A summer of surveys!

And a hearty welcome back to the office for our ecologists and arboriculturalists!

It’s been a manic summer, packed with a real plethora of interesting places, buildings and habitats for us to survey, survey, survey. From woodlands to barns, brownfield sites to ancient trees, we’ve really seen it all this summer. Two days have really stood out though where we can showcase all that Arbor Vitae does; Burwarton Show and our guided farm walk. Our stand at the annual and incredibly popular Burwarton Show was as enjoyable as ever, despite Bertie the Bugcatcher not being able to make it this year! To all the youngsters disappointed in his absence though….you never know, he might just be back again next year!

The second pinnacle of the summer, our guided farm walk, was a result of the Whitegrove Trophy we won back in the Autumn of last year. With a picture and write up in the local farming press, it was wonderfully well attended, and really topped off the satisfaction of being awarded the prize.

Whitegrove Trophy Press Article

Whitegrove Trophy Press Article


In search of bats…

And so the trees are finished. With aching muscles and some jolly good looking new woodlands in the Welsh Marches, we are swinging straight into the ecology survey season. Tonight is our first foray of the year into bat spotting, as the barn conversion surveys start. Great crested newt surveying has already begun, and the ecology kit is being dug out and dusted off. And, to make our ecologists happy, we’ve invested in some super expensive, shiny and remarkably clever new bat recording kit, which (if you get excited by such things) is really rather exciting. Our next few months are always enjoyable; habitat surveys on development sites and species surveys for building conversions. A spot of nice weather and it doesn’t make for a bad occupation.


(This is a long eared bat we spotted a coupe of years ago whilst surveying for a barn conversion, and he’s been used on numerous posters and show banners since!)

The Great Tree Rush!

With the sudden and unexpected warm weather (we were digging ewes and lambs out of snow drifts at the end of March last year) the tree planting season is coming to a rapid close.  The warmth inevitably brings dormant broadleaves into bud and leaf, which signals the deadline for safely transplanting broadleaf trees.  Although tree planting has been our main winter occupation for the last 30 odd years, and despite the fact we’ve dug, shoved and dropped a good 3 million trees into the ground, we get caught out by the onrush of spring every year.  This year, we’ve got ~25,000 trees left to plant, so it’s all hands on deck (whilst gently swearing never to agree another tree planting contract).  Perhaps next year will be less frantic….

Goodbye Primrose, hello TB

Many people keep in touch with rural matters by listening at 7pm each evening to The Archers on Radio 4.  Sadly for us, Tony’s latest dead cow and TB storyline has been rather close to the bone.  Farming, as with many professions, can only be successful when faced with an unbridled passion, an absolute humour and light heartedness and a skill for taking everything with a pinch of salt.  As our previous updates have hinted, the positives regularly outweigh the frequent negatives in trying to make the farm profitable.  Sadly, certain negatives really hit hard.

 For the first time in 6 years, we have had a positive TB reactor in our pedigree South Devon herd.  A 6 year old cow, Tenhouse Primrose, was found by our vet to be a TB carrier, and has to be slaughtered.  Although the rest of the herd appear free of the disease, they are of course all at risk now, and we are nervously awaiting a further test in 60 days.  Our loss is negligible compared to some herds, but the distress is just as great.

 Despite all efforts to control this tragic and expensive disease, our vets tell us that current steps are making no difference.  And surely the ill-managed and probably inconclusive badger cull in Somerset will lead us no further forward.  Where is a cattle vaccine?  DEFRA have worked on research for a vaccine since 1998 and there is still no indication that it is imminent.  As everyone acknowledges, a complete badger cull is unlikely, and only a half solution.  In the meantime, with no prospect of a vaccine, the country will continue to pay approximately £87 million (the 2009-2010 figure if you google it) to slaughter 32-38,000 cattle a year (according to the dairyco.org.uk website).  Yet DEFRA are investing only £9.3 million over the next 4 years to research the vaccine. 

 It’s a subject we get asked our opinion on a lot; as a halfway man between agriculture and ecology, everyone is keen to know our stance.  Badgers or the cattle industry?  Our own loss at the hands of TB makes it even trickier to stay objective.  Fingers crossed that in 60 days we don’t lose any more of our beautiful beasties. 

Our South Devon girls

We’ve had enough of trees!

As the tree planting season draws to a close, we’ve come to the conclusion that we really have had enough of trees.  Maybe that is a little over the top, but some of our tree planting projects this spring have been enormous, and it’s jolly hard work.  Despite the aching muscles though, there’s definitely a sense of pride in a beautifully planted tree, woodland or park.  Our office has been heaving with maps and reports, making the daily site visits for our various projects a welcome relief.  And, just to prove that it is indeed the start of spring (despite the snow forecast for us in the next few days), our hens at the farm have started laying in earnest. Always a welcome sign that the spring and summer work is finally here.

Where were we again?

The Autumn at Arbor Vitae is all about tree planting, tree guards, hedge planting, spiral guards, tree planting, tree shelters, and we also knocked a shed down (on purpose) to mix things up a bit.  Happily the residents of Shropshire, Staffordshire and our surrounding counties have been busily applying for planning permission on a range of old buildings, and we have kept our resident ecologist whizzing up and down the Welsh Marches.  Our office, specifically, has been a place of great activity in the last few months however, as we have finally updated our website, and launched our pride and joy: the online shop!  We are filling it with the items that we ourselves use most regularly, going with the assumption that those items are probably most useful to you too.  We hope you enjoy it.  And as we’ve not mentioned the farm yet (Lewis is already practicing his ‘show-ring’ walk, and the commercial ewes will be scanned soon), here is a picture of our Whitegrove Trophy, which we excitedly dressed up in our gladrags for and collected at a fantastic evening late in the autumn.Whitegrove Trophy

Farming Competition Winners

We’ve won an award! Our farm has just been announced as the annual sustainable farming Whitegrove Trophy Competition 2013 winners. We are absolutely thrilled with this recognition of our ethics, principals and interests, and what we have managed to achieve under them. Our native South Devon cattle, including Lewis-the-Showstopper bull, and our growing flock of commercial sheep are grazed extensively and on a rotation, which in conjunction with our arable land management, has created a commercial farm that is rich and varied in natural habitats, and above all, healthy.

We’ve got patches of wet grazing and marsh, ancient woodland and tons of hedges, which aren’t your typical productive farm features, but our stock are our measure of success, and thankfully this award has highlighted how we have made it work. A tradition with the Whitegrove Trophy is a farm walk in the spring for local farmers, land managers, and those that are interested, with the intention of extending the knowledge and experience base of sustainable farming. If you want to come and see what we have done, and how we are doing it, then please do get in touch, and we’ll see if the spring walk can accommodate more.

Summer Arrival

August has flown past us once again this year, and the shock of September nearing has made us all buckle down to finish the summer work. As the last of the stewardship and woodland creation applications leave the office (yes, we managed to make the deadline, but if you are looking to apply for either give us a call to discuss what options are still open), we can concentrate on our remaining survey work. As ever, we’ve been dutifully distracted from our paid work this summer, with a staff trip to see rare herb grasslands in the alps, and an impressive new arrival on the farm: Lewis.

Lewis is our AI man replacement, and at the grand old age of 19 months, is already famous, after winning his South Devon bull class at the Shropshire Show, and coming 4th at the Royal Welsh. The girls have accepted him into the herd with reverence, and our stockman is already planning his showing schedule for next year. And just as an aside, Bertie the Bug Catcher (he turned out to not be so Beastly in the end), managed to support 14 items of wildlife, much to the interest and amazement of the under 5’s at Burwarton Show. Thank you to all of you who came to see us and buy a few birdboxes!

At Burwarton Show…

We are off to our favourite of the summertime shows next week – BURWARTON SHOW! If you are in the Shropshire/West Midlands/mid Wales area and haven’t been before then we strongly recommend a visit. Our debut entry into the annual stallholders scarecrow competition is proving to be a fantastic distraction from our normal work, but The Beastly Bug Catcher (Bertie for short) is shaping up to be a strapping young ecologist.

Come to meet him on Thursday 1st August (the show postcode is WV16 6QJ), and see the rest of our stall. This year we will be showcasing some of our products that can be found in our online shop (opening soon) as well as providing advice on the legislation around ecological surveys if you are planning any building work, and the approaching deadlines for stewardship and woodland creation grants.

Woodland Grant Changes

Woodland grants are currently being shifted around, and the latest round of changes affect your deadlines, dependent on where you are working. Being situated in Shropshire, the most applicable changes to our partners are:

  • England: If you wish to plant under the Woodland Creation Grant, your application and approval deadline will remain fixed at 31 December 2013. However, the planting deadline (and the start thereon of claiming Farm Woodland Payment) for this work has been extended to 30 September 2015.
  • Wales: Similarly, planting under Glastir Woodland Creation has a deadline of 31 December 2013. Initial applications for this however have a deadline of 2 September 2013.

If you want more advice on this please give us a call – that’s the easiest way to explain it!