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About Wassledine

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We are a partnership dedicated to making part of our living from our wonderful piece of Bedfordshire and at the same time leaving it in as good or in better condition in terms of productivity, beauty and biodiversity than when we started.

This page has some information about the small farm we run and a bit of a cv of the people involved. Use the links below to find the bits you want to read:

the farm grassland cattle ancient woodland
new woodland willow visit us CV and the name
dog rose in flower

The farm
We look after around 70 acres of land in the middle of Bedfordshire; mostly grassland with 10 acres of trees. Twenty or so acres is old meadows which hasn't been ploughed for many years, or ever as far as we know. A small area was cultivated during the Second World War following pressure from the War Ag. Apparently they grew potatoes for one season after which the Men from the Ministry accepted what they'd been told the previous year - that the ground was far too wet. In a wet winter large areas remain underwater. Many years ago, before the Internal Drainage Board dug the river bed out of the River Hit, that flows through the land, the fields must have been severely flooded most winters.
Buttercups, cattle and willows in May
Grassland in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme
This is beautiful lowland grassland, much enjoyed by local people who use the public footpaths that criss-cross the three fields. There are old pollard willows, most of which
have unfortunately collapsed despite efforts to get them back into a cropping rotation. We got to them too late. These fields have been in a Department of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) grant scheme called Countryside Stewardship since 1994. Stewardship has made it possible for us to develop our Red Poll herd slowly, learning as we go along. We've also been able to plant and lay hedges and improve fencing as well as opening the old meadows to public access.

We have converted two other fields from arable to grassland and are managing them by grazing with cattle and cutting for hay.These fields were added to our Stewardship agreement in 2004. We created two new permissive paths here - making it possible to have a good walk around the land, for much of the year, without mixing it with the cattle - we know lots of people don't like getting too close.

We aren't organic but we do use as few chemicals as possible - occasional herbicide to kill weeds in our willow and in amongst newly planted hedges, and minimal veterinary products when necessary. We hope that the new grass will, over time become as diverse as the old meadows alongside them.
Cow, calf and cowslip

cuckoo flower

Red Poll Cattle
The Red Poll is East Anglia's native breed, a cross between a Suffolk polled (hornless) bull and a Norfolk cow (both now extinct), and was first described as a breed in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. In the early Twentieth Century it was one of the dominant breeds in English dairy farming. The breed is truly dual purpose, producing excellent tasting beef, and a good yield of milk with a high butterfat and protein content. We don't milk though; that's left to the calves.

There is more information about the breed at Red Poll Cattle Society

Admiral, our Red Poll bull
Watch cattle grazing
Here's a video of a couple of our cattle in high summer - worth a look especially if you're viewing this in winter, just to remind you of a summer evening

read Wassledine's blog
Why we chose Red Poll Cattle
When we decided to buy cattle, we spent a long time talking to people, reading and
thinking about which breed to keep. We knew that our land and to some extent our characters were suited to an old fashioned native breed so we didn't spend much time considering modern continentals. When asked, we found that most cattle people swear that their favoured breed produces the best beef on the poorest forage, is the easiest calver, is the friendliest, best at crosswords, etc. When it came down to it we liked the idea of a local breed and as we are just about in East Anglia, the choice was suddenly limited. But what really made the decision easy was an introduction to a couple in a neighbouring village who have kept Red Polls for a while. Their enthusiasm and generosity caught us; the taste of the beef sealed the decision.

Red Poll cattle
Red Poll cattle make excellent mothers - here's proof...

Of course Red Polls have proved to be easy calvers and excellent mothers, producing plentiful milk throughout an eight month lactation. They seem to cope happily with adverse weather and relatively poor feed and they are on the whole pretty docile although we have a couple of characters who need to be treated with respect. We bought our first three in-calf cows in 2003 and have since grown very fond of them... ..and they produce fantastic beef.  Read more about our beef and how to buy it.. Red Poll cow with her week old calf

Species diversity
The winter wet is not great for intensive agriculture, but it is good for growing an interesting variety of plants and attracting invertebrates and birds. Species lists of birds and herbs if you're interested. We enjoy the large range of plants and believe the variety helps to keep our cattle happy and healthy - it might even add to the great flavour of the beef they produce. Even when there's loads of grass, cattle regularly browse the hedgerows. They love hops, spindle, elder, ivy, nettle tops and a huge range of other treats, and even go blackberrying in August and September!

During the last couple of summers we have seen lots of common blue butterflies on the new grass, attracted by the birds-foot trefoil growing amongst it. Every so often in the summer, a few marbled white butterflies appear, a species that lives in sometimes small, sometimes isolated populations. Hopefully we are doing the right things to maintain ours, which usually hang out in the ride through our newly planted wood.

We are lucky enough occasionally to put up a snipe from the wet meadows. This exciting, small wader with its erratic flight would have been more common along the river many years ago even though it was probably shot regularly. There are far fewer quiet, wet places for it to forage now and those that do remain are (like ours) probably too well populated with people and their dogs to be of much interest to a snipe out looking for accommodation. Each winter we see perhaps two or woodcock in Bottom's Corner.

Two decades ago, common buzzards were an incredibly rare site in Bedfordshire. We still associate these beautiful birds with the wilder parts of the UK; so it's wonderful that we now regularly see two or three and sometimes more, soaring over Gravenhurst's very tame fields and woods.
common blue butterfly

marbled white butterfly

See for yourself
You can visit our fields anytime on the public footpaths that cross them; and wander freely in the three old meadows covered by Stewardship access. You'll find an 8 mile circular route that passes through neighbouring villages Shillington and Silsoe that crosses our land, on the Let's Go website www.letsgo.org.uk 
If you'd like to have a guided walk and talk to us about what we do take a look at our visits page.
steer on Cow Bridge early morning

Being interested in and having some experience with growing trees, when looking for a diversification project, we landed after extensive research on planting willow. This has proved to be an interesting, very labour intensive yet rewarding side-line. We are now supplying basket makers as well as others who use willow - with material from the finest, most delicate varieties to real monsters. We are also selling products made ourselves - balls, plant supports, hurdles, etc.

For more information about our willow click here
basket making willows

Chester Wood is a tiny remnant (about 1.5acres) of semi-natural ancient woodland; a mixture of ash
and hazel coppice stools, a few English oak and ash standards, some elm at one end a couple of crab apples and a mix of shrubs including Midland hawthorn (Cratageous oxycantha). We think the soil is somewhat enriched from years of fertiliser spreading in the adjacent fields allowing an invasion of stinging nettles and thistles. Despite this, bluebells and dogs mercury persist as well as ransoms and a few wood anemones.

With a bit of grant aid from the Forestry Commission (which paid for a chainsaw amongst other things), we coppiced about 80% of the wood in three bites starting in February 1997. Although a bit alarming at first, the neglected ash stools responded really well. Some had not been cut for around 80 years although Jane's Mum recalls her uncles cutting bits and pieces out, perhaps in the 1950s. Coppicing kept our own fire burning for 10 years and we also sold quite a substantial volume of firewood locally as well as keeping family members supplied on and off.

To fulfill grant obligations, the Forestry Commission required us to plant into gaps, which we did in around 2000/01, first using densely growing ash seedlings relocated, then a couple of years later with plants grown on from seed collected from trees in the wood. Some have died, but many are now thriving.
After 10 years, the coppice regrowth reached over 18 feet and the poles were approaching firewood size (4-5" diameter). We have no immediate plans for recoppicing although hope to squeeze this into the schedule over the next few years.
bluebells and old ash coppice stool

true crab apple in full flower - Chester Wood
Bottoms' Corner
We are very fortunate to have retained ownership of an 8 acre corner of an arable field right next to Chester Wood. In early 1999, we planted Bottoms' Corner (named after Jane's Mum, nee Bottoms, who played in Chester Wood as a girl). Again with help from the Forestry Commission, we planted this with hazel and a mix of broadleaf trees, leaving a wide strip alongside Chester Wood to regenerate naturally. It was always our intention to coppice the hazel on the basis that good quality hazel seems to be in demand. We started cutting hazel in 2003/04 and have cut a small cant each winter, selling tops as pea sticks. In winter 2007/08 we cut the first reasonably big stems and have succeeded in selling a fair number. As this is the first cut, a large proportion of stems are curly and knotted. After cutting, stools are now throwing up plenty of good looking, straight, branch-free poles - hopefully these will be more plentiful each winter.

We've been watching the ground flora develop in a rather unscientific way. The arable weed cover (black grass, wild oats, thistles, etc.) that appeared in the first couple of years after planting has faded and the more open areas have developed a quite diverse cover of perennial grass and sedge species. Ash seedlings are in places very dense and we have been cutting sallow out for a few years because it is so successful and is competing with the hazel. The hazel is growing quite variably - in places it is very vigorous and in others it has almost done nothing; perhaps something to do with micro-variations in soil type? Where it is growing best, the canopy has closed, creating a beautiful, shaded, woodland feel with very sparse ground cover.
One exciting appearance since the spring of 2006 has been common spotted orchids which have popped up in several locations around the new plantation.

We hope to use Bottoms' Corner for Forest School activities in the future. Whilst Chester Wood's ground  flora is a bit delicate, particularly in the spring months, Bottoms' Corner, being a new plantation is far more robust so can manage quite happily having people charging about, making dens and playing games in it.
Buy hazel

Common spotted orchid in Bottoms' Corner

coppiced hazel in Bottoms' Corner - April

A note about a veteran ash pollard
This formidable ash pollard stands next to the River Hitt. Something of a landmark locally, it's a great place to hang out and enjoy a July afternoon. There's been at least one wedding under its considerable canopy and one can't help wondering at the conceptions that may have occurred there over the years...

Several years ago a small hole appeared in one side. This attracted some attention and rubbish and one summer day it was set alight. This was quickly dealt with and thanks to the services of Beds County Council's tree guru, David Alderman, a small oak cap was attached to a now largish hole. A bit of crown reduction, also thanks to David, began the on-going process of restoration. Unfortunately, the tree again burst into flames (we assume not spontaneously). A call that morning sent me down there to meet a fire crew from Shefford who, gamely armed with a stirrup pump, spent a long time dousing the flames through a now gaping opening in the poor old tree's flank.

After the brigade's departure, another call sent me back down to see smoke pouring out of the tree again. A good friend, Chris, who was married down there the previous year, so cares powerfully for the tree and was madder than a really mad bloke that someone could take the trouble to burn it, energetically hoisted buckets of water from the river and passed them to me, now inside. Armed with an enamel mug, I chucked water onto the smouldering underside of the massive root plate. And we succeeded in putting out the fire.

David Alderman stepped in again with the offer of some well rotted wood chip with which we later filled the hollow tree. Amazingly it still looks mostly healthy. The hole is once again sealed with an even more splendid oak door, created by Ian Freemantle of EcoForestry.

The picture (right) showing Guy and family was taken for an exhibition to promote the Ancient Tree Register. Thanks to David Alderman, David Stubbs and the Woodland Trust.
There's more information and some great images at the Ancient Tree Register's excellent web site Cow Bridge Ash

Ancient ash pollard next to Cow Bridge

laid hedge March 2009

Jane Lambourne
A graduate with a degree in Environmental studies. In the past, Jane has been in full-time employment with Beds County Council, the Wildlife Trust and English Nature. After a few years as a full-time mother, she started to be offered contract work alongside setting up the farm business.

Between September 2007 and March 2008, Jane was employed by the Wildlife Trust to write and deliver a primary school education programme at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, Huntingdonshire; a cross-curricular, child-centred learning adventure - "Wild Journeys of People and Wildlife".

In 2007 Jane received "Forest School" leader training through Bridgwater College

Jane is one of the founder members of Fibs & Fables Bedfordshire's storytelling club and sometimes works in collaboration with other storytellers and musicians. When the opportunity arises, she becomes half of a formidable double act with her sister Susan. For more information about Susan's work, click here
To visit Wassledine's storytelling page, click here
Jane storytelling (picture thanks to Barry Halton)

t.   01462 711815
m. 07794 013876
e.  info(at)wassledine.co.uk

Guy Lambourne
Also a graduate, with a degree in Applied Biology, Guy thought his future lay in crop protection but took a job with Hertfordshire County Council's Countryside Management Service in the late 1980s and has stayed in the countryside management line since. After four years in Hertfordshire as a Countryside Ranger, he moved to Bedfordshire County Council where he worked as a Project Officer and
Rights of Way Officer. Later he moved to the Forest of Marston Vale, one of the 12 Community Forests in England, where he now works part-time looking after Community Liaison duties. More information about the Forest of Marston Vale.
taking a break from something or other

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And finally, the name...
'Wassledine' is the name of one of our fields, which until 2003 had been arable but is now grass. We thought it would make a good prefix for the herd and a name for our business.

Although we don't know its origin, it has been suggested that there may be a Dutch link although it sounds German to us. It appears in various spellings on post and pre-enclosure maps so must be of some antiquity.

There may be a link to wassailing and we like to imagine Jane's forebears leading frenetic, alcohol fueled frolicking through the village and into the field (conveniently close to the pub) with a view to increasing their crop yields; well maybe.

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