Deer frustrations

We have a real deer problem in the garden. Every time we plant something in the garden, outside the walled garden, no sooner is it established than the deer either eat it, smash it or fatally mark it.

This time it has been the cypress trees. As usual, they have been allowed to establish themselves for a few years. Then all of a sudden this winter the deer have decided to smash them to bits. Ripping all the bark and lower branches off one by one and each night finding a way to do a bit more damage.

Before Christmas I put up a security light hoping to scare them away. But it has made no difference and they have continued their destruction and have even got closer to the buildings.

Does anyone know how to stop deer destroying your garden?

We have tried every kind of smell and chemical to deter them but it really hasn’t made any difference that we can see.

The local pest control guy says the only thing to do is shoot them but down here it is too flat and populated for anyone to do this safely – although I wish our neighbouring farmers on the Downs would do their bit.

I am trying something new this evening. I have tied all the trees together with fishing line and then put some runs in the bushes where the deer push through to make their way around the garden.

The idea is that an unknown obstacle and one that can’t be seen might just give them a proper fright. It is safe because if they get tangled up the line will break easily but not before giving the bushes nearby a good shake.

I feel the benefit of something that can’t be seen is that the deer can’t jump it so easily which they have done with the high barbed wire fences we put up.

I’ll try and report back on progress and I hope this isn’t simply that I have tripped myself up ten times with my own hidden wires!

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Not so fantastic Mr Fox

The kids came back last night reporting they had seen a fox in the garden near the chickens. We put this down to imagination until this morning it was seen again hiding in the barn right outside the chicken run presumably waiting for us to let the chickens out (which we do most days).

We knew we had lost one chicken already but with only a wing to go on it was difficult to know when or how.

All credit to the fox which seemed happy to play the waiting game for one of our scrawny chickens but I’m afraid we couldn’t see a way of accommodating a fox with a taste for chicken so it sadly had to be escorted off the property.

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This looks like trouble

Water frozen in the downpipe
"I can't remember the last time I saw the water in the downpipes freeze."

I was going to post a nice white snowy scene however I thought this photograph was more indicative of this very unusual cold spell.

Like many, I’ve been saying, “I can’t remember the last time …” etc. (With so many of us saying the same thing I can already hear a Michael McIntyre sketch in the making!) but I really can’t remember the combination of heavy snow and the continuing cold conditions like this.

I do fear the attached photo is the sign of some real problems. We already have water coming through the roof which should have been sorted before Christmas except the roofer doesn’t like the cold. The ice initially gives us a break but if the snow on the roof starts to melt before the ice in the downpipe (our loft insulation is good but not perfect) I’m not sure where the water in the valleys is going to go?

UPDATE (16:35) I’ve just come down from the roof. It turns out that my fears about the downpipe being blocked wasn’t really a problem. Why? because the valleys are all full of ice so melt water can’t even get to the top of the downpipe! Sure enough the water has found another place to get in although only in very small quantities thankfully. So I’ve just cleared the main valley but even as I was working the water was starting to freeze again so no doubt they will be full of ice again tomorrow.

This game does tend to take the joy out of these beautiful conditions.

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The hedge laying is finished

The Crumblies Conservation Group on completing the hedge in Chapel Lane (Dec 2009)
The Crumblies Conservation Group on completing the hedge in Chapel Lane (Dec 2009)

After weeks of working every Thursday The Crumblies Conservation Group have completed laying the hedge on Chapel Lane leading to St Mary’s Sennicotts.

This has been the most satisfying, and as I reported before, ‘addictive’ process. The slow taming of a hedge which had not been touched for decades at times looked like an impossible job but through perseverance and methodical technique it was conquered.

Within two or three years the hedge will have re-established itself and will require regular cutting. For now users of Chapel Lane and St Mary’s will enjoy the regular pattern of stakes and binders, a technique developed to make hedgerows stock proof before the days of low cost barbed wire.

The Crumblies will now be returning to Brandy Hole Copse to complete laying a new hedge in the Local Nature Reserve (see links).

Here are some before and after photographs (click on the images to see full size).

the hedge line in Chapel Lane before work started (Sept 2009)
the hedge line in Chapel Lane before work started (Sept 2009)
the Chapel Lane hedge laid (Dec 2009)
the Chapel Lane hedge laid (Dec 2009)
Chapel Lane from the church before hedge laying
Chapel Lane from the church before hedge laying
Chapel Lane from the church after hedge laying
Chapel Lane from the church after hedge laying
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The flagpole is restored

the snapped flagpole in March 2007
the snapped flagpole in March 2007

In Spring 2006 we redecorated the wooden flagpole and at the same time repaired the pole where damp had got in around the bolt holes. It was obviously too late because in March 2007, after a slightly windy night the flagpole snapped and was found lying on the drive.

For some reason I took it upon myself to make a new flagpole.

The aim was to make a wooden flagpole that would last forever. Impossible I know, but you have to start somewhere! However the first challenge was where to find a pole. Generally timber merchants don’t stock 9m trees so, with some help, I contacted Mike Cameron a Forester in the Plashett Park Wood, East Sussex which is run for charitable purposes. Mike very kindly agreed to select a suitable Larch and prepare it.

two pieces of oak were selected for the flagpole base
two pieces of oak were selected for the flagpole base

Things were going well and by Oct 2007 the flagpole was ready for collection. The only problem was how to transport it. Although not ideal, the only method at my disposal of creating a 9m long vehicle was to take a boat on its trailer over to the wood and to return with the flagpole strapped down (6m in the boat and 3 over the towing vehicle). This made for a nerve-racking journey so much so that it never occurred to me to take a photograph.

preparing the Larch pole required filling and hours of sanding
preparing the Larch pole required filling and hours of sanding

As I looked at the tree, now back home, I did get a sinking feeling when I realised just how much work was going to be required to get this rough wood down to a paintable surface, despite Mike’s preparation work.

We needed to let the Larch age and so the flagpole project was put on one side with the exception of sourcing two pieces of oak for the base.

The other dilemma which needed solving in the meantime was where to put a flagpole. By the time the old one broke it was sandwiched between two fully grown trees meaning the flag never really flew. Several places were explored but none appeared right : too far from the house, too close to the house etc. Thankfully the problem resolved itself when a tree died in 2009 in what was to become the obvious place.

bolt holes in the Larch pole had stainless steel pipe lining bonded in place with epoxy resin
bolt holes in the Larch pole had stainless steel pipe lining bonded in place with epoxy resin

With the dead tree needing to come out it was time to get the flag pole prepared and the base constructed. Sadly the pole had dried too quickly and there was a significant amount of filling required, not to mention several days of sanding. Wood glue was drizzled into the bottom of the cracks and then a two-pack filler was used to fill and build up the surface.

each part of the base was fully decorated before assembly
each part of the base was fully decorated before assembly

The rough sawn oak also required a lot of sanding and I had the words of my school woodwork teacher ringing in my head about the importance of sanding right down to a fine grit and needing to do it again and again to seal the wood. So that is what we did.

Then each section of the base was decorated fully with Dulux Weathershield 8-year protection system – except instead of one coat of each the base received two coats of each. The base was then assembled leaving the hardest bit to last – drilling the holes!

The old flagpole had rotted where the pole’s bolt holes had been drilled. Inevitably moisture had crept in here. In an attempt to prevent this happening on the new flagpole a system was devised to line the hole and therefore fully seal the wood.

finally the new flag pole was ready and enthusiastic flag flying could begin
finally the new flag pole was ready and enthusiastic flag flying could begin

To do this, a larger diameter stainless steel pipe was inserted into the holes which was then bonded in place with epoxy resin. This was repeated for holes in both the pole and the base and had the added benefit of giving enough free play for the bolts to allow for minor inaccuracies in the hole alignment.

the original flagpole top and rope was salvaged, prepared and fitted to the new pole
the original flagpole top and rope was salvaged, prepared and fitted to the new pole

Despite taking the full force of the fall it was possible to salvage the original flagpole top with rope and pulley wheel. This was added to the Larch pole using the original coach screw and the alignment with the base planned.

The base was then set in concrete in the ground on a bed of gravel. A drainage pipe was set in the bottom of the concrete to prevent water getting trapped against the wood. The base was then left to set.

Finally on 2 Dec the pole was installed in the base and the flag flown again. It stands 8.9m tall.

Having not exactly been a ‘flag man’ I was never very interested in flying a flag except on occasional special events. However I now find myself wanting to fly a flag all the time. This has led to a great deal of research into what flag protocol is. My research seems to suggest that on the whole the British have a somewhat indifferent approach to flags and ‘flag flying’ in particular. This seems a shame but then I wouldn’t be in a hurry to adopt the slightly obsessive approach of some countries.

What we need is a flag we can be proud of and get excited about flying – any suggestions?

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Hedge laying is addictive

'The Crumblies' are here!

‘The Crumblies’ are here!

I have just had a new experience and it is addictive! This might sound a bit exaggerated when talking about hedge laying but I have caught the bug, off The Crumblies.

I hope to bring you the history of The Crumblies at some point but in broad terms they are a group of volunteers who have reached retirement but who wish to keep active and continue the tradition and skill of hedge laying while offering a public benefit. This in itself is inspirational in our modern times.

I came across them through Brandy Hole Copse and the work they have done to maintain and improve this nature reserve North West of Chichester. Here they manage tree growth and have also laid the Copse hedge beside the B2178.

St Mary's in 1929 with a tidier hedge.
St Mary's in 1929 with a managed hedge.

At about the same time I came across a photograph of the approach to St Mary’s Sennicotts on Chapel Lane. You will see from the black and white photograph a hedge at least under control.

Having discussed the idea with Peter he agreed they would tackle what probably amounted to the most challenging hedge in their history! What’s more they would start on his 80th birthday.

I agreed to help whenever possible and on my first outing I was hooked. We were fortunate to have a beautiful Autumn day and methodically we worked our way along the hedge. Selecting which growth to incorporate  in the new hedge and which bits to cut out. Then carefully cutting it enough to lay down, weaving between the stakes and trimming off the tail. The Crumblies are a great bunch to work with. They have a solid work ethic, they enjoy their work and each other’s company. They were very kind to let me join them and we all got stuck in – although I did keep stopping to take photographs because the finished effect is magical – pure English countryside at its finest: the mark of ‘handmade’ by men who take pride in their work.

I’ve included some photographs below and I will update you as we make progress.

The view of St Mary's from Chapel Lane before work starts.
The view of St Mary's from Chapel Lane before work starts.
The view of St Mary's opening up a little.
The view of St Mary's Sennicotts opening up a little.
Hand made tools - a Yew mallet over 15 years old and going strong.
Hand made tools - a Yew mallet over 15 years old and going strong.
Adding the hazel binders before cutting the tops from the stakes
Adding the hazel binders before cutting the tops from the stakes
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Can you change the time of your ‘constitutional’

This one is for my sister-in-law – the only person who has admitted she reads any of this.

Some people do it whenever the need arises but quite a few people would call themselves ‘regular’ both in frequency and time of day.

Many people don’t mind when. But some are very precious about their regular appointment with the facilites. It is a sacred time of the day and therefore needs to be chosen carefully for optimum peace and quiet.

So is there an ability to choose this time. What if our circumstances change? Can we change ‘our time’?

I do have an interest in the answer to this question but on this occaison it’s not my timing I want to change but someon else’s.

You see the problem comes at the same time every day. Like clockwork I can almost guarantee that halfway through high-teatime, which we are trying to enjoy as a family meal, our youngest daughter has an explosion. The event destroys any enjoyment of our mealtime together. It has to be dealt with and on returning to the table you can guarantee you’ve lost your appetite.

So can it be done? Can you change some else’s timing and if so can someone please tell me how?

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Campaign to give a tax break for domestic PAYE employers.

Before I go any further I need to acknowledge that this is not an issue facing the majority of the population. However if addressed, I believe it could bring benefits to the wider society.

Listed Buildings need labour intensive care.

This concerns the issue of private individuals becoming employers to help them in private affairs and in particular maintaining privately owned Listed Buildings.

Currently the owner of the Listed building or garden earns income on which they pay Income Tax at various rates. If they choose to employ someone to help maintain the building or garden (domestic staff) they then have to pay those employees out of net income (that is left after tax has been paid), and then undertake the same Pay As You Earn administration (collecting the income tax from that employee and paying the employers share of the National Insurance) as would any other employer.

Here’s the issue: any employer running a business is able to set their employment costs against their income to reduce their tax, so why can’t owners of Listed Buildings or for that matter employers of domestic staff (nannies etc), whose employees are paid through the PAYE scheme get some sort of tax relief on their income for doing so.

It would be easy to administer because HMRC has records of both the employers and employees tax affairs. It should only work where employees are paid through PAYE. There are loads of benefits:

  1. This would encourage employment by making it more affordable for private individuals to employ staff in domestic, childcare, gardening, and property maintenance jobs.
  2. It would encourage employers to pay staff currently paid cash in hand into the PAYE system and probably increase tax revenues.
  3. It would be easy to administer as HMRC has all the records it needs to cross check claims by private employers.
  4. By encouraging individuals to employ domestic staff it would free up their time and encourage them to spend in the local economy.
  5. Owners of our heritage would be able to employ sufficient help to make it possible and desirable to open their properties/gardens on an occasional basis to the public.
  6. With more manpower employed in upkeep our heritage stock would be kept in a better state of repair.

There is a reason for mentioning the listed building element. Presumably the main case against such tax relief is that it lines the pockets of the already wealthy and is an unfair tax break. The Listed Building element addresses this. Owners of Listed Buildings provide a service of national benefit by maintaining the Nation’s Cultural Heritage. While they often get the benefit of living in attractive properties they are essentially unpaid private guardians, restricted in what they can do to reduce the costly maintenance of their properties because as a Nation we want them to preserve our past. As they get little or no financial assistance for this role and their properties usually require the most labour intensive form of upkeep it would appear not that unfair to assist them in the labour element of looking after our heritage.

And this is the shift in thinking proposed. To see this role in the same light as small businesses. To see the owners of these Listed Buildings as operating in the business of maintaining our heritage. So just as every other business in the country gets a tax break for encouraging employment and employing individuals to help it go about its business, then these private individuals should be given similar treatment and some form of reduction in their income tax liability where that income is going towards the employment of individuals to assist them in the maintenance of our Heritage.

Your comments would be appreciated in this debate.

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