Bits and Bobs for February

For the past two months we have all been under lockdown and advised to stay at home other than for specified reasons. Our PM has announced the Roadmap to move us out of the restrictions and it looks like our volunteers could be released back into the wild from the end of March. In reality that probably means re-starting our work after Easter and initially under the rule of six. We will have missed most of our Autumn/Winter tree management work which will now have to wait until next autumn. However, there will be plenty of tasks to get on with like repairing and replacing things that have suffered over the winter months.

On 2nd March, Matt and I, socially distancing, met briefly on Marston Marsh to look at and discuss the repair and/or replacement of the bridge over the storm drain at the Ipswich Road end of the site, which is coming to the end of its life. The intention is to replace this with a long-lasting recycled plastic bridge, and I have been supporting Matt by exploring options and talking to suppliers. It will probably be a task to tackle in May and will take some days to remove the old structure and build a new one over the dyke. Helpfully, it sits above a wide storm drainpipe which will give us a firm foundation and a platform to work from.

The damaged bridge at Marston Marsh from the recent floods. Repairs are planned for later on in the year.

As well as the damaged bridge a run of post and rail fencing has collapsed on Marston Marsh following three bouts of significant flooding and lots of snow and ice. The fence borders an area used for grazing so will need to be replaced before the cattle return for their summer holidays. The path around the marsh has also suffered wear and tear from increased usage during lockdown where many more people than usual have visited the site for their daily exercise. More jobs to add to the ever-growing list.

We are fortunate in having Marston Marsh and the Yare Valley footpaths on our doorstep and Jane and I have been walking these most days. We mix up and reverse the routes to provide some variety – although flooding and snow has impacted on which routes were accessible. A visit to the City to see the dentist in February was a major adventure and the first time since before Christmas we had headed in that direction. Our days have fallen into a routine and are much like each other. Excitement comes from a visit to the farm shop on Mondays for our fruit and veg for the week and a grocery delivery every two weeks. The trip to the farm shop gives the car a run and we take the long way round which, at 15 miles, is just about enough to get it warm and top-up the battery. When lockdown ends it will be good to be able to extend our outings beyond our immediate area. Initially, the advice is still to stay local (Norfolk?) so we might be able to drive for a walk somewhere else and even travel to the coast!

Practicing my willow coppicing skills in my own backyard. Before and after shots.

Two years ago, we had some tree work at home to remove overgrown conifers, pollard a willow and a crown-lift and trim our Liquid Amber. The corkscrew willow (Salix babylonica ‘Tortuosa’) has since re-grown by more than 3 metres and required a further trim. So, it was out with the Silky saw, ladder and gloves to work my way round the three trunks cutting back the branches. It was good to put into practice again all that training from the Fringe Project. The tree stands within our chicken run and the hens enjoyed pecking amongst the cut branches and the saw dust. (The hens have been in lockdown since 14 December with no roadmap for them yet on when they can enjoy wider freedoms!) All the brash was cut off leaving a nice stack of twisted poles for supporting our beans and other projects. Shan’t stick them in the soil just yet as they will just take root and we will end up with a willow forest.

A ginger cookie with your cuppa perhaps?

My biscuit input has dropped-off considerably since the start of Lockdown 1 a year ago and the end of our unrestricted volunteer workdays. No custard creams or bourbon biscuits since then but I do like ginger nuts and have been ordering these with our grocery delivery. They were out of stock in a recent order so I thought I would try making my own. We have occasionally bought ginger oatcakes and decided to adapt an oatcake recipe to include ginger. The first attempt ended up with very crumbly biscuits which tasted Ok but fell apart and made a mess. For the second version I substituted wholemeal flour for some of the oats which gave a good firm structure with a hit of ginger and a tasty and healthy biscuit – success. My recipe has now been added to our Tailgate Tucker for you to try.

Take care and stay safe.