Monday 27 February 2017

Le Pré de la Forge....Five old Saules... part the third... 2007 and the heat is on!!

The weather in February 2007 was wonderful...
it even brought out the Small Tortoiseshell from hibernation...
and, yes, there were flowers for it to feed from! [taken19th February]

By this point Stuart and I had got into a routine.
Cut the 'trees' off the top of the old pollard....
deal with the usable timber, plant trees, cut rods...
and refill the cattle splash.

Why 'trees'...
mainly because that is what they were...
pollarding usually takes place between ten and twenty five years after a cut...
only really dependent on what wood you are trying to harvest.

With the final tidying of the tree nearest the bridge I was able to take a nice oblique slice at the base of one of the branches and this made counting rings easier....
all forty-one of them....
the trees were last 'tetarded' in 1964.

This tied in with the old 'milk record' books that we found....
the milking and managing as a farm ceased in 1985.
The twenty-five year cut would have been due in 1989 and, by this time, the owner was using it as a holiday home a couple of times a year.
The farm was managed, the owner was a 'pub landlord' in Poitiers.
So no one bothered.

We want firewood...
so will probably take a second cut at ten years from  the four strongest [2015 to 2019].
I am now thinking of using the weakest one, that we cut in 2006, as a source of rods....
it also seems to be a slightly different colour to the rest.

We chose the second tree from the bridge as this year's 'victim' and proceeded to drop branches.
The method was as follows...
cut down an outward leaning 'trunk', process, stack and pile the 'lop & top' up ready for burning.
All progressed well but...
not for long.

The fourth branch twisted slightly as it fell, and landed, absolutely horizontal, on the first tree...
fortunately for us, it landed in between the two growing points!!

The snagged branch, lying across the space...
would make a good hammock spot?

But it was still attached. How to deal with that?
My procedure was as follows...

I started by cutting off all the branches furthest away...
until I arrived at the 'snag' point...
the first pollard...
unfortunately I didn't think to take photos...
I was too busy trying to get the branch down!

Rope two fully extended Acroprops just forward from the butt end to form a tripod.

Cut out the section between the props and the tree...
leaving the trunk supported at the props and the first tree.

Stuart and I then pulled the two Acros away [using ropes], until the trunk reached the ground safely.

Undercut the trunk in sections until the end that was resting in the first tree was almost upright.

Climb ladder resting on first tree and with a Y-pole push the last length over...
snag removed.

Final cuts made, it was time to tidy up.

All timber cut, stacked under tree 1 and the whole area tidied.
It was then OK to fell the rest, section them and stack the good timber up to dry
When the last branch had been dealt with in this way, then it was time for a bonfire.

More timber stacked on right;
Stuart by the bonfire and the area of branches in the foreground
is creating a habitat for insects, birds and small mammals.

As the fire got going so did the heat...
you can see the haze in the top left of this picture.

Once we'd cleaned up, it was onto the tree planting.
We had had a greater success with the young rods, about fifty percent take...
but lost a lot as a result of our infrequent visits in the height of summer.
Yes! I can hear you gasp....
"house in France and they don't use it in the summer?"

Well, no we didn't, we had 600 sq.yds of allotment to take care of in Leeds!
That was feeding us [on the veggie and fruit front at least] and needed tending to almost constantly.
We hadn't lost, however, more than three of the rods that were crammed into the 'cattle splash' nursery.

We left the 2007 rods in the now 'less than temporary' keeping pond and began to lift the young trees from the nursery.
Using a sharp spade, I cut down through the roots between each tree, one at a time, and then Stuart would pull it over and I'd cut through the tap root and we'd get a bin bag over the root block.
Once we had a barrow load [about half a dozen trees] we'd then move on to planting them.
We weren't precious about this....
it was...
[i] dig a hole large enough to get the root block into comfortably and about ten centimetres deeper,
[ii] stuff root block into the hole,
[iii] back fill and stomp heavily to firm the tree in and pile what didn't go back in around the tree.
No staking, no feeding, no nice compost...
they were on their own, planted about twenty centimetres deeper than they had been in the nursery.

We used these to 'beat up' the 2006 failures along the ditch towards the house and add to the two  survivors in the clump.

Next it was 'beat up' the line along the bief and extend it towards the 'Five old Saules'.
Once that was done we crammed eighty new rods into the nursery and put the rest out into the original two areas from 2005 to extend those.

As you will read in the next instalment of the saga, we stuck to this routine for 2008.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Le Pré de la Forge... a continuation... 2006

A gratuitous Klimt'ish image of our Norway Maples

As I said in the previous post ...
we started by pollarding the big pollards already on the site.
The plan was to tackle them as 'one a year'....
but that slipped away after the first attempt with bowsaws.

The first willow to be attacked… as it was left in 2005.
You can see the healthy new rods that have grown during the previous twelve months.
Winter 2006 saw us 'armed' with a chainsaw.
That meant that we were able to tidy up the wreckage of the first attempt and finish the tree off properly.
The cut timber was then processed and we took some of it up to the hangar [dutch barn/open barn] to dry out for use as firewood.
The usable rest was stacked at the base of the tree. 

The first tree, once cleaned up, with wood stacked underneath.
The branch underneath, leaning against the trunk is no longer supporting the tree...
The tree lifted towards the upright and the branch fell away

We then tackled a second tree, the smallest and weakest specimen.
That way we were keeping to the original one a year plan!
"Cheats!" I hear you yell....

Two views of the weakling - halfway through and after.
In the background of the first picture the maintenance tasks can be seen lurking.

Some essential maintenance followed on the remaining three trees....
cutting down dead branches and ones that were left unprotected as a result of the other work done.
First three trees pollarded.... hope for the weakling was faint!
The final tidying up on the fifth tree is yet to be done.

As we were less than halfway through the stay, and the fact that...
[a] the cut ends from the previous year had produced good growth and...
[b] the maintenance work on the third tree in the line had left only three good trunks coming up from the head...
we decided to do a full job on that one too.

In 2005 an attempt was made at planting up with first/second year growth from the top of the tree....
what a waste of time that was.
We planted 100 little twigs...
half at the end nearest the weir and the rest in the corner by our neighbours étang and the Aigronne.
We had six survivors at the weir planting....
and two at the lake end. Eight percent success rate!
Or should that really read...
92% FAILURE rate?

However, in 2006 we took a different tack.
There were plenty of really healthy first year rods to be harvested from the untidy ends that we'd had to leave in 2005.

We cut these off before tidying the ends and finishing the pollarding of tree one.
There were over one hundred and fifty one metre to two metre rods.

We placed these in a 'holding pond'...
hastily constructed at the side of the bief...
whilst we concentrated on the pollarding.

Rods stacked in the holding pen before planting.
This kept them wet and safe from being trampled on.

In 2005, I had used the cattle watering shallow to plant some currant bush cuttings that Pauline had taken from our allotment bushes.
30 of them were Redcurrants... probably Jonker van Tets... and 27 of them took.
There were hardly any losses from the White and Blackcurrants either!
[We now have twenty-seven redcurrant bushes in the verger! Ask Pauline....
BUT we still only get fruit the equivalent of two of our allotment bushes....
a combination of frost hollow effect some years and in the good fruiting years...
our feathered "FRIENDS" scoff them before they are fully ripe...

However, armed with this new knowledge...
Stuart and I planted fifty of the rods in a block next door to the thriving cuttings.
Most of the rest were planted at the lake end, in the original block and a group of three opposite...
next to the bief [to start the tree line]...
and at the weir end.
Then the last few were lined out along the ditch that leads up from the Aigronne towards the bridge...
and a small clump planted between the end of the ditch and the bridge.

As I will tell in the next posting... we had more success from the healthier, longer rods.

Monday 20 February 2017

Crane weather

Cranes, 4th March 2013
Last night (18th February) just before 9:30 we heard the unmistakeable bugling of a flight of Common Cranes passing overhead. Impossible to tell how many: we guessed about 60. They were heading up the Aigronne in a generally East-North-East direction. Two hours later, another, bigger (noisier) flight passed over, this timie heading due North. We recorded that one as at least 300, but still it was very much a guess.

Knowing that big flocks of migrating birds occasionally show up on weather radar, I had a look this morning at the Meteo60 web site. The radar map showed two blue streaks leading North-Northeast from the Paris basin toward the Belgian border. The satellite view showed clear skies. I am willing to bet that these blue streaks were cranes, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of them.

Rain Radar map 19 February 2017
When we zoomed in, the bigger of the two patches by far appeared to originate in a large area of marshland just north of the river Oise between Creil and Compiègne. These look ideal spots for cranes to roost overnight. At this higher level of detail, it was possible to see waves of birds on the animated radar map as they left their overnight pitstop. The other patch seemed to come from an area north of the Marne, not too far from the Lac du Der.

Sunset squadron, 8th March 2013

By confirmation, the LPO Champagne-Ardennes site grus-grus records a massive movement of cranes over the past 24 hours. In Hesse, southern Germany, thousands passed overhead at night. Yesterday's map includes, for a change, records from Indre-et-Loire! Something tells me the crane-watchers in Hesse are going to have a busy day today.

Monday 13 February 2017

Le Pré de la Forge... an interpretion and record of work on the site.

As trying to write two blogs on a very similar subject meant that the weaker blog kept getting neglected.... and that this blog has turned out to be much more about our few acres of meadow and the Aigronne valley between the two Pressigny villages...
than about the whole valley and places further abroad...

I made the decision to incorporate the weaker blog into the stronger!!

These are the first two entries combined, with a few alterations / corrections...
All will be in this "willow green" type to distinguish between the entries.

Our maples
Our maples

With two hectares of land... five huge old willows.... where does one start?

You put your "Art 'n' Soul" into it.... of course!

These are occasional posts of what we are doing [and why we are doing it] in the way of land management here at La Forge

The original five willows
The five old pollards

These are the original five willows that formed part of the boundary of the bief
The rotted out stumps of some of the rest remain... 
a hazard when one walks the bank.

As you can see, these were in desperate need of conservation.
Already, branches had rotted and fallen, trunks split and trees were leaning after their overweight branches!

The work began in earnest in Winter 2005, with 30" bowsaws...
a big error on my part as the sap was frozen and blunted the blades very quickly.

A Stihl chainsaw was later purchased to speed up the work and make the cuts cleaner and safer!

But trying to fell leaning, frozen timber...
especially willow, which breaks unpredictably, is dangerous.
You need to take time to study the line of fall and care, especially when ten foot off the ground, about how the butt end is likely to move.
I got very good at fireman's slides down the ladder!

If you look at the willows in the picture on "A bit about the site" you will see them near the end of the longère... 
only one was left to be pollarded** [they are called tetards in French].... 
but you will see that they are quite a way away from the bief. 
This, we think, is because they were planted to skirt the back of the forge at this point, sheltering it from northerly winds.
And as Pauline has recently discovered from early maps... a long narrow building following the alignment of these old "trognes"... the local dialect word for a

The forge itself,  sited on the meadow side of the bief,  would have been a bloomer furnace... 

a tall chimney-like stove, filled with the raw materials... 
charcoal, lime and ironstone... 
and then fired.
The undershot water-wheel would have powered bellows to raise the temperature of the firing and possibly a drop hammer to beat the metal from the slag. 

The molten metal was drawn off at the bottom.
A very inefficient process, judging by the weight of the slag to be found on site.

We will be writing more about the forge and the Touraine Iron Industry on the Following others' Footsteps blog in the future.

The intention is to recreate that original line of willows.
However, our neighbour Richard owns the bief and has a four metre right of access along the north bank for maintenance work.
To respect that access we are planting the line five metres back from the bief.

Other corridors have been planted to help wildlife move in safety.
Further corridors and clumps will be planted, to be managed on a cycle of five to twenty years... depending on the crop required and the wildlife to be supported

** The view from above must date from about 2007/8, as the orchard is visible on the south bank [the pretty pattern of mowing at the north-west end of what has now become the growing field.]

Monday 6 February 2017

Moth Mondays - The Buff-tip


The Buff-tip
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Notodontidae
Genus: Phalera
Species: P. bucephala
Binomial name
Phalera bucephala

This week's moth is one of my favourites... it is also one of the creatures that sparked my interest in the natural world... it is the Buff-tip [Phalera bucephela] la Lunule or la Bucéphale.

Again, it is a very attractive moth... all silvery and woody... at rest it looks like a twig...
more specifically, a dead twig of Silver Birch (Betula pendula) Le Bouleau... or even a Poplar twig...

Posing on a length of dead Alder

The moth itself is an overall shade of Silver Birch... except for the broken ends...which resemble the dead heartwood of the twig... a pale straw colour at the exaggeratedly flat front end....and the same colour at the tip of the forewings... which has even evolved a "hint of woodgrain"!
The moth is one that is always exceedingly easy to handle... it "knows" that it is a bit of dead twig and behaves as such...

Viewed from the front... on my fingertip!!

The metallic silver/gunmetal wing scales also seem larger than the average scale... 
fused scales?.....

These are the silver wing scales on the moth on the twig...
...and these are at the wing-tip!
the gunmetal colour is more pronounced towards the forewing edge... that gives a rounded, shadow effect on the "underside" of the twig... and, most of the time it rests with the wings tightly held against the body...

The wings roll under....
And as viewed from above!

the flight period is mid-May through to the end of July.

This was a darker individual caught this year....
notice the distinct wavy stripes on the paler grey area.
This shot does show the gradation from silver to gunmetal as almost a line of change!

The caterpillars are longitudinally striped in black, yellow and white and slightly hairy... the back-end looks a bit like the front of a Eurostar train... the rounded head is black with a bright-yellow, inverted V-shaped marking... and they feed together [gregarious feeders] often stripping whole branches... one of the favourite foodplants, next to silver birch, is the Hazel... and it is here that the caterpillars are most often seen at eye-level as here, on our hazels....

The newly hatched caterpillars are quite interesting... and possibly even cute... as seen here on the site, feeding side by side.

These are larger larvae on our hazels....

Eurostar? Perhaps not....
Gregarious feeding...
Another nut-nibbler in action!

This picture shows the inverted V on the head.

Sometimes though... the camoflage doesn't work so well...

This is on a bramble leaf... a particularly dark specimen....
and this... one that settled... in this spread-out fashion on our front door.
In both the above cases thay are rather obvious!

Next Monday... a short break from moths.... I have decided to attempt to incorporate my blog about our meadow in with this blog... the reason for this is to try and simplify life a little... and possibly be more productive on information about Le Pré de La Forge and what we are doing with it....

NB: The information from the other sources is now placed at the bottom of the post.
Other than Wikipedia.... and personal observations!
Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa [ also known as]
A superbly illustrated site.... marvellous on the Micromoths...
but difficult to use on a tablet/iPad.... an awful lot of scrolling needed.   An excellent resource... with distribution maps

UK Moths This is quite a simple site... but nicely put together.

The German site - For really good samples of photos...
including museum specimens: to use....
Enter the Latin name and then select the Latin name from the list of pages found.
There is probably a lot more on this site... but I don't read [or speak] German!!

From the Wiki:


The Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala) is a moth of the family Notodontidae.
It is found throughout Europe, Mongolia.

This is a fairly large, heavy-bodied species with a wingspan of 55–68 mm. The forewings are grey with a large prominent buff patch at the apex. As the thoracic hair is also buff, the moth resembles a broken twig when at rest. The hindwings are creamy-white. This moth flies at night in June and July and sometimes comes to light, although it is not generally strongly attracted.

The young larvae are gregarious, becoming solitary later. The older larva is very striking, black with white and yellow lines. It feeds on many trees and shrubs (see list below). The species overwinters as a pupa.

Recorded food plants:

    Acer - Norway maple
    Betula - Birch
    Corylus - Hazel
    Populus - Poplar
    Quercus - Oak
    Rosa - Rose
    Salix - Willow
    Tilia - Lime
    Ulmus - Elm

From UK Moths

Buff-tip Phalera bucephala
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Wingspan 42-55 mm.

When at rest, the adults of this species bear a remarkable resemblance to a broken twig of silver birch.

The species is widely distributed throughout Britain, and quite common, especially in the southern half.

The yellow-and-black caterpillars live gregariously and feed on a number of different deciduous trees, sometimes defoliating entire branches.

The adults fly in June and July, frequenting mixed woodland.