As the results of our 2017 flower hunt pointed to a long-term and continuing decline in the diversity of our local flora, we are following up with a parish-wide search for missing species. Full details of the challenge, and a link to the accompanying spreadsheet, are available here.
Sadly we have had a major setback in the community orchard project. Unfortunately, in the light of legal advice, Mary Harris has found it necessary to withdraw her offer of the field near the Wye as the site for the orchard. I know Mary has come to this decision very reluctantly, and I salute her generosity of spirit in making the original offer.
This does not necessarily mean the end of the project. We have established that there is sufficient interest locally to launch a community orchard. If we can find a suitable piece of land we are ready to restart the project. I repeat the earlier plea for suggestions for a site, however improbable they may seem. Please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
We have been encouraged by the number of people who have already come forward to express an interest in helping with various roles involved. Now it would be useful to identify someone prepared to lead the project. Please get in touch if you feel able to do so. Meantime we are planning to organise a visit to established orchards later in the year. More news when we have it.
The AGM will feature two talks about local wild flowers. One, by George Peterken, will summarise findings from the PGP's 2017 wild flower survey and our plans to continue it in 2018. The other, by Elsa Wood of The Nurtons, will be about the wild flowers of the Wye Valley in general. Elsa is the Botanical Recorder for Monmouthshire, our local expert field botanist. The AGM is at the Mackenzie Hall, Brockweir at 7.30pm on Thursday March 15.
Both talks will show that the local wild flora is still colourful and diverse, but also that its diversity is declining. Of the eight species featured for the 2017 flower survey, five were holding their own (e.g., Cowslip), three were declining (e.g., Harebell) and none was increasing. Moreover, we know that several other species survive as very small, at-risk populations (e.g., Early-purple Orchid; Dyer's Greenweed). We are not alone in this: much the same can be said about the Wye Valley as a whole.
Recent declines appear to be just the latest instalment of a long-term decline. A century ago, a local Flora recorded about 500 wild species in our two parishes, but I can remember finding just 289 of these in recent years, and I am reasonably sure that some have long been locally extinct.
During 2018, we take up the challenge by searching for the "missing" 211 species in the hope of disproving the alarming implication that we have lost 40% of our wild flora in the last century. We expect to find some easily, but others have not been seen for years. Lists will be available and any help in the search will be much appreciated, though one has to admit that some missing species are obscure and hard to identify.
If, by next autumn, we still have a substantial list of missing species, we will have to consider why, whether it matters and to whom, and whether we can realistically do anything about it. But that is for the future: first we have to be sure that there has in fact been a substantial decline in wild plant diversity.
We'll be looking at field boundaries - walls, fences and hedges - in our autumn gathering on Saturday October 14. "Good fences make good neighbours," as the poet Robert Frost had it, and it behoves us all to attend to them. In our parishes we have boundaries as interesting as any in the land.
The extraordinary density of our stone walls will be the subject of a survey by the AONB; some walls are very much as they were when first built, some are bulging and some collapsed. And we'll be invited to join the survey and a discussion about their condition with an experienced local waller. The history and features of our parish walls will be the subject of an introduction by our local expert George Peterken. There will be a hedging demonstration indoors, from local hedgers, and discussion on the birds and animals who make their homes in our field boundaries.
We are also planning a hands-on session in November, when hedging and wall-building can be tried under expert guidance. More details of this at the meeting on October 14, which will be held at the Mackenzie Hall Brockweir starting at 2pm. There will be an interval with cakes, tea and coffee. All are cordially welcome, PGP members free, others are asked to make a donation to help cover cost of refreshments.
Many thanks to everyone who has taken part in our flower survey so far, the cowslips have now faded but there are three more species to look out for: ragged robin, bugle and yellow rattle. Please keep your eyes peeled, and continue to send us your reports.
We've produced a map showing the cowslip distribution, and will create maps for the other species as the year progresses.
The Parish Grasslands Project is attempting to set up a community orchard within our two parishes of St Briavels and Hewelsfield & Brockweir. The idea arose from our AGM in March 2017, when Chris Wedge, Natural England's orchard specialist, gave an inspirational talk on traditional orchards to about 60 members and visitors. Because of the level of interest generated the PGP committee decided to investigate whether it would be feasible to launch a community orchard within our two parishes.
Traditional orchards are planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland, using locally traditional varieties. Once common in Gloucestershire, they have largely been replaced in commercial orchards by rows of closely planted trees on dwarfing rootstocks using a few modern varieties. These have to be grubbed up and replanted every few years. On the other hand a traditional orchard, once established, has the potential to provide fruit for generations.
We appreciate that establishing a community orchard will involve many challenges. Initially we will need to find two vital ingredients: suitable land, and a group of enthusiastic volunteers. As far as land is concerned we are open to ideas, but presumably this would have to be purchased, leased or donated, and we are keen to hear any suggestions about how this might be arranged. Please get in touch if you own or know of a piece of land that might be available, however unsuitable that land might appear to be at the moment. We will follow up all suggestions. We would also like to hear from anyone interested in getting involved with any aspect of the scheme.
There will be organisational, administrative and possibly legal work to do, as well as physical tasks such as ground clearance and maintenance, planting and pruning, etc. Chris Wedge has offered the project his full support, and training and guidance will be given for all tasks involved. One of the chief merits of the scheme, as we see it, is that it will provide an opportunity for any and all members of the local community to become involved.
If you have any ideas about the land question, or are interested in becoming involved in any way with the scheme, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com
Following our "orchard" meeting, a member has offered us the chance to take cuttings for grafting from his Arthur Turner cooking apple tree. He says the flavour is equal to that of Bramley apples, and it produces apples from between 12-18 ounces.
If you are interested in taking up this offer please let us know.
Well the grass is well and truly growing now so we thought we should remind you of two options for grazing.
The first is Barry Hutchinson's Red Ruby Devon cattle. If you are a field owner seeking a flexible, sustainable way to manage your land, contact Barry via the Beanhill Herd website at www.beanhilldevons.co.uk
The second possibility is that Julian Holroyd is looking for grazing for his seven Norfolk Horn ewes. The normal things apply, like good fencing and water but Julian would check the sheep himself. If you are interested, please contact him: Wessex56@hotmail.com
AGM and talk by Chris Wedge (Natural England), Orchard Specialist
Thursday 23 March, 7.30pm, Mackenzie Hall, Brockweir
Growing up I had a dog whose chief pleasure in life, beyond menacing policemen, was picking apples straight from the tree.
His technique was balletic: a gravity-defying leap, snap and a twist. No sedentary Newton, he. Sadly the fruit was invariably unripe and the resultant mess far too ripe but what stands out after all these years is the great delight he took in this pursuit: there's nothing finer, one might imagine, watching him soar through the air, than the freedom to browse an orchard at will.
Which flimsy preamble leads me to the PGP's upcoming AGM, to be held on Thursday 23 March, 7.30pm, at the Mackenzie Hall: we are delighted to announce that Natural England's Chris Wedge will be on hand to talk about the planting and management of traditional orchards.
Chris has written extensively on this subject, offering A-Z guidance from early-days planning to best-practice pruning, as well as detailed biodiversity studies: a traditional orchard can support a staggering 1800 species of flora and fauna.
Unsurprisingly his advice is much sought-after by a host of organisations including The Orchard Project and the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust. The latter's website, in particular, serves as a time-traveller's Baedeker to this once orchard-dappled county, the names of our ancient apples and pears a litany to rival even the shipping forecast: Foxwhelp, Kill Boys, Betty Prosser... These are fruits to savour.
Indeed, in these difficult post-truth days there is a certain comfort to be derived from a plum called Shit Smock. At least you know where you stand with it. And you can't say that of a Golden Delicious.
The evening also sees the launch of a new citizen science project: our participatory survey of key wildflower species to assess the health of the parish grasslands. We hope to combine the project with a wildflower walk later in the year and we are looking for ways to involve local schoolchildren in the survey - so do come along and find out more.
All are welcome. Refreshments available.
2pm - 4pm: a unique opportunity to go foraging in the Hudnalls with expert guide Raoul Van Den Broucke. All spaces are now taken.
7pm onwards, at the Assembly Rooms, St Briavels. Raoul Van Den Broucke will reveal some of his favourite foraging recipes, with ingredients gathered in the afternoon session.
Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School, Longhope, will explore the history and uses of the magnificent nettle and demonstrate how best to cook with it - you'll get the chance to make nettle tea, nettle pasta and nettle flatbreads.
There will be hedgerow-wine tasting and, last but not least, our Recipe Competition, for a recipe - food or drink - using foraged ingredients (which Yvette Farrell has very kindly agreed to judge). The rules are simple: we're looking for the best-tasting recipe, with the primary ingredient(s) being foraged or 'wild' food (all secondary ingredients may come from the store-cupboard). You will be judged on presentation and innovation. The prize is a pair of gift vouchers, worth £55 each, for you and a companion to attend any of the wonderful courses held at Harts Barn Cookery School. Further information is available here. Please send us a copy of your recipe by 22 October and please bring with you a sample of your dish for tasting to the Assembly Rooms by 6.45pm on the evening of Saturday 29th.
There will be nettle cocktails! What more could one ask for?
All are welcome, members and non-members alike.
Time to get creative - here are the details for our recipe competition:
Competition for the best-tasting recipe, with the primary ingredient(s) being foraged or 'wild' food (all secondary ingredients may come from the store-cupboard). You will be judged on presentation and innovation.
Judging will take place at the PGP autumn meeting, from 7pm on 29 October 2016, at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms. Judges' decision is final!
Please let us have a copy of your recipe by 22 October, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post, to PGP Competition, Harthill Cottage, Hewelsfield, Lydney, GL15 6TZ. Please bring a sample of your dish with you to the Assembly Rooms on 29 October for tasting.
Judge: Yvette Farrell, principal of Harts Barn Cookery School, Longhope.
Prize: two Gift Vouchers (worth £55 each) for you and a companion to attend one of the many courses run by Harts Barn Cookery School.
Planning for the PGP's autumn meeting is now happily underway (yes, you're quite right, that is a euphemism for 'we're managing frantic phone calls in between haymaking, family invasions and the usual summer mayhem'). The salient facts, though, are these.
From 2pm - 4pm on Saturday 29 October, expert guide Raoul van den Broucke will be on hand to lead a small group of you through the Hudnalls, exploring the rich variety of wild food to be found on our doorstep. Raoul's foraging courses (run from Tudor Farmhouse, Clearwell) are much sought-after and this is a rare opportunity to take part entirely for free. You will hunt out edible fruits, nuts, leaves and seeds, learn about sustainable foraging, and there will be a few surprises in store as well. Space is limited to only 15 people, so please contact us at email@example.com to secure your place.
Then, from 7pm onwards, all of you are invited to join us at the Assembly Rooms, St Briavels, to sample the afternoon's discoveries and to find out who has won our Recipe Competition. Ah, yes, did I mention the competition? Very straightforward. We're looking for the best original recipe using foraged ingredients. There will be a crack judge, a rather lovely prize and, we hope, a wide range of dishes, lovely and otherwise, to taste. Competition details will be available on the website and we will be revealing the precise nature of the prize in due course to whet your appetite further.
There was an old chef my grandfather knew who averred that anything tasted good with enough butter and salt in it. (He used a few more expletives than this, you know what these chefs are like, but you get my gist.) This in mind and buoyed by the onset of summer the PGP has turned its thoughts to a shindig: a celebration of homemade food and drink from our fields, hedgerows and woodlands. A Taste of the Hudnalls, if you like.
So we are slicing and dicing our regular autumn meeting - to be held on Saturday 29 October - into a meal of two parts: an afternoon appetiser in the company of expert forager Raoul van den Broucke (you might recognise him from our March AGM), and an evening main course, the aforementioned celebration, to be served up at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms.
So our call goes out to all cooks. Do you rampage after ramsons, pillage plums, go sniffing out sloes? Have you eyed-up the road kill and thought well, there's barely a tyre mark...? Is your shed a still, your woodstove a smoker, your dustbin turned into a demijohn? Rather than eating your greens, do you eat your enemies: ground elder, cleavers and nettles? If you can answer yes to any of the above - if you would like to answer yes to any of the above - then the PGP would love to hear from you. Come and help us explore the food and drink of the wild.
Our ideas are still a little half-baked at this stage. How best to organise it? Is there a recipe book in it? A TV series, perhaps? The Great British Scrump Off? Come Dine (On Squirrel) With Me? Will we ever be able to achieve the necessary Health and Safety standards...? Yes, we have a long way to go. But if this is something that interests you then do please get in touch. Our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
The Parish Grasslands Project extends an open invitation to its 2016 open day. It's on Saturday June 4 and we're calling it Open Fields. It will feature eight of the meadow sites in our publication Our Fields.
This is a rare opportunity to visit some of the wild flower-rich meadows in St Briavels and Hewelsfield.
For more information, click here, or pick up a copy of our leaflet at the Village Shop, Brockweir or the Pantry, St Briavels.
We have arranged a repeat visit to Gadr Farm following our successful evening spent with Alan Morgan last May. The aim is to take a guided walk around a farm managed with wildlife as an important objective - ponds, toads, crested newts, owl friendly grassland and an ancient woodland.
We will muster at Trelleck at the Red Lion car park at 5.45pm on Tuesday 17th May, share transport from there to Gadr Farm and return to the Red Lion for a Noggin and Natter after our tour.
Depending on the response we may have to cap the numbers, but please contact Sally Secrett (email: email@example.com) to let her know if you intend to come.
Your place will be confirmed; should there be poor weather on the Tuesday and the plans have to change, we will contact you.
Details of our last visit can be found here.
We are currently drawing up plans to host an open day on Saturday June 4. This is an opportunity to invite the wider community to come and have a close look at some of the fields in our care and to find out how we look after them. We hope you will accept the invitation!
We are calling the event Open Fields, because it is based on the publication Our Fields, which tells the individual stories of a selection of local residents and their fields. The booklet gives an account of the history of the fields and explains how they are used and maintained.
Six of the properties highlighted in the booklet will be open to the public on June 4 between 11am and 4pm. By then there should be plenty of flower-filled meadows to see. There will also be opportunities to have a first-hand look at a whole range of activities at the various sites. These will include: sheep, pigs, cattle, poultry, bee-keeping, orchards, vegetable growing, tree planting, bracken clearance, laid hedges, woodland crafts including wattle-hurdle-making, fencing and general smallholding work.
We will produce an information sheet with details and directions, including maps, for the six sites. This will list which activities will be available at each site, so that visitors can tailor their visits to the sites which most interest them. On the day of the event it will be possible to collect information sheets at the Village Shop, Brockweir and the Pantry in St Briavels. The Our Fields booklet is on sale for £5 at both of these venues.
We are currently working on plans for various events in the year ahead. During May (date to be fixed) we will make a return visit to Gadr Farm near Trellech, where previously we have seen great crested newts and much else of interest.
On Saturday June 4 we plan an event we are calling Open Fields, when there will be open days at a number of the properties that feature in Our Fields, the PGP booklet that tells the stories of a number of residents and their fields. The booklet is on sale at the Village Shop and The Pantry in St Briavels.
Later in June we will hold the annual Midsummer Flower Hunt, when children from St Briavels School will spend a day exploring the wild outdoors in one of Jean Green's fields. July 2 is National Meadows Day, and we are planning a special event to mark the occasion.
Finally our October meeting will take the form of a daytime foraging expedition with Raoul Van Den Broucke, followed by an evening meeting when with Raoul's help we will cook and consume the proceeds of the day's activities. Further details about all these events will be notified here on the website as they become available.
These will be the twin themes of our annual general meeting at the Mackenzie Hall at 7.30pm of Thursday March 31.
After the AGM business, Jon Dunkelman of Monmouthshire Meadows Group will give a talk about fungi, particularly waxcaps, that are found in grassland of the Lower Wye Valley. Jon is compiling a guide book on the subject, and will show some stunning slides of many of the varieties he and his team have located so far.
After our customary break for drinks and cake we will be given a wide-ranging talk by the celebrated local forager Raoul Van Den Broucke. He supplies some of the top restaurants with food that he finds in the wild, and has promised to share some of his secrets with us.
Admission is free to members, and non-members are very welcome to attend, in return for a small donation. It is also possible to join the project (or simply pay this year's subscription) at the meeting. Membership is £5 per household per year.
Jon Dunkelman, a member of the Monmouthshire Meadows Group, is compiling a field guide to grasslands fungi of the lower Wye Valley. Local mycologist Elsa Wood is providing the fungi expertise and a couple of photographers have been recruited to the team. They are in the midst of their first Autumn surveys, identifying and photographing fungi in local meadows and nature reserves.
If there are any members of the Parish Grasslands Project willing to accommodate a visit from the team or just want more information then please contact Jon directly via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).