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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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30th March 2015

new born lambSummer time has started, we are all looking forward to the summer weather joining in too. The sheep had arrived quietly a few days ago, and it seems they want to share their new field with some new little ones.

The ewe started to look ready for lambing, then it got complicated. She actually had triplets! A big call for the mother ewe. A little help was needed and a big learning curve for some. A challenging day in many areas of the farm. Nothing to worry about, just the chance for several of the team to meet the challenges head on.

The potato crop was expanding in the crop area, but the rain from the past few days had made the soil heavier still. No more bingo wings, we will all have such strong toned muscles soon.

It looked like rain so it seemed a good idea to move the newly delivered wood into a dry area.

The race was on, who could make the best wood stack?

Now what can the rest of the week throw at us? Let’s just say, we are ready!

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Our first lamb

our fiirst born lamb 2015It was the start of British Summer time which meant the weather was going to get worse. In fact it was wet, windy and cold but that did not stop the great news of our first lamb of the season being born at 12.09hrs on the farma little girl - mum doing well.. dad not bothered.... farmer soaked.. first words 'ba'. Amazing how quick the little lamb will get up and suckle  *smile*

Of course the animals are unaware of the clocks changing and their body clock is rightly the sun. So its the same getting up, feeding and this will only change as the days get longer and hopefully soon warmer!

 

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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

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1981 Hits

Countryside Centre Where you can learn so much

I have spent a lot of the day making sure we know what we are talking about. Our Introduction to Agriculture course which we have developed for Key Stage 1 & 2 pupils. which will be held here at the Caen Hill Countryside Centre.
The next stage is for Key Stage 3 & 4 with our Seed to Fork delivery.
We also have targeted work for NVQ and other accredited courses.
We have some great resources from NFU (National Farmers Union) - where Farming Matters. They have a very interesting website which tells you about farming and the countryside. have a look: http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/farmingmatters
You may see things out in the countryside and wonder what it was, or why you saw it there. Visiting the site may help  you to find out a little more. Always good to learn something new every day.
Now at the Caen Hill Countryside Centre today, we have had some bold and bright winter sunshine. A cisp start with some ice around saw the deer trotting up the fields as soon as the sun rose. Even more came along once we had been out with the food. The birds really appreciate a little extra at this time of year.
While summer brings the colour, song and drama of the breeding season, winter is a great time to watch birds flocking together, sometimes in spectacular numbers.Why not learn a little more about our native birds here in the UK? Visit: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/features/winterflocks.aspx
The birds tend to change their habits in the winter. They are more likely to swoop around in large flocks and several different species in each group. As the night draws in they will head for safety in a barn, an empty building, swaying reeds or even a bare tree.

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1908 Hits

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