Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Yes we’re on Twitter – does it matter?

22 May, 2011


Country Wedding Venues – Sheepdrove

16 February, 2010

Discover a Berkshire wedding venue with a difference. Sheepdrove offers a remarkable rural location on the Berkshire downs… a very modern, eco-friendly building… set at the heart of an organic farm! Sheepdrove is a very special place.

What truly sets it apart from any other countryside wedding venue – indeed, any venue in Berkshire – is that so many great things combine here to make it an unmissable choice for that perfect day.


When your families and friends gather in the majestic Oak Room, the uplifting sensation you feel when gazing up at the tall wooden arches is inspirational. These huge arches continue to strut proudly overhead in the Dining Room. This elegant architecture is an award-winning example of a contemporary timber frame grand design.


A quiet flock of steel sheep greet your arrival at the centre, and a sculptural centrepiece stands in the courtyard. Outdoor spaces are graced by sentinels of stone, engraved with poetry. Within the building, natural wood surrounds you, while unusual artwork decorates the walls.


Fragrance emanates from the herbs of the Physic Garden which sits neatly behind the centre, and secretly hides an amphitheatre. Beyond lies a circular walk route around reedbeds, ponds and a lake where a small wooden building nestles in the valley. The Boathouse is a hidden gem, also available for hire.

The kitchen is brimming with delicious seasonal delights of the sort you might expect in a rural restaurant. The culinary experience has a unique provenance to the farm and gardens, which provide plentiful organic food all year round. You can’t get more local, seasonal and organic!

Contact details

Please contact Harriet Collins on 01488 674737
More information on Sheepdrove the wedding venue 

© 2010 Jason Ball
Article by Jason Ball @
Shortlink –

Marsh Fritillary project launched

28 April, 2009
Marsh Fritillary (top side)

Marsh Fritillary (top side)

I was interviewed yesterday morning on BBC Radio Berkshire by Henry Kelly, about Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project. Henry was surprised to hear that Lambourn is a hotspot for rare butterflies. You can click here to Listen Again for 7 days only (find the interview at 1 hour 8 mins, just after the BeeGees!)

Project purpose

The Marsh Fritillary is the top priority for the Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project, which recently won approval from Natural England, and is now supported by an enhanced grant scheme.

The reason why Sheepdrove is making a big effort for Marsh Fritillary, is that it’s on the brink of local extinction with only one colony remaining in Berkshire. A tiny habitat resource, isolated from similar sites that might offer a chance of extra breeding areas, means that the clock is ticking.

What’s more, the founders of Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Peter and Juliet Kindersley, are true Natureheads and find the butterflies of the chalk downland enchanting. They restored a massive slice of land to flower-rich grassland at Bockhampton Down over a decade ago, and now it is ripe for the creation of the right habitat conditions for Marsh Fritillary, plus hopefully also Small Blue and Chalkhill Blue.

Locals please look out!

Last year on BBC Berkshire I initiated an appeal for sightings of this very rare species. Now we’re coming to the season for Marsh Fritillary adults to take to the wing, once again.

CALLING ALL NATURALISTS who have records for the Lambourn Downs and the surrounding countryside! Please tell me about any Marsh Fritillary you see this year – or have seen in the last 30 years. Plus if you know of colonies of the food plant, Devilsbit Scabious, that’s also of interest.

Why? First, because there could be colonies we don’t know about. Second, you can help to identify where they might be able to colonise new sites, and how far they travel from their last known Berkshire breeding site. (Seven Barrows nature reserve, managed by BBOWT).

Your nature records are also very important because the archives held by TVERC (Thames Valley Environment Records Centre) are very short of data. I know, because they searched their files to help us research the project’s potential – and came up with hardly any results. I bet there are amateur naturalists in Oxfordshire and Berkshire whose notebooks list Devilsbit Scabious and it’s rare dependent, the Marsh Fritillary.

What am I looking for?

Let’s face it, an orange-and-brown-coloured butterfly in a chalk grassland habitat could be almost anything, until you’ve taken a closer look…Small Skipper, Gatekeeper, or even the Burnet Companion moth. Once identified properly, you’ll see that Marsh Fritillary is quite distinct from other butterflies.

Marsh Fritillary underside

Marsh Fritillary underside

Adult Marsh Frits are seen from May to July. Their caterpillar food plant is usually Devil’s-bit Scabious and sometimes Small Scabious or Field Scabious. Your best bet is to look for dense and large collections of Devil’s-bit Scabious. Remember that this plant grows in calcareous grassland and wet meadows.

Marsh Fritillary larval web (c) Caroline Bulman

Marsh Fritillary larval web (c) Caroline Bulman

From July to April the big giveaway for Marsh Fritillary caterpillars is the larval web. They emerge and feed together in groups, on a silken tent. They cooperate by sunbathing together to warm their amassed, dark bodies in the sun – and fend off predators by pulsating in formation. (If you see a similar gathering on nettles, this will be Peacock, not Marsh Fritillary.)

Jason Ball @ – 07719 225965

Little Hidden coppice

14 February, 2009


Today’s coppice workshop at Little Hidden Farm was an excellent nature conservation event. The outstanding rustic cooking made sure we’ll remember this day for a long time!

I have been on lots of countryside task days, and the food is not always easy to get right… balancing the quantities, the prep time, and who will help, etc. For this event in aid of FARM Africa, cooking volunteers were keen to help out and the whole task team was very grateful. They had brought out the clay oven early and it was waiting at the edge of the hangar for us. [hangar = a long strip of woodland]

On a chilly winter day the freshly baked bread, creamy artichoke soup and slow-baked jacket potatoes were culinary cuddles. Spiced with chutneys, jam, sauces and a selection of home-made cakes… real coffee… who needs romance on 14th Feb when you have food like this?

The clay oven was made in last summer's FARM Africa event

The clay oven was made in last summer's FARM Africa event

The task

The what? Oh yes, the work. Everyone was keen to learn more, many being absolute beginners with coppicing. The enthusiasm and love of nature in everyone who came meant that we had a very positive atmosphere, cooperative, and well-humoured.

Our aim was to let in the sunlight - to boost flora and support butterflies

Bill and Sue Acworth are brilliant hosts, truly welcoming and always excited about what’s going on the countryside around them. They run a horse riding school as well as the organic farm and agroforestry, and are involve with environmental initiatives such as HEAT.

Bill began the workshop by telling us about his plan for the wood.

Coppicing is an ancient method of rotational woodland harvesting, but wood produce is not always the primary reason for using this method in modern times. Here, the coppicing is intended to create the right habitat structure for a range of wild fauna and flora, but the Duke of Burgundy butterfly is the top priority species.

Duke of Burgundy needs primulas for its caterpillars to eat, usually primroses when in woodland, or cowslip on chalk grassland. These host plants also have to last well into the heatwaves of summer if the caterpillars are to survive long enough to pupate. So the primulas must be shaded enough to avoid drying, but in a patch that is sufficiently open and sunlit to be packed with nectar sources and host plants.

After this wood is coppiced, the first few years afterwards are perfect for the Duke, if we get it right. The males of this rare butterfly only lek until mid afternoon, so we want the morning sun. However, we cannot open the woodland too much, otherwise the butterflies will not have the shelter they need, and the primroses won’t be shaded enough to avoid being dried by the sun in summer. There is a lot to consider in the design of the woodland management system.


Simon Smith kept it simple at first and started, as you should, with a tool demonstration, a safety talk and a quick guide to tackling the “jigsaw” of a hazel stool. Bowsaw, loppers and a billhook were the main tools, but I was impressed by the small pruning saws, which sped through the hazel wood.


Simon Smith talks tools and technique

Simon is the Assistant Director (Operations) with Wiltshire Wildilfe Trust and previously worked for BTCV. As the day progressed, Simon went around us all, checked we were OK, and shared his eperienced advice to help everyone. A few times he stopped and demonstrated a tool technique, or introduced a craft skill. Later, we heard how the range of coppice regrowth suits a range of different wildlife, and learned the historical context of coppice management as the key to rural life.

Large parts of the local landscape can be described as ‘chalk and cheese’ (cheese being clay soils) and in Saxon times a closely meshed variety of different habitats were managed within each parish. Parishes were self-sufficient and had a mix of woodlands on the clay and wet river valleys, with chalk downland where sheep were herded and walked along droves from place to place.

Hazel hurdles were essential mobile fences which enabled sheep to be penned in at arable fields at night, where they left their dung. A system of transhumance was vital to the sustainable land management.


The event was supported by the North Wessex Downs AONB.

Prince Charles on Rainforests

27 November, 2008

Natureheads blog 
Extract from a speech by HRH Prince Charles, 18 Nov 2008

“I think I must have first visited a tropical rainforest over 40 years ago in Papua New Guinea and I shall never forget the thick green forest canopies that stretched into the horizon, trees the height of cathedrals and an astonishing variety of some of the most remarkable plants, animals, birds and insects on Earth.”

“It is a remarkable fact that these ancient forests, which circle the equator in a giant green belt, are home to around half the animals and plants in the world, many of the plants having known – or as yet unknown – medicinal properties that are, or could be, of benefit to Mankind.”   …

“We need to do something about this and urgently; it is why I set up my Rainforests Project a year ago. At the end of the day, the answer is really very simple, although incredibly complicated to put in place. We are trying to find a way for the polluting, industrialised nations of the world – which caused climate change in the first place – to pay the rainforest countries for these eco-services. If we can do it, then the prize is huge. Not only can we can stop the terrifying rate of deforestation and buy ourselves some time so that new technologies on which so much hope is being pinned can be developed, we can also at the same time make a big difference to the lives of some 1.4billion of the poorest people on Earth who live in and around the rainforest.

Too often, people think there is nothing they can do about global warming. But there is. Stopping deforestation could make the whole difference, and would enable us to store carbon naturally – a much easier and cheaper option than relying entirely on as yet unproven and expensive technologies.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing, then you can visit my Rainforests Project website at and add your name.”

E.coli – friend and foe!

29 August, 2008

Do you long for a relationship with nature? You’ve got one whether you like it or not. Are you into wildlife or is wildlife into you? Both. In fact you’re full of it!

Your gut is home to many trillions of bacteria, and one species that gets an unfair press is Escherichia coli (or E.coli for short). Every now and again there’s terrible news about E.coli and how it killed people by being present in unsafely prepared food, or caused diarrhoea, or it’s becoming a superbug. > BBC news Small Video Image Farms infected with E-coli. < Recent concern about the over-use of antibiotics in farming highlights a very real problem.

But the truth is, our E.coli population is a vital part of an internal ecosystem keeping us alive. E.coli bacteria produce vitamin k, essential for the biochemistry of blood clotting.

Don’t get freaked out by the idea that you are full of micro-organisms. It’s totally natural. To give you some perspective on their importance: the human body contains a vast amount of living cells – a number roughly 1×1014 (that’s a 1 followed by 14 zeros), but only about 10% of those cells actually belong to us.

Background stuff

E coli was first discovered in the human colon by Theodor Escherich, a German scientist, in 1885. He also showed that some strains of E coli are able to cause diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. Microbiologists would describe E coli as a gram-negative, rod-shaped, and facultatively anaerobic bacterium. It’s in the family Enterobacteriaceae.