are doing what we can to assist where it is appropriate.
We wish everybody all the best, and trust that readers remain in good health!