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News Blog

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Kate Aston has not set their biography yet

Blogging is back :)

So.... first time blogging on the new site and I timed out and lost my post. Let's start again.

It's been a good year now since I started volunteering at Caenhill Countryside Centre. The blog posts and daily photographs might have eased off over the last couple of months, but I've still been taking photographs every week and will soon be making a shortlist of images to pass to Chris for the 2016 calendar. I've no idea how that came around so fast! June 12th will see the anniversary of when I first picked up a DSLR at the farm, and wow has that changed my life. I'm partway through a university foundation course in photography (learning how little I really know) and am on the cusp of an embarrassingly soft launch of my own business (ditto).

In a year it's hard to know which has changed more - my own life and passions, or the CCC that provided me with such wonderful opportunities. I'm photographing and writing about creatures, plants and structures that just weren't here 12 months ago. First generation turkeys are sitting on the second generation, pigs are starting to get frisky, Billy's getting very possessive over anything that's female and feathered, and my husband now measures all other eggs against the gold standard of CCC eggs. We have honey from Caenhill bees on our toast, and B got to help with planting potatoes. I got to photograph a team of amazing soldiers from the British Army who volunteered via Help for Heroes, what an absolute honour.

It's impossible to list out all the improvements that have been made and they all deserve far more words than I have here, so I think I'll run a series of blog posts now that I'm back in the saddle.

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Fresh start hens

It's been a long while since I posted a blog, I seem to have been taking more photographs. Chris suggested a blog piece on the rescue hens and I'm more than happy to oblige.

The first batch of rescue hens are almost unrecognisable from when they arrived back in the summer. They are bigger, browner, their combs are glossier and prouder, they are more adventurous and a whole lot more bolshy (anyone who's been enthusiastically pecked on boots or jacket can attest to this). During the day they have open access to the outside, at night they are kept sheltered, warm and away from foxes. They have strong appetites for both food and water and have grass every day. I make a regular paypal/cash donation in exchange for eggs, and lovely they are too. It's fantastic to know exactly where the eggs have come from, and to be confident that they are well cared for. The hens are doing really well and it's in large part due to the generosity of supporters who have sponsored hens and also given their time to get the hens used to being around people.

The second group of rescue hens arrived on Sunday with Di and Dave and are already starting to settle in nicely. They're in a separate quarantine area which helps them to build confidence in their new surroundings without any risk of bullying from the established brood. Sponsors are welcomed for these hens too - contact Chris or Helie via this site, Facebook or Twitter (or even phone!) if you'd like to help. You can see a short video of these hens arriving below. Have a look, you'll be able to see just how far the first set of rescue hens have come, with the generous support and sponsorship provided by friends of Caenhill.

Rescue hens arriving at Caenhill Countryside Centre.

It's worth saying that battery hens, as we used to know them, no longer exist in the UK due to changes in EU law. Hens now have a bit more space and slightly improved conditions known as enriched cages. However, hens that are kept in these environments still have a lifestyle that is a long way from free range hens. When hens come to Caenhill they may have lost many feathers from scrapping with other hens. They are not used to having water easily available and may just peck when they want to drink, as that's what they do in the cages. They've never seen a cockerel or daylight, nor their own eggs. Change comes fast though and they adapt well to improved conditions. Chris collected eggs from the new arrivals on Monday morning, just hours after they'd arrived.

 

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Fresh start hens

It's been a long while since I posted a blog, I seem to have been taking more photographs. Chris suggested a blog piece on the rescue hens and I'm more than happy to oblige.

The first batch of rescue hens are almost unrecognisable from when they arrived back in the summer. They are bigger, browner, their combs are glossier and prouder, they are more adventurous and a whole lot more bolshy (anyone who's been enthusiastically pecked on boots or jacket can attest to this). During the day they have open access to the20141110-IMG 0581 outside, at night they are kept sheltered, warm and away from foxes. They have strong appetites for both food and water and have grass every day. I make a regular paypal/cash donation in exchange for eggs, and lovely they are too. It's fantastic to know exactly where the eggs have come from, and to be confident that they are well cared for. The hens are doing really well and it's in large part due to the generosity of supporters who have sponsored hens and also given their time to get the hens used to being around people.

The second group of rescue hens arrived on Sunday with Di and Dave and are already starting to settle in nicely. They're in a separate quarantine area which helps them to build confidence in their new surroundings without any risk of bullying from the established brood. Sponsors are welcomed for these hens too - contact Chris or Helie via this site, Facebook or Twitter (or even phone!) if you'd like to help. You can see a short video of these hens arriving below. Have a look, you'll be able to see just how far the first set of rescue hens have come, with the generous support and sponsorship provided by friends of Caenhill.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF0djDDk81Y

It's worth saying that battery hens, as we used to know them, no longer exist in the UK due to changes in EU law. Hens now have a bit more space and slightly improved conditions known as enriched cages. However, hens that are kept in these environments still have a lifestyle that is a long way from free range hens. When hens come to Caenhill they may have lost many feathers from scrapping with other hens. They are not used to having water easily available and may just peck when they want to drink, as that's what they do in the cages. They've never seen a cockerel or daylight, nor their own eggs. Change comes fast though and they adapt well to improved conditions. Chris collected eggs from the new arrivals on Monday morning, just hours after they'd arrived.

20141201-IMG 2652

1701 Hits

Found at Caenhill Countryside Centre- and Happy Christmas

I've found a few interesting things at Caenhill since I started volunteering. I've found a horse shoe, pieces of china and more pieces of black plastic than I could imagine. I've found skulls and skills, beauty, variety, inspiration and peace. I've found that after several years out of the workplace I can commit to being somewhere and doing something - whatever the weather. I've found new friends, satisfaction and purpose via a possibly over-consuming hobby. I've learned that there is probably nothing that a hungry lamb won't try eating.

The pace of change at Caenhill is steady and relentless. Every idea and every fresh start from the smallest chick to the largest pond is nurtured and grown. Synergies are found and every asset fully used. I loved the symmetry of a cold wet evening spent taking photos in the rain in Bath (I'd never have even thought of doing this before Chris introduced me to photography at the centre), followed by the most wonderful pair of Caenhill rescue hen eggs, fried on toast when I got home, starving.

So what I really wanted to say was Thank you to Helie and Chris, for setting this up and for sharing your project, lives and skills with so many of us. Thank you to all the volunteers who are making such a huge difference, a day at a time, and on a personal level,thank you to everyone who has been so positive about the photos that I take for the project. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year. I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings to Caenhill Countryside Centre, and vice versa!

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1394 Hits

January. What can I say about January?

It was in February 2014 that I first emailed Helie Franklin, offering to volunteer with the centre. She diplomatically and gently replied that with much of the farm still under water there was limited scope for my help and encouraged me to get in touch again a bit closer to spring.

A year on, and this winter has been much kinder in that it's been rather warmer and rather dryer. For example, every single field on the farm is walkable this year. Last year you'd have needed waders and a dinghy to get onto several of the flooded fields. Even with drier fields though January is about building, feeding and waiting.

It's been a very long month in photographic terms, and I have especially cherished the visits that coincided with a heavy frost, new animals or birds or volunteers working on a specific tasks as they've provided extra variety for photography. The fields and hedges, which provided such fertile ground for photography and writing through spring and summer are almost in suspended animation. The wheat, sown last year, is holding its own in muddy fields that are still more brown than green. The hedges are bizarrely transparent in many places with far reduced foliage. I've seen one bud - on a bramble. There is no warm background hum from insects, though there is the odd bit of birdsong. On some days the traffic noise carries from the road and it's a long mental stretch to remember the bright days of summer or the golden days of autumn. I am thoroughly enjoying photographing the farm every week, even on the days when it's cold, wet and muddy and it's a real challenge to find new images to record. Luckily I've found some new pictures every week, but I'm really looking forward to spring and new growth! Since this is a family friendly blog I shall draw a discreet veil over the enthusiastic activities of the ducks who are making grand efforts to ensure the continuation of their line, but it's fair to say that I'm hoping for some duckling photos at some point. Can you imagine how cute an Emerson/Lemon cross would be?

This is not to say that the farm has been idle in January - far from it. The first month of the new year has seen animal and bird accommodation being created and refined. The inside of the barn has been cleared and tidied ready for the groups of people who will start arriving soon. Funding bids are underway. The large pond is filling well and is ready for planting on the banks - the geese love it. Ditches have been extended. Bees need regular checking and feeding if necessary. It won't be long before the weather and fields are ready for a new intake of sheep, and lambs will follow very soon after. The newest batch of rescue hens are doing well and are unrecognisable in terms of confidence from when they first arrived. As for the first batch of rescue hens - well I think you'd be hard put to guess they were ever anything other than happy feisty healthy creatures. Relationships continue to be cultivated and grown, it's wonderful to meet new people at Caenhill and then to see them come back again and again. There's a lot of work happens away from the fields and barn too - Chris is updating the website to a new version of Joomla! and also taking the opportunity to refresh and tweak the content. Helie is part-way through a one year course at the School of Social Enterprise which develops people who have social impact projects. Just between us I have no idea where she finds the time, but am very grateful that she does! She went through an intense selection process to gain her place, amidst lots of competition from candidates whose projects were more urban and city based. I think she did brilliantly and I'm sure her skills and passion will enthuse everyone lucky enough to work with her.

I'm planning to start a foundation course in photography after Easter. It seems fitting that after the project bought me to photography I'll be able to bring the project to a wider audience via photography. I'm also learning some Joomla!, along with Belinda, so that the website load can be shared a bit. After all, we all know that Helie and Chris are never short on ideas and plans, but they have the same number of hours in every day as the rest of us. If you would like to help, Chris tells me that they would very much appreciate donations of seed for the crop area, seed for the bee/flower area, fencing material and any old tools for the farm or building work. Thank you. I shall leave you with a shot of Lemon, having a good wash after a quick rendezvous with Emerson. It's shots like this that reassure me that there are always photos to be taken, no matter how frozen the ground and bare the hedges.

 

Lemon having a wash.

 

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New volunteer Kate visits the Countryside Centre and shares her experiences

The entrance to Caen Hill Countryside Centre is very easily missed. I did so, despite Project Manager Helie Franklin’s crystal clear directions. One moment of distraction to read a new road sign and there it was in my rearview mirror, one of those elusive little opportunities that only really appear once you pass them. I looped round and tried again, slowing and signalling as I approached the turning whilst hoping that the driver of the bus bearing down upon me had noticed my lack of speed. I took a hard slow left into what felt like a miniature lay­by, and a track opened up Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾­style to my left. On reaching the bottom of the track the sun finally broke through the morning’s rain clouds and Helie greeted me from the barn. I was relieved to hear that local residents of much longer standing have struggled to find the entrance, or even believe that it was there in one case!

“The Caen Hill Countryside Centre is a project which brings countryside learning to children, young people and communities. Located just to the west of Devizes near the Caen Hill locks and covers 70 acres of land.” I was there to see if I could add anything to their pool of volunteers, offering time and enthusiasm but precious little experience.  Luckily, it turned out that Helie needed someone to lend a hand blogging, so here I am blogging whilst we wait for fields to drain. The centre is at the start of a new phase of its life, and it’s an exciting phase.

The 70 acres of land has been farmed for a long time, but areas have been neglected over the last few years and there is a lot of work to be done. Much of this work has been delayed by the very poor weather over the last few months but a strong start has already been made. Chris Franklin’s father farmed here for decades, retiring in 2002. In today’s world, 70 acres is very small for a productive farm so the Franklins have adjusted expectations accordingly. Old fruit trees are being coaxed back into full life, and damaged fruit stored and fed to some very grateful hens. The remaining apples will go to Rowde Community Shop for sale. The dairy that last saw milk in the 1970s is being converted into a training centre and office, with an interaction centre to show the milking process. A barn stacked with hay stacks from last year’s hay and straw for bedding has plenty of sheltered usable space out of sun and rain. A disused silage pond will be cleared and reused as a pond for geese and ducks. Sheep will graze, orphan lambs will be nourished and there might even be alpacas batting their gorgeous lashes and making that weird alpaca sound. Wildflowers and nettles will be encouraged in support of the bees, whose hives enjoy some really quite special views.

Vegetables will grow, be harvested and nourish. Children will learn about our food and our farms,young adults will have the opportunity to contribute to the clearing and working of the farm, earn credits for qualifications, and be part of something truly remarkable. Adults can volunteer skills, time, equipment or attend the workshops and courses that run here. Helie’s commitment and vision are all­encompassing, from feeding the chickens to supporting disadvantaged young adults, to working towards the certifications that will allow these neglected acres to make a big difference to local communities.  Gangs of workers arrive on “day release” from employers such as banks and food producers, enthusiastically cracking on with the not to be underestimated amount of cutting, clearing and cleaning that precedes so much of the other work. Working on rain water handling is a priority too, with seven fields currently under water.

My appetite is truly whetted. I’d like my six year old to grow up with the same experience of and exposure to the rural environment that I had, growing up in Cornwall. I’m fortunate enough to have some time to give, and would welcome the chance to build some marketable skills at the same time (did you know there’s a green skills gap? http://press.rhs.org.uk/RHS­Campaigns/Press­

releases/Horticulture­­An­Industry­At­Crisis­Point.aspx ) If you’d like to know more, or can help with time or donations (everything welcome from boots and secateurs to vintage farming equipment) take a look here ­ http://www.caenhillcc.org.uk/ .

Kate

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