Chestnut Blight

Here is an extract from a letter received from the Forestry Commission:

I am writing to you with information about an outbreak of sweet chestnut blight in the South West and to notify you of four 5km zones that are subject to movement restrictions.

Sweet chestnut blight is caused by a fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica, which gets into the trees through wounds or graft sites. Although oak trees suffer very little damage if they are infected by the fungus, they can spread it, so restrictions on movements of oak material are also required as a precaution.

Sweet chestnut blight was found in Devon in December 2016, initially south of Exeter. We wrote to our Devon contacts in January to inform them and again last week to let them know about two restricted zones; you may have seen articles in the forestry or local media about this. As a result of related survey and tracing work, we have now identified another zone in Devon and one in Dorset where restrictions are required. We are now writing to all our South West contacts to let you know what we are doing to manage the outbreak and to inform you about the movement restrictions.

For further information go to:


Hedgesteeping near Marldon

By Jeremy Weiss

A blustery day with some rain to boot but a nice easy hedge to greet us. Alan Cooper gave the safety talk and briefing while Don and I trekked through the fields to find a suitable bank to work on for the turf hedging course in 4 weeks time.

By the time we returned the novices were being shown the basics by Alan while everyone else busied themselves with the task ahead. I had to leave at lunch time but managed to get a few pictures of the progress being made.

The next course is hedge laying near Drewsteignton with Nick Dawe on the 11th of March. See you there!

Turf hedging 

By Don Gaskins

The Westcountry landscape is unique in many ways but particularly renowned for its stone walls and hedgebanks which are an essential part of the countryside scene. The varied geology of the area has enabled our forebears to construct dry stone walls of granite and limestone in the uplands of Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor and the hills of Somerset and Gloucestershire and in exposed coastal locations where hedges would struggle to survive. Elsewhere local stone has been used to face up Devon and Cornish earth banks topped with hedges. In areas where stone is not readily available turf faced banks have been constructed.

All these features need maintenace and repair from time to time and in new development completely new walls and hedgebanks are often constructed. Under new agri environment schemes there are proposals to make available capital grants to ensure the retention of these important landscape features. Stone is expensive to purchase and becoming more difficult to find locally as small quarries are worked out or closed down because they are not economc to run. Turf facing is a cheaper alternative and usually the material to repair or construct new sections of hedgebank is readily available close at hand.

We have organised a DRST turf hedging course to be held at Culvertor Farm, Farthing Lane, Marldon (close to the Chtristmas Tree Farm) on Saturday the 25th of March by kind permission of local landowner Alan Dommett where you can learn the technique of digging turf blocks from the adjacent field to repair and reconstruct a length of hedgebank. This is an essential traditional Devon skill which is easy to learn and which it is really important to keep alive.

Come along and give it a try. You will find it very satisfying!

Wattle hurdles

Saturday was our annual wattle hurdle course at the South Devon Steiner School. Under the cover of the green woodwork area we assembled to cleave and weave and twist the hazel, creating our self contained fence panels. 

Hurdles are very cleverly fitted together bottom and top to ensure they don’t unravel. The result is a strong yet flexible and beautiful panel, traditionally used to fold sheep, now as garden screens. 

The next course is this Saturday, 11th of February, coppicing at Parke, Bovey Tracey, with Mick Jones. 

Dry stone mud bathing at Orley Common

By Jeremy Weiss

It could have been a total disaster… but instead turned out to be a very satisfying and enjoyable day at Orley Common. It had rained heavily all night and the ground was sopping. Mick and Gary were dispatched to find some straw to put down and this worked well with the sunshine helping to raise the spirits.

The last course had been spent dismantling the wall, pulling out roots, shifting vast quantities of stone, and rebuilding the footings. Impressively, many of the participants of that course returned and they were able to reap the rewards of the hard work they’d put in previously. Today we spent building and the wall which, in spite of its enormity, came up quickly.

A great day and amazing spirit and enthusiasm shown by all.

The next course is next Saturday at the South Devon Steiner School – Wattle Hurdles. Once place is still available.

Hedgesteeping at Orcheton

By Adam Maher (Trainee)

The first course of 2017 saw a return to Little Orcheton and also the return of some amazing weather. We were back to continue hedge laying a lapsed section of farmland hedge under the guidance of Maxine McAdams.

The hedge in question was a real mix, with sections comprised of large hazel stools with some stems too big to lay and some sections where the hedge had grown into maturing trees resulting in other areas being far sparser.

After an introduction from Maxine into how we would tackle the hedge, participants split off into pairs to choose a section to work on.

The first half of the day saw a lot of preparation work clearing back the hedge to a point where we could start laying it, with two chainsaw operators being kept very busy!

As some stems being laid were quite large, pairs worked together to stabilise the hazel limbs so they didn’t hakes mouth as they were brought over; sections were laid off as the chainsaw operators cleared out the hedge.

With the hedge being carefully brought into position and staked out, that brought to an end a challenging day of hedge laying, leaving a lot of timber, a massive brash pile and also some great memories of hedge laying in stunning weather amongst flowering hazels.