Quick Forests

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The National Trust is planning to plant twenty million trees over the next decade as part of its efforts to become a net zero carbon emitter by 2030, which it says will cost some £90m- £100m. The organisation made the announcement back in January, to mark its 125th anniversary.
By the end of the decade, it says the new trees and natural regeneration of woods will cover more than 44,000 acres, an area one and a half times the size of Manchester. It will mean that 17% of the land the National Trust looks after will be wooded, up from 10%. This is a big ask and the trees will take decades to bear fruit – thirty to fifty years of growth is realistic to achieve significant reductions of carbon.
The focus will be on planting on farmland – including in upland areas – that the Trust owns, rather than in country estates, but the director general, Hilary McGrady, said the National Trust would be working with farmers to deliver the targets. The use of cultivated farmland would seem counter productive unless it is surplus to requirements.
Keeping global warming below 1.5 °C to avoid dangerous climate change  requires the removal of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as drastic cuts in emissions. No one knows how to capture so much CO2. Forests must play a part – locking up carbon in ecosystems is proven, safe and very affordable if volunteers are involved. Increasing tree cover has the benefit of also increasing biodiversity, but there is a quicker method than traditional planting. The Trust need an innovative approach.

Quick – forests …………….

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis – Miyawaki forests. Often sited around school playing fields or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than one thousand such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere.
Advocates for the method say the miniature forests grow ten times faster and become thirty times denser and one hundred times more bio-diverse than those planted by conventional methods. This result is achieved by planting saplings close together, three per square metre, without plastic tree guards, using native varieties adapted to local conditions. A wide variety of species – ideally thirty or more – are planted to recreate the layers of a natural forest. Birds like the nightingale and partridge, abundant at Ashridge in the fifties and sixties require dense planting for nesting, something which is now sorely missing on the Estate.
Scientists say such ecosystems are key to meeting climate goals, estimating that natural forests can store forty times more carbon than single-species plantations. The Miyawaki forests are designed to regenerate land in far less time than the seventy-plus years it takes for a forest to mature on its own. The recent removal of the coniferous plantations in Rail Copse and Frithsden Little Copse are all very well but replanting will take decades to have any significant effect on carbon reduction – the soil preparation ready for replanting has released significant amounts of stored carbon! Re-planting with single-species like hornbeam does very little to boost biodiversity and store carbon compared with mixed planting.
There are currently some fifty acres of unused land in small patches around Frithsden and Ringshall which would be ideal for small-scale Miyawaki forests. Then there is the one hundred acres of Northchurch open common which is due for upgrading now that the planning restrictions have lapsed. The present twenty year Woodland Management plan has no provision for increasing the woodland cover at Ashridge! Something for the Executive Committee to consider.

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Changing Fortunes

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John Wilson arrived at Ashridge in 1957 to take up the post of Head Ranger, and was to become the most influential National Trust manager during his thirty four years service. He was responsible for much of the new planting and was the man responsible for turning Frithsden Little Copse into a larch plantation – coniferous plantations were fashionable at that time – it has lain neglected for over fifty years. His team removed the scrub and scattered and degraded deciduous trees by hand using cross-cut saws and axes – before the arrival of the chain-saw. Frithsden Little Copse was originally part of the open common heathland considered as unproductive by the Bridgewaters, therefore enclosed and planted up with mixed deciduous trees in the early 1800’s.
Non native larch plantations are currently suffering a fungal disease attack which can quickly destroy all trees so the nineteen acres of conifers has now been clear-felled by Norfolk Contractors and removed for pulp, wood – chip bedding and fence posts – larch poles have very little commercial value. As part of the twenty year woodland management plan the copse will be reinstated with native broad-leaf trees, giving much more biodiversity.

nothing lasts forever

The village of Frithsden, first mentioned in 1291 as Frithesdene, has been a conservation area since 1968.
By the beginning of the C19th, the Ashridge Estate had acquired most of the holdings in the Frithsden valley and the farmers were all tenants – the Bridgewaters aspired to become landed gentry – living off rental income. The hamlet expanded and contracted according to the relative fortunes of the Estate. In the early C19th, work was plentiful and between 1821 and 1830 a total of eighty families lived in Frithsden. Farm buildings such as the yard formerly attached to Holly Bush Farm enshrine the ‘model farm’ principles adopted by estate landlords. Cottages also housed labourers who worked in the south facing walled kitchen gardens and orchards at the western end of the valley. This vast enterprise catered for more than just the needs of Ashridge House, with surplus produce being sent by train to Covent Garden in Victorian London. When the Estate was sold in the 1920’s the gardens became a prosperous family-run commercial nursery. The skills and expertise generated by the estate gardens no doubt spilt over into the rest of the hamlet. Relic fruit trees are reminders that Frithsden is reputedly the home of the cherry turnover, using only black cherries called caroon cherries – an important early agricultural product in this area of Hertfordshire. With the demise of the Estate in the C20th, the population of the hamlet dwindled drastically. Buildings now punctuate the valley bottom with generous spaces between them but the Tithe Map of 1840 shows as many as thirty six houses lining the road from the Alford Arms to Frithsden Gardens. These earlier cottages filled in many of the present gaps between Hollybush Farm and Bede Cottage where eight dwellings once stood – one of which was a beer-house. In the 1850’s three straw-thatched cottages burnt down. Other lost buildings include the group of cottages that stood on the strip of heath land known as Cherry Bounce, on the south side of the Green. Another building probably provided by the Estate but now lost, was a communal wash-house and a large brick oven, fired by gorse “fuzzen-sticks”, where housewives of the hamlet baked bread and cooked the Sunday joint at a cost of one penny. Wells for drinking water and an ice-house were also built by the Bridgewaters in the early days.
Many of the properties including the Alford Arms have now been gentrified to suit modern tastes with restrictions imposed by the conservation area status.

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Sheer joy – but alas now a faded feeling


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Thanks for the memory


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For those wishing to take the air, fear not for the rules on confinement have been clarified.
Driving to the countryside for a walk on the wild side – where more time is spent doing the latter than the former – is among a list of reasonable reasons for Britons leaving their home during the coronavirus lockdown, according to advice issued to police. It seems like a reward for good behaviour during confinement.
document published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the professional standards body the College of Policing says public statements made soon after the adoption of the lockdown regulations suggested members of the public could leave their homes only if “essential” to do so. The document categorically states it is “lawful to drive for exercise”. However, driving for a prolonged period for only brief exercise would “not likely” be a reasonable excuse. Driving a distance to Ashridge for a short walk for the dog would not be permitted under the rules.

The Privations of Lockdown


Should you meet another walker on any trip, social distancing should be adhered to – you can always get up close and personal with the flowering trees and plants – smell the violets or wild garlic!
The blackthorn has been saturated in white blossom in the hedgerows, but is now gone over – so we await may. The hawthorn to be precise, which flowers after leafing in May, whereas the blackthorn flowers before leafing. The woodland bird cherries are still in bloom, and of course the gorse which lives with a pleasant hum of bees. There are rarities at Ashridge like the cherry-plum in Pitstone car park and the wild pear at the foot of the Beacon – both gone over now. We can look forward to the spring flowering of the wayfaring shrub and guilder rose on Steps Hill.
Down at ground level you have the ubiquitous bluebells, with snatches of wood anemone and primroses in the woods, then wood sorrel and yellow archangel to follow, while the chalk downs might throw up a rare pasque flower or an early gentian – certainly lots of cowslips.
There is a joy of noticing something new each time you take your daily state-sanctioned exercise.

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The phrase was first coined by Rachel Carson in 1962 in her book of the same name, exposing the decline in songbirds through the indiscriminate use of chemicals in the countryside.
Today the shutdown of modern life as we know it is liberating British wildlife to enjoy newly depopulated landscapes, at the same time as we appreciate the gathering quietude.
When we move out, obviously nature moves in – when dog faeces and scent markings are gone, then the fox, stoat and weasel appear, and ground nesting birds prosper. Moles have been appearing above ground in increasing numbers! Northchurch Common could see record numbers of skylark and pipit this year. Maybe the arrival of the grey partridge or pheasant from nearby Hill Farm as they extend their good work on biodiversity.

When did you last see a pheasant at Ashridge?

Down Farm can boast a resident covey of grey partridge which should thrive without human disturbance and the regular larks, pipits, buntings and yellow hammers on Pitstone Hill will be in their element. Quail have been about for the last two years and they could be joined by such rarities as the wheatear or even the stone curlew. In the 18th century wheatear were so numerous on the Downs that they were trapped and sold as a delicacy to travellers at the coaching inns in Dunstable. The deer will roam abroad.
One of the positive things that could come out of our confinement is the realisation that machinery noise damages us and damages our minds. Without traffic and aeroplane noise – no holiday flights on the Luton flight path and road travel falling to levels last seen in the fifties – we hear the birds more clearly along with the wind.
Will we get to hear the throb of life itself in the dawn chorus? – not this year.
Will we get to see the bluebells in Dockey Wood or the wild daffodils at Webb’s Copse. Sadly no.

Credit to Matt

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On or Off?

Since the events list for Spring/Summer published last month exhorting volunteers to “get-together”, the Trust has detailed twelve further events – some are now in doubt following the Government’s intervention over the coronavirus outbreak.

You will need to check on the event details at  helping.ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk 

Monday 25th – Friday 29th May Ashridge Through the Ages  10.00am- 3.30pm
Head into the Visitor Centre to complete your craft for the history trail.

Sunday 31st May Canine Capers 10.00am- 12.30pm
Watch the ProDogs team demonstrate agility with their dogs – then join in!

Monday 1st June  Ashridge Through the Ages 11.00am
Exhibition opening – All year display of past life at Ashridge.

Saturday 13th June  Photography Workshop 10.00am- 4pm
A professionally led workshop for beginners – lunch provided.

Saturday 20th June Photography Workshop – intermediate stage 10.00am- 4pm
A professionally led workshop for non beginners – lunch provided.

Sunday 5th July  The Dovecote 11.00am- 3pm
A rare chance to see inside the 18th century vernacular building.

Monday 6th July Chalkland Flower Walk 2.30pm – 4.30pm
A volunteer led walk to identify summer flowers.

Sunday 26th July  The BioBlitz 10.00am – 4.00pm
Look for wildlife on Ivinghoe Beacon with the Rangers.

Every Tuesday and Thursday 28th July – 27th August  Ashridge Adventurers  10.30am – 12.00pm and 1.30pm – 3pm
Children can learn more about Ashridge’s animals and plants from the experts.

Friday 31st July Totally Batty Walk 8.30pm – 10.00pm
A Ranger led walk to identify the local bat population.

Tuesday 4th August  Hanging Coombe 2.30pm – 4.30pm
A volunteer led walk through this part of the Estate.

Saturday 22nd August Big Family Cycle 10.00am – 12.00pm
A guided cycle ride for the family through the woods.

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Rail against the weather

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Despite the recent appalling weather conditions the Trust has managed to start on the restoration of Rail Copse – with visitor cooperation. The public have been entrusted for the first time to help with planting trees on the Estate! This taps into the public urge to plant more trees to combat climate change – and visitors have turned out to meet the challenge.
The western half of Rail Copse, some thirteen acres, was planted up in 1966 with Scots pines after the area was clear-felled – but has been neglected over the years as a plantation – a commercial enterprise which did not materialise.
The overall twenty six acres of Rail Copse was enclosed woodland originally part of Aldbury common, planted up with hornbeam coppice in the early part of the 19th century by the Bridgewaters. Trees were traditionally cultivated as coppice and historically harvested for the hard, dense wood with a calorific value approaching anthracite. However, it appears the commoners were not allowed into the woodland to cut and coppice hornbeam for firewood or to allow their livestock to forage on hornbeam’s succulent spring foliage.
As part of the 20 year Ashridge Woodland Management Plan, Norfolk contractors moved in to clear-fell the Scots pine, with the larger logs harvested for agricultural use and the remainder chipped for livestock bedding – important that the wood is not used for biomass burning when it would release its stored carbon into the atmosphere. The wet conditions required the access track to be beefed up with a layer of chalk clunch.
The new wood is to be planted up with hundreds of Carpinus betulus which are only native in England as far north as Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire is hornbeam country.

Hertfordshire is hornbeam country



Time has been of the essence with Spring fast approaching putting a stop to tree planting. The forest floor has been prepared for the new “whips” – the small bare-rooted saplings – but any disturbance to the topsoil will inevitably lead to carbon leakage into the atmosphere, which has been absorbed by the soil over the last sixty years.
Despite its long-standing reputation as an under storey tree, hornbeam should be seriously considered for planting and culture as a standard high-forest tree, rather than coppicing. There are no identifiable potential disasters from insect pests and pathogens waiting in the wings for the hornbeam, apart from the deer.
Its credentials for combating climate change, including warmer and drier growing conditions, appear encouraging. Together with beech, hornbeam was one of the last tree species to cross the land bridge which once connected the British Isles with the rest of Europe. As such, it should be in a better position than most to withstand any future climate warming in the UK. This calculation is supported by the natural distribution of Carpinus betulus, which extends right across Europe, through the Balkans and well into western Asia.
At least our offspring can look forward to a fecund forest!

Next stop Frithsden Copse.

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The National Trust has ditched plastic for the annual membership card it sends out to the 5.5 million members, in favour of a paper alternative. This is part of the ten year plan announced in the Spring of 2018 to address the scourge of plastic pollution.
The new card will be made from a type of strong and durable paper featuring a tough water-based coating, with the paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. They will be produced in a mill powered by its own biomass.
The Trust said the new cards would remove the use of 12.5 tonnes of plastic a year from the environment – not a great amount in the grand scheme of things but it shows good intention.
The new cards will be entirely recyclable and compostable, as well as coming in at a fraction of the cost of the old cards, which were made of a chalk based plastic, a by-product of the mining industry.
The National Trust said the move was part of a range of measures it was bringing in to protect the environment and tackle the climate emergency, after a survey showed it was backed by the majority of the members.

Plastic free before 2023

The Trust’s membership team said: “Replacing our membership cards is a great step towards helping to reduce our impact on the environment, which we know is an important issue for so many of our supporters.” The magazine which is issued three times a year is already dispatched in a potato starch wrapping, saving some sixteen million plastic wrappers a year!

Elsewhere, the charity is looking at removing plastic from most of its greeting cards and wrapping paper, and looking at alternatives to plastic tree guards and plant pots which would be a major breakthrough. They are trialling drink dispensers to reduce sales of single use plastic in bottled drinks in the shops – there was no evidence of any plastic tat last Christmas – all very tasteful and progressive.

credit to PAMedia



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Get Together!

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Get out and about as a Volunteer or Visitor.
Spring into action on one of these planned events on the Estate.
You will need to check on the event details before you sign up at helping.ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk 

At present there are twelve events on offer – ten less than last year!

The big surprise is the tree planting event, when for the first time the public are offered the chance to plant a tree on the Estate – it is normally frowned upon!

Monday 17th – Friday 21st February Half-term Trail and Crafts 10.00am- 3pm
Head into the Visitor Centre to complete your craft before following the underground trail.

Saturday 29th February  Tree Planting  9.30am – 11.30am
Help restore Rail Copse by planting native trees.

Monday 6th – Thursday 9th April  Early Bird Easter Egg Offer 10am – 4pm
Check out the Easter nature trail. – NOW CANCELLED

Friday 10th – Monday 13th April  Easter Weekend Trail 10am – 4pm
Complete the woodland trail to claim a prize Easter egg. – NOW CANCELLED

Tuesday 14th – Friday 17th April  Easter Crafts  10 00am- 4pm
Make and decorate an Easter craft at the Visitor Centre. – NOW CANCELLED

Saturday 18th – Monday 20th April Watercolour Workshops 10am – 1pm
Create your own image of bluebells – materials and refreshments provided. – NOW CANCELLED

Saturday 25th & Sunday 26th April, Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd May, Saturday 8th – Monday 10th May  Dockey Wood 10am – 4pm — NOW CANCELLED

Learn about the creation of this iconic bluebell wood.

Thursday 30th April & Saturday 9th May, Bluebell Walks 6pm -7.30pm – NOW CANCELLED

A mindfulness evening walk to see the best of the bluebells. – NOW CANCELLED

Saturday 2nd & 9th May Dawn Chorus 6 – 8am
Experience early morning bird song with the rangers – breakfast included. — NOW CANCELLED

Wednesday 6th May Gentle Stroll 10.30am – 12.30pm
A volunteer – led look at the bluebells. — NOW CANCELLED

Sunday 21st June  Fun Ride  10am – 12pm
Bring your horse for a way-marked ride over the Ivinghoe hills

Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th August  Big Camp 12.00am – 12.00am

Bring the whole family for a fun-filled night at Ashridge

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