The Friends of Haddon Wood

Everything interesting we can think of about Alhampton's community woodland. To leave a comment on a post, click on its title and scroll down…


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Our first beehive has arrived!

The wait is over – see  Rose’s brilliant photos below of our new wild bee hive. As of yesterday it’s sitting in state at the top of the hill in F4.

The pictures speak for themselves really, but they show Matt Somerville, his daughter Beth and her boyfriend Spencer working to assemble and install the hive. We haven’t been able to put signs up yet, but please give it a wide berth for the moment – particularly because with this fine weather we may be lucky and see a swarm take up residence over the next week or so.

The body of the hive is made of larch, the legs are sweet chestnut, both of which are the best woods for the job. The hackle (thatched roof) is sewn on and is insulated with straw, the hive has been primed by Matt with some pieces of old comb, and rubbed with lemon grass oil and resin from old hives to attract new bees. If you’d like to know more, look at Matt’s website https://beekindhives.uk/ It’s fascinating stuff – bees are extraordinary.

This is the first of two hives we’re putting in the wood. The timing of the second will depend on Matt, who, like so many of us, has had work turned upside down by you-know-what, so we’re letting him come back with the second when he can.

Isn’t it great to have something good to celebrate!

Rather than the public event we had wanted this to be, the hive raising was attended only by Hil and Rose who supplied this post, observing all relevant social distancing constraints

NB Please note we’ve been advised by a local beekeeper that it’d be aswas to stay at least 30 feet from the hive, because Some colonies can be extremely defensive and as their provenance isn’t known, they could be pussycats or tigers. Temperament can also change without warning. Passing this on in the interests of high bees and people.


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Good News for Toads!

Posted by Dave Boyer (local toad patrol coordinator, Reptile and Amphibian Group for Somerset) to Castle Cary Real News on 5th April 2020…

Toad patrol a fantastic success – finally, a good news story in these trying times!

Hundreds of toads have been helped to cross a busy local road by a group of volunteers and have now bred successfully in a wildlife pond at Haddon Wood.

In early February a lorry driver, doing the night shift for Barbers Cheesemakers at Ditcheat, noticed masses of toads crossing the road near the Cary Rugby Club, and many were being squashed by passing vehicles. She contacted the Reptile and Amphibian Group for Somerset who in turn contacted me, a local toad patrol coordinator.

With the help of the Friends of Haddon Wood and local Somerset Wildlife Trust members a toad patrol was operating within 48 hours.

Over the next five weeks 31 volunteers took turns to patrol a 400 m stretch of the Brooke House Inn to Ditcheat road at Haddon Wood, on any evening when the weather was toad-friendly – wet and warm. Volunteers would don hi-viz jackets and gloves, and patrol the road with bright torches and a bucket, picking up any toads crossing the road and moving them into the safety of Haddon Wood.

These toads would have all hatched over the previous few years in the pond at Haddon Wood and now, with spring approaching, they were returning to their natal pond to breed.

In total 435 toads were helped across the road, along with three great crested newts and eight other newts, most probably common newts. Unfortunately 48 toads were also found squashed (a 10% loss is typical for many patrolled toad crossings). The migration across the road had already started when the patrols started so we do not know the true number of toads that crossed, or were killed. Of course the patrols were only active until 22h30 when fewer vehicles were on the road and many more toads would have crossed after this.

By mid-March the pond was inundated with toad-spawn, and some frog-spawn, testament to the success of the patrols.


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How do you walk in Haddon Wood …and in fact anywhere else?

At the moment the answer should be ‘I don’t, if I have to drive there’.

If you don’t agree/believe me, see this post from the Woodland Trust .. https://friendsofhaddonwood.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1748&action=edit ..It says, among other things, Our estate remains open but only if you can access it from your home without driving

Not only the Woodland Trust, but the National Parks are closing for the first time in their history and the National Trust has retracted its offer to open parks and gardens, because people are taking advantage and ignoring the social distancing rule.

The reason that they’ve all felt the need to do this is that people don’t seem to understand that this is the worst worldwide crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic at the end of WWI. It’s like the Foot & Mouth catastrophe, with knobs on.

As for my headline, I’m not referencing anything to do with Monty Python ministries in this post, as I hope the rest of it clarifies. Perhaps I’d have been clearer if I asked why you walk, but the answer to that more than likely would be the obvious: ‘because I need to get from A to B’; or ‘because my dog needs the exercise’; or even a sarky ‘because I can’. At the moment, though, with Coronavirus so much at the forefront of our minds, the answer is likely to be because ‘I’ve been told I can go outside once a day to exercise’. All of the above seem like perfectly reasonable responses to me. …at least I thought that was what I thought.

But exercise is the point here. We’re told that at the moment, while the country is in virtual lockdown, we are allowed to go outside once a day for exercise. So what I mean by the original question is do you walk with purpose, or wander vaguely? Do you stroll, chatting to others from the group you’re quarantined with, stopping to wait for others to catch up? Do you block gateways or junctions of crossing paths, to send text messages? Until the recent lockdown none of this was a problem, anything I thought about, but suddenly, in the last week or so, whilst living restrictions have been relatively simple, walking the dogs has become fraught.

More people than I’d have guessed think exercise is just a good excuse to go outside. On the other hand I’ve realised that I walk, not just to enjoy the countryside and watch the changing seasons – I work outside anyway, so can do all of that then, after all – but because my dogs need to get out, only once a day at the moment, read the local peemail and break up their day from the usual four walls and small yard they’d otherwise be confined to, but mostly to stretch their legs. We don’t go for gentle, vague strolls.

There are people around right now who aren’t normally here in quantity and some of them really do seem to be treating this critical situation like a holiday. They go for walks in large groups. The rule is no more than two at a time, people! The thing is, other people need to walk their dogs in Haddon and the lanes around on a regular basis but Alhampton is a tiny village! Lots of residents are permanently local, self-isolating and afraid. Add to that that spaceous as the wood is, the number of pinch points – like gateways, hedge-obscuring sightlines, slip throughs and path crossings – there are in Haddon make walking at a distance from others difficult. Can you begin to see their problem with groups of people just getting outside.

You may have noticed that in present circumstances I’m not as tolerant of others as I’ve liked to think I am. I’m not walking in Haddon at the moment because the friend over there I often walk with is self-isolating and it seems a bit selfish to drive there and add to the numbers anyway, when I can walk from my house and as it turns out, according to the Woodland Trust, I’m doing the right thing. Go me! But, even where I live, all sorts of people who wouldn’t normally be seen in a field are wandering about, ignoring the two metre rule and generally aggravating the sh*t out of the rest of us! There, I’ve admitted it. I’m both self-righteous and selfish.

The bottom line is that we’re lucky, aren’t we, to have such a lovely place to walk, in Haddon Wood and even luckier, in recent days, that the weather has been smiling, after such long and dispiriting period of rain. It’s been the easy option for many, but it’s the only one for quite a few and maybe at the moment, just for a while, the rest of us need to stay away. Either that or pray for the foul weather to return…


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A Patchwork catch up…

So, apart from my post of 4th October, it’s been a while since I was here on the blog. A couple of years, in fact. How’ve you been? Look, I don’t have any excuses other than that life – including hands-on HW-related activities – has got in the way, but now, galvanised by firstly, a couple of nice comments on this blog and secondly, a well-deserved kick up the pants from fellow committee members, here we are again.

I won’t write a full, chronological history of events for the last couple of years, because you’ve either already had the newsy emails from Hil (if you’re on her Friends of… list), or, if you’ve got the energy, can look up our meeting minutes under ‘FHW Committee’ and despite my dereliction, our main events have been written up here,  such as Open Gardens (and we didn’t have one of those last year, because Ditcheat wanted to have one and thought the two would clash, so some of our people helped them with that in exchange for a donation to our coffers). Instead I thought I’d take the opportunity to look both back to see what has been achieved so far and forward to let you know about things, hopefully, in the pipeline.

So, Haddon Wood has been standing for six years now and what was once five fields with thousands of tiny sticks in plastic tubes, surrounded by a variety of dodgy wire fencing and rusty gates, is now a proper wood, some of the trees more than twenty feet high, threaded through with numerous winding grass paths to make the walking more interesting. The wire and original gates have gone and been replaced by smart wooden five-barred jobs with generous kissing gates attached. We’ve had to put up excessive amounts of signage on these, but not everyone has the same ethos, so it has been felt better to have the odd reminder of what the place is about and on the whole it’s been worth it. We’ve even got dog poo bins at a couple of those (we didn’t want to have to, but the dog poo situation seems to have improved since they were installed, so, hey ho).

We have to follow a few Woodland Trust rules in the way we do things, but we’ve got certified people on the team to carry out general maintenance, like brushcutting and Mark has continued mowing, which I always think is the thing that has made the biggest difference to the look and feel of the land – borne out by the ever increasing number of dog walkers. Added to that we’ve had monthly events dedicated to the removal of the plastic tubes – which don’t split, as advertised and/or biodegrade and in some cases were making the trees rot. It’s amazing how many pile up by the paths after a couple of hours with just half a dozen people working, quite often kept going by supplies of coffee and homemade cake. Not only that, but a team that used to work on local footpaths has given their Friday mornings to de-tubing and the difference is phenomenal. We might even be tube-free by Christmas! When we’ve got enough, we load up Mark’s truck and take them to a local place to be burnt for energy. Not ideal, you may think, but a lot better than landfill, which would be the alternative.

What else? Along the way we’ve had to have conversations about Risk Assessments, Insurances and various trainings, including First Aid, so in a way it’s amazing we’re still  at it, but even so, you’ll have seen the two picnic benches and smaller perch-on ones dotted about too (built by Mark), which were put in a few years ago now, but have you seen the willow teepee and dead hedge in F2? A snow ignloo appeared on site a winter or two ago and whether or not that was her inspiration for something more lasting, Jo found a local woman who holds willow workshops, so she and Rose spent a few hours with Angela Morley (https://www.wildgardens.co.uk) learning how to make them and a few more ornamental bits and pieces that may join our list of merchandise in the future. …as possibly will walking sticks, as and when he has time away from his real job, made by another local resident from material he finds in the wood.

Actually, with the mention of merchandising, this might be an opportune moment to bring up fundraising which we’ve been doing from the start, with a view to taking a lease on the wood (in 2013 the Woodland Trust was almost insistent that we did) and the expenses that would have entailed. A few years later and policy has apparently changed, so we no longer have that pressure and are sitting on a reasonable amount in the bank and lately one or two volunteers have been asking what the fundraising has been for after all their hard work.

It’s got us all thinking and our main priority, after keeping everything as user friendly and appealing as we can, is using the space to help the wildlife there – there’s nothing lovlier than to see the barn owl skimming the trees, or broods of chicks on the pond, or more gratifying, the hordes of frogs and toads doing what frogs and toads to in ponds in the Spring – so it seemed an obvious next step to look into installing hives for wild bees. It’s not something the Woodland Trust has done before, but with a bit of nagging from us they’ve agreed that we can go ahead. Matt Somerville of BeeKindHives who was at our Open Day, is going to instal two log hives as soon as he has the materials and time.

A long-term hope is to build on the community aspect of the wood and with that in mind that it can one day be used for Forest School work, so almost our last (for the moment) project for the immediate future is putting a roundhouse somewhere, probably in F2. Maybe you’ve seen the sort of thing – a five metre circular structure with a pointed hat-shaped roof, part open to the elements for both fresh air and the view, that a classroom’s worth of children can sit in to learn whatever it is Forest Schools do. This would, of course be subject to the usual permissions from the Woodland Trust and our local planning department and is unlikely to be straightforward, but watch this space and one day we might all be amazed. Oh, and the ‘almost’ I mentioned above is that a logical extension to such a facility would be a composting loo, so we’re looking into having one of those too.

Who would have thought, six years ago, that we’d be where we are now, but the wood has taken on a life of it’s own and all we can do is stay with it and go forward…


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We have Yellow Rattle!

Of the three elements the community requested be included in the wood, together with the orchard and the pond, the third is the hardest to achieve. Wild flowers don’t thrive on rich soil and we knew it wouldn’t be easy to establish colonies because the site has been used for stock grazing and silage for so long that the grass is just that. Of course we have got native species already – things like buttercup, clover and vetch – but the quantities of seed we sowed on the disturbed soil on the southern end of the pond flourished only that season, with one or two exceptions.

So, the answer, apparently, is to sow Yellow Rattle, to weaken the grass. We’ve done that a couple of times, along the hedgerow on the north side of F3 and either side of the eastern path in F2 – See the Gallery post, in the link above – but for the last couple of years have let things be to see what would happen, barring the odd grass cut to knock down any seed that was hanging on.

We’ve pretty much been told that we’re wasting our time, as the richness of the clay will override any partial effects the rattle might have, but bless it, even in the areas we didn’t oversow, it’s been back every year. It’s even appeared round the north end of the pond – I think, on its own – which completely bears out the poor soil theory, so there we are. It just goes to show that nature is a very determined thing.


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Open Gardens 2015 – a glorious day!

Weary, but oh, so worth it, at the end of a long day of Open Gardens, didn’t our gardeners, cake bakers, signmakers, ticket sellers – all brought together by Hil – do us proud! It’s too late to write anything sensible and considered but here’s a taster…

…and here’s a selection of Rose Hubbard’s pictures from the day. It’s good to have an official photographer on the committee!

…and finally, the good news, from Hil…

Once again we used this as a fund-raising opportunity for Haddon Wood, and on 7 June we were blessed with three things: weather, the results of advertising on a free website, and Monty Don’s reference to Somerset having great gardens to visit.  All that meant more visitors than we’ve ever seen, and a total profit of over £1660!  A lot of people put in a great deal of effort and it was well worth it.  If you’ve never come along to this, we’ll be doing it all again next year; we do have some different gardens each time (and some everyone always wants to see).  If you’re not keen on gardens, come for the tea and cake – delicious!  We’re building an excellent fund for taking us into leasing, and allowing us to do some things as we go along.