News Blog 2007

December 2007 Weather Summary    Max 12°C (54°F). Min -5°C (22°F). Rain 60mm (2⅜ inch). This morning: 6°C (42°F). Cold and raw until mid-month, when a high pressure system became established and gave clear, dry, sunny days and clear, cold and starry nights. Some fog again just before Christmas (but only enough to disrupt just a few Christmas flights from Heathrow this year).

31 Dec 2007    A good day’s hedging today when SA and I managed about 5 yards in reasonable weather.

28 Dec 07    While SA laid the little Beech hedge with a roll-edge basket weave technique, four of us went off to Wakefield to spend a few hours with Andy Goldsworthy’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is excellent – but due to end on 05 Jan 08, so you had better be quick! Best of all was a giant, upright, 15 feet high ‘egg’ (he calls it a ‘cone’ but it is definitely an egg) built of interlocked Oak branches. I want one! But perhaps just a baby one…

27 Dec 07    Switched the computer on for the first time in several days, so apologies for the gap. Happy Christmas! The dry, sunny and frosty weather just before Christmas gave way to grey and mild with very occasional showers. The rain gauge now stands at 1¾ inches and the mild, grey weather continues. There were some magnificent sunsets around Christmas itself, the sort that would delight whole flocks of shepherds. (Are these the same ones as in the carol: ‘Wild shepherds wash their socks by night’)?

On Boxing Day SA and I spent a very pleasant morning swapping stories with JW the wood-carver, and watching up to 9 Long Tailed Tit on the feeder, before setting off after lunch to lay a bit more hedge. This time we were accompanied by Bill Hook, Ma Shetty, Whet Stone,  Lum Palmer and all the others we missed so much last time. By late afternoon we had laid another few yards and chatted to lots of passers-by, most of whom recognised what we were doing. This is in great contrast to when I first laid this same hedge in the winter of 1988/9, when almost everyone asked accusingly ‘Are you cutting that hedge down?’, several said nothing at all and only one person (a local primary school teacher) said ‘Nice to see the forgotten art of hedge-laying is still alive and well in this area!’

23 Dec 07    A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory gave: Long Tailed Tit 5, Blackbird 4, Bullfinch 2, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Great Tit 2, Marsh Tit 2, Robin 2,  Chaffinch 1, Magpie 1, Nuthatch 1, Wood Pigeon 1 (1045 -1100, ⅝ thin high cloud, calm, cold and dry).

22 Dec 07    Yesterday I caught up with all of SA’s work, including the de-brambling of the little Beech hedge by the car park and also of Wasp Nest Corner at the very far end of the orchard. BC joined us and after lunch we started siding-up this hedge in preparation for laying it (now that the Wasps have gone and the birds have eaten almost all of the Haws). We soon found that the easiest way to remove all the unwanted side growth was just to begin laying the hedge anyway, which we proceeded to do (handicapped only by not having brought a bill hook, a machete nor a lump hammer). Still and all, we managed 3 or 4 yards next to the corner, bending the tall pleachers around the corner post and working them into the adjacent hedge which we laid two years ago. This season’s hedging has finally begun!

20 Dec 07    Back from a short break and very nice it was too, thank-you. I see that the BBC Natural History Unit at Bristol have very kindly sent me a DVD of the filming they did last year of my feeding station here, for their BBC 1 ‘Nature of Britain’ series with Alan Titchmarsh.

14 Dec 07    This morning SA checked the newly repaired fence for any more pony problems (none) and then we sawed up all the Scots Pine branches into firelogs and stacked them in the woodshed, before up-dating all the chalk and slate labels on each section. These Pine logs should be ready in 1 year, along with any Cherry and Silver Birch, as these quick growing species seem to deteriorate if seasoned for a whole 2 years.

Groves Dyke orchard was again hotching with 4 and 8 Blackbirds (sorry, not quite the full 4 and 20) feeding on the fallen apples. The sun has gone today and the cold wind is very lazy. It claims to be a SW, but I suspect that the S actually stands for Siberia! Minus 4°C last night and a good ½ inch of ice on the doggie drinks dispenser (bucket) in the yard.

Restocked Dunsley House Hotel with more Unique Walking Sticks from Groves Coppice. They had completely sold out and were good enough to phone for more stock in time for Christmas. Production has fallen a bit as I have been waiting for the long promised new chimney to be installed in the Stickery before I spend too much smoky time in there.

On a trip to the laundry this evening, Flag disappeared at high speed into the orchard and could be heard crashing about as he pursued Something up in the wood. Seconds later, a Roe Deer came galloping at full tilt past the pole barn, across the tarmac, through the open gate into the yard and then up and over the closed gate at the other side and away past my conservatory. Good thing it didn’t jump the dry stone wall just to the right of the gate, or it would have been ice-skating across my pond! Flag reappeared a few minutes later, panting hard and very pleased with himself – but still no venison for my freezer.

Congratulations, though, to Sustrans the sustainable transport charity which has just won £50 million of National Lottery funding to extend their National Cycleway throughout the UK. This was the same £50 million that we in Whitby were bidding for a couple of years ago, to rebuild Captain Cook’s Resolution in Whitby harbour, reviving local traditional boat-building skills (with apprenticeships), at the same time as providing a fascinating visitor attraction. Once built, we planned to retrace Capt Cook’s final voyage around the world, but then extend it beyond Tahiti where he was killed and bring her back home to Whitby via the North West Passage, thus highlighting the changes and dangers of global warming. Sadly, we only got as far as Round 2 in the Lottery bidding process, but we were the only community-led project in the final stages of the competition.

Strange coincidence that the winner is announced today – the same day that the USA is busy scuppering as much as possible of the international agreement on reducing CO2 emissions in Bali.

12 Dec 07    A very hard frost last night, now that the cold, wet and raw weather has passed. The mud was all frozen hard and the grass was all ‘crispy’ as I walked around in bright sunlight this morning. Another surprise was a tuft of long blond hair on the barbed wire at the top of Dykeside and several hoof prints and heaps of horse dung on the path. Someone has squeezed under the top strand, trampled down the pig net fence and wandered about in the wood amongst the many (poisonous) Yew trees, before walking down hill and onto the main road by Sleights bridge or else (hopefully) squeezing back through the fence to rejoin all the other ponies in the fields above the wood.

SA spent the morning repairing the fence left behind by Bethel and / or the other contractors employed by NEDL to replace the electricity wires several months ago. I had reported the baggy fence, the big hole they dug underneath the fence line, the gap they had cut and not rejoined, etc months ago and was assured that they would be called back to make good the damage. Guess what? Nobody ever appeared. Moral: Buy lots and lots of shares in NEDL because they use contractors and sub-contractors to do all the work at minimum cost, don’t bother to supervise or check-up on them properly, creating lots of damage & problems in the process, make lots of promises, don’t bother to fulfil any of them and then rely on the landowners to supply all the labour (2 man days), materials and equipment needed to make the repair themselves. With a corporate policy like that, no wonder NEDL declare £ multi-million profits every year and keep their shareholders very well satisfied! Buy! Buy! Buy! Better still: Bye-Bye-Bye!

By late afternoon SA and I had completed the fence repairs (and found another previously undiscovered one caused by NEDL’s contractors), the neighbour with the horses was informed and hopefully the wood and the horses are now safe from each other once again.

Throughout the day over a dozen Blackbirds feasted on the carpet of fallen apples under Dyke orchard, with occasional Redwing and Fieldfare seen or heard up in the wood. Another hard frost expected tonight…

10 Dec 07    Winter draws on (or duvets, at least). The rain gauge now reads just over 1 inch of rain this month and the forecast is for some proper frosty weather at last. A 15-minute bird count at my feeding station (and the woodyard beyond) this morning produced 5 Blackbirds, 4 Blue Tit, 3 Dunnock, 2 Bullfinches, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Jay, 1 Marsh Tit and 1 Robin (8/8 cloud cover, F3W, wintry showers, cold and raw).

This morning SA and dog Bruno worked in the pole barn as the wintry showers continued. After lunch we completed the final, final section of Bruno’s Banisters with a few more lashings and now the Scot’s Pine handrail is done and dusted (if not polished). This will make the descent from the top of Dykeside much safer than ever before.


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08 Dec 07    Ok, so where are we now? Another meeting yesterday morning (I think every single organisation I belong to has had at least one meeting this week ‘before Christmas arrives’). The meetings met, the joiner turned up unexpected in mid-afternoon and joined that which had become un-joined. Also yesterday SA dug in another 2 posts, so in the afternoon we dismantled that which had been temporarily mantled and then re-mantled it and lashed all together and now the handrail on the steep muddy bit of the descent is another section longer. Only one more to go and it will be complete.

Yesterday we finished early to prepare for the switching on of the Christmas Lights at Whitby’s Dock End. As Stewards for the Whitby Chamber of Trade and Commerce we helped to set up the public address system, helped push Santa’s mobile grotto (a horsebox, but shouldn’t that be a reindeer box?) into position, helped hand out carol sheets, helped to rattle tins (no we didn’t, we just held them – it was us shivering that made them rattle), etc, etc. A good time was had by all, but the most memorable bit will probably be the moment when the Master of Arms on the Grand Turk fired the ship’s canon to mark the event. Since we were practically under the bowsprit at the time, the noise was very impressive.

Today it was dry until late morning and then the wintry showers arrived and lasted for much of the day.

05 Dec 07    Meetings most of yesterday. Meetings most of tomorrow. You’d think that Christmas was coming…

Today I rolled cardboard logs in the pole barn while waiting for the joiner to arrive ‘after 10′. SA planted another Scots Pine post to complete the woodwork for the upper section of handrail, but was then rained off and joined me in the pole barn. After lunch I rang the joiner, only to be told that it would now be ’11 tomorrow’, which freed us both to go and add a few lashings and the upper handrail section is now finished.

It has been cooler and windy, with occasional showers. The rain gauge reads ½ inch so far this month.

03 Dec 07    SA and I delivered some more Scots Pine and Cherry to the local wood-turner and admired some of his recent work. Their craft fairs over the past few weeks have made over £500 for charity.

A Pied Wagtail picked its way around my Spatio and several Blue and Coal Tits almost threw themselves onto the new fat cake hung out in mid-afternoon.

After lunch we worked on the new handrail near the top of Dykeside, SA digging another 3 very precise, narrow post holes for the Scots Pine posts to support the Scots Pine handrail, while I looked and learned and occasionally lashed another section into place. Another 3 posts are still needed, plus another 7 lashings. Note to self: Must buy another 70 feet of rope tomorrow…

02 Dec 07    Wet. Stayed indoors preparing the new Study corner of my Lounge, ready for when (!) I finally dismantle the Office and return it to its original Dining Room status (for the first time since the CJS took it over about 1995).

01 Dec 07    Have a look at Groves Dyke Giggles for some new jokes, courtesy of DH who stayed here recently.

November 2007 Weather Summary    Max 14°C (58°F). Min -3°C (26°F). Rain 93mm (3⅝ inch). A week of fine autumnal weather ended with a severe NE gales, a Spring High Tide and a storm surge along the southern half of the North Sea. After several wet and windy days, the weather settled down to mild and overcast with occasional showers.

30 Nov 07    Just back from a few days in the Lake District, the highlights being Ambleside’s switching on their Christmas Lights (over 150 kids in the parade, each with a DIY lantern on a stick and a lighted candle within, Santa in a Land Rover, a ‘penguin’ on a unicycle, a stilt-walker and the very impressive Staveley Carnival Drummers – I don’t know who had to write the dreaded Risk Assessment for this very impressive event, but they certainly deserve a medal!); walking over High Close to Grasmere for Sunday lunch and back by Loughrigg Terrace (2 female Goosander on the village beck squabbling with the Mallard for handouts); a spectacularly wet 24 hours (when I wrote all my Christmas cards); the walk over Loughrigg to Ambleside with lunch at Lucy’s (Game Casserole followed by Tiramisu and home on the school bus); etc.

More to follow, when I have caught up with the heap of post and the c350 Unread emails…

22 Nov 07    A graceful Grey Wagtail flounced onto my pond this morning and danced around the edges and even pirouetted on the pondweed in the centre. The weather was dry enough to get several loads of washing onto the line before lunch – and then it rained all afternoon. Great.

‘The Nature of Britain’ series with Alan Titchmarsh on BBC1 television is now well advanced, but I have been told that the sequence filmed in my back garden, of my bird feeders in the snow earlier this year, was actually shown in the first or second episode. Pity I missed it, but I gather that the day and a half’s filming was edited down to less than 1 minute of airtime. Never mind, who wants fame anyway?!

My rain gauge is now reading about 3 inches so far this month (having stuck at less than 1 inch for the first few weeks). A single soggy Siskin, the first I have seen for many a month, visited the soggy peanut feeder this soggy afternoon.

21 Nov 07    Through the low cloud on the moortop to Pickering, across to Helmsley, up to Sutton Bank (very poor visibility) and down into the Vale of York (poor visibility), through Thirsk and Ripon to Fountains Abbey National Trust property. There BW was meeting a colleague who works there and after a great very local produce lunch (Fountains Abbey Venison Casserole) we had a wonderful exclusive tour of part of this massive World Heritage Site.

As we passed a small ruined building just inside the Fountains Hall entrance, we watched the works team building a giant framework of green Oak to create a new exhibition space within the ruin. Great 9 inch square beams some 10 feet long already formed 3 sides of the new roof to be, while another was being winched into position. This giant lintel it was slowly lowered onto the 2 vertical timbers, only to be lifted up again so that one of the 2 giant mortise and tenon joints (with half-scarfed return joint at the corner post end) could be trimmed up with a carpenter’s saw, hammer and chisel. A shaving off here, a slightly deeper cut there and the whole ton of green Oak was lowered back down again for another fitting. A few gentle thumps on each end with a massive rubber sledge hammer and the job’s a good ‘un. By tomorrow morning the green wood will have twisted just a little and it will have settled neatly under its own weight, ready for the next span to be added. Once the timber frame is completed, a single pitch roof will be added and the whole structure will be invisible from outside the ruined walls.

All that modern kit, the chain pulley winch, the Rigid Steel Joist cantilevered over the side of the mobile scaffolding tower, the giant steel clamp that holds the suspended ton of timber – how on earth did the medieval joiners join all those giant abbey roof timbers without all this kit? Amazing!

20 Nov 07    Still damp, but time to get out and have a bit of a walk on one of the few ‘all-weather’ paths: the Rail Trail from Goathland down to Grosmont along Stevenson’s original railway track. The footbridges washed away in the June Monsoon have been replaced, but some of the minor side routes are still waiting for their new bridges…

And then it started raining again. We braved the rain for an absolutely superb meal at The Wheatsheaf at Egton Top – and were very glad that we did! Afterwards, going back up the Groves Dyke drive the car headlights caught 2 Roe Deer standing under the Apple trees, presumably eating the carpet of windfalls.

19 Nov 07    Still raining. We abandoned any attempt to go out and do anything useful in the wood, so instead we all went off on a Works Jolly to Kilburn (near Sutton Bank) to admire the works of The Mouseman. The showroom was open (wonderful) but the visitor centre, gift shop and cafe weren’t (closed Mons & Tues in winter). Even the pub next door was closed for a kitchen refit, so we all had a nice bowl of soup at the National Park’s Sutton Bank Visitor Centre before driving back to Sleights. Not exactly a Christmas Dinner, but as near as we can manage for now.

18 Nov 07    No ill effects this morning, with Flag up and about as usual and trotting happily on his morning walk in the pouring rain. It feels as if winter may have arrived and it’s time to settle down for a relaxing indoor day by the woodburner.

The clever new smoke alarm has finally overdone itself by peeping when it didn’t need to peep. So, after a year of having 2 smoke alarms (the old style battery one screwed to the ceiling and one new style one plugged into the landing light socket), the trial is now complete and the annoying new one has been removed and rejected. In fact, I did the same with my own new version, when it sounded unnecessarily in the middle of the night and I threw the damn thing out of the window!

17 Nov 07    A wild, wet and windy night, with an additional ½ inch of rain now added to the ¾ inch from the storm surge low pressure of over a week ago. Two Roe Deer strolled through the wood as we walked around this morning. By late morning the wind had dropped a bit and the rain had gone. We walked on Danby Beacon with several Red Grouse around and Flag on a long lead. An excellent lunch was had at The Board in Lealholm, with wonderful ‘fat sandwiches’ (ie very thick) and superb soup by the wood burning stove.

By afternoon the sun was out and off to the Toll Road from Egton Bridge to Grosmont. Flag and I set them off, walked with them a bit and then doubled back to collect the car and drive around to meet them at the other end. This is the most walking that Flag has had since earlier this year when he was unable to get to his feet unaided, but this wonder drug has certainly helped to rebuild his joints. Can I have some?

An great evening meal with B and EW at the Egton Bridge Horseshoe rounded off a lovely day.

16 Nov 07    The Bank Vols started to dig a big hole for the big post (cut from the big Scots Pine) which will be the main support for the new handrail, while I rolled a few more cardboard logs. BW arrived in time for lunch and afterwards we all went to admire their handiwork.

By late afternoon the big post was planted and, subject to a few minor adjustments, will soon be ready for the handrails. EW arrived later that evening by train.

15 Nov 07    Oh dear, more computer problems. Sorry about the delay, but I seem to remember that the past few days have also been very busy, very windy and very enjoyable.

T&C came to stay for a few days and we had several great birding days out. A not very Long Tailed Duck drake (& 2 ducks) at Seal Sands, right in front of the hide. Not to mention 2 Little Grebes (so I won’t), plus divers Divers, 6 Goldeneye, 3 Seals and, just as were were leaving the hide, a near miss from a low flying Merlin. Home via Saltholme Pools where 2 Little Egrets stood guard over the steel framework of the new super hide and visitor centre being built there by the RSPB and due to open in Spring 2008, before crossing the Tees on the magnificent old Transporter Bridge (very exciting if you are first in the queue)!

Before that was a trip to Scalby Mills (ie Scarborough Sealife Centre) to watch the waves pounding the rocks where just 3 Wigeon swam in the rock pools, while a big ship ‘way out on the horizon bucked and reared in the might seas. It’s not often that you can watch a major container ship with bows up and out of the water one minute and then the stern and then the bows again. Poor things!

Somewhere after that was a nice run out over the moors to Stoop Brow. No sign of any Hen Harriers (but then we didn’t see Prince Harry either), followed by a magnificent afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel, followed by a superb late evening meal at Greens ( to cap it all off nicely.

Yesterday SA tidied up again and then we sorted out more handrails from the felled Scots Pine, tidied up the stacking and decided which bits could also be used as posts to fix the handrails to. (Yes I know it is, but never mind)! It’s calm, dry and sunny again, but with a good hard frost overnight.

08 Nov 07    It was wild and windy in the North Sea last night, with strong Northerly winds, a very high tide, a 3 meter storm surge (very low pressure over the sea which lets sea level rise) and thousands were evacuated from coastal East Anglia as a precaution. This morning John Gummer (MP for the area and former Sec of State for the Environment) praised the Environment Agency for the flood alert and pointed out that climate change will increase the frequency of such events from 1 in every 50 years (the last N Sea storm surge in the 1950s drowned 300 people in Norfolk & Suffolk, plus 3000 in Holland) to a 1 in every 15 year event. But never mind, the news was full of the Metropolitan Police’s response to terrorism instead. But didn’t the Prime Minister say a year ago that ‘Climate change is a greater threat than terrorism’? Still, government ministers have since said that ‘obesity is as big a threat as climate change’, so I may be a bit confused by now.

Anyway, the sea was still so wild this morning that I could hear the sound of the surf on the coast, even though I was in my bath some 3 miles inland. No sign of any terrorists around here, so I ate some extra toast for breakfast, just in case. And sure enough, high pressure re-established itself over the UK and sea level returned to normal again, so I had an extra sandwich for good measure. Still no sign of any terrorist activity in Whitby, so all this government advice must be working… Big Mac ‘n Fries, anyone?

SA de-brambled the small self-sown Oak copse next to the felled Scots Pine and then all three of us dropped the 2 young Cherry Trees which tried to take it over. This not only lets more sun get to the young Oaks, but it also creates a suitable space for our latest Earth Art installation, as we created a giant bird’s nest from the lovely curvy branches of the Scots Pine lop and top stack. Eat yer heart out, Andy G!

07 Nov 07    A change in the weather is forecast for later today, so I cut the lawns this morning, as well as the woodyard. By late morning it was raining hard, I was soaked, the grass was getting claggy and I stopped with just the lower lawns left uncut.

After lunch the rain was past, the sun was shining again, the wind was stronger and the temperature was lower. As I put the strimmer away I noticed a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly feeding on a purple Knapweed growing on the wildflower bank alongside the Stickery steps.

Just let me summarise that: today I have been cutting the lawns while a butterfly feeds on a wildflower – on 7th Nov. Odd?

Then a nice run out to the CJS office for a bit of catching-up, one year since I retired. Everyone is working hard (as ever), the business continues to go from strength to strength and I am more certain than ever that I retired at the right time. Do visit if you want to see our ‘memorial’ – its far more use than a statue and anyway, you just can’t get that nice Italian marble anymore…

06 Nov 07    The Bank Vols tidied up the Scots Pine site, while the good weather and the midges continued. Rather than split the knotty trunk, SA used the chainsaw again to cut out each ‘rosette’ of branches for the wood turner, who so appreciated yesterday’s delivery. The sections between rosettes were rolled aside and stacked for splitting into firewood.

Then we stripped the smaller branches to separate them into useful cordwood, handrails or brash. Even some of the brash was saved for the latest Andy Goldsworthy imitation, which may appear soon(ish). What remains is a very tidy site with the stump (a seat), stacks of various firewood types, potential handrails, a very neat habitat pile of lop and top and a happy wood turner working for charity. Not a bad week’s work at all.

05 Nov 07    This morning SA dropped the Scots Pine neatly into a clearing and we began snedding the branches. This is one of 12 little trees from Castle Howard tree nursery which were given to us as a Christmas present in 1984/5, each in a medium-sized plastic flower pot. Seven survived, one I dropped a few years ago, and this one is now too close to its neighbour and both are suffering as a result. By felling this particular specimen we encourage the other one and create more space for the neighbouring Oak trees.

Once down, the big stick is a good 18 inch butt diameter and c20 feet long before it begins to fork into several leading shoots. That will provide a good ‘gatepost’ from the upper section (for the new handrail down the steep muddy path), plus 2 cord lengths which will have to be split before they can be moved, not to mention numerous long, bendy ‘handrails’ from the branches, as well as lots of firewood. As a special request, one big, knotty section of trunk went straight to the local wood turner, who likes a challenge. His work will be available at a craft fair this Saturday in Sleights Primary School (all profits to school funds / charity).

04 Nov 07    A couple of squirts of Rescue Remedy on Flag’s tongue yesterday evening settled him down nicely and the few fireworks in the village went off without too much trouble. This morning I stacked the Tilhill logs near the top bridge a bit closer to the path, all the while being bitten by clouds of tiny midges. In November! D’you think something is going on?

By late afternoon 200+ Geese flew high overhead, again moving from NW to SE. At one point they broke ranks and swerved to avoid what looked like a large Gull on a collision path, before getting back into a proper v-shaped flight pattern.

A few more fireworks and another squirt of Rescue Remedy and it look as if I may have to admit that herbal remedies do work…

03 Nov 07    Fifteen Swans flew high over the house at lunchtime today, heading NW to SE and calling loudly. I imagine that that makes them wild Whooper Swans on migration, perhaps even moving from the Solway (Caerlaverock?) to the Wash (Ouse Washes?). I wonder if they follow the A66, like I do?

Varnished the outside windowsills while the sun shone and since the timber has dried out almost completely. By mid-afternoon 100 Geese (sorry, no idea which, but noisy) flew over from N to S, perhaps from Lindisfarne or even the Firth of Forth to the Humber?

Then I took the poor unsuspecting dog up onto Aislaby Moor for a good walk to tire him out before the annual Night of Terrified Pets begins. The Silver Birch on the moortop are now bare of all leaves but the Rowan are still colourful and lower down the hillside there is still a full range of autumn colours. Across the dale, the traditional heather burning swiddening fire on Sleights Moor sends smoke high into the clear, still sky. He had a great walk and came back exhausted, which is just as well since I haven’t dared to tell him that it may be more than one Night of Terror… At least this time I have been given a bottle of Rescue Remedy Spray which says it ‘provides support at times of emotional demand’. Oh good. Better still, it also says ‘suitable for all the family’.

02 Nov 07    Another lovely dry, mild and sunny day with magnificent autumn colour on all the trees right the way up the dale. After lunch we Bank Vols used the pole saw to remove a few more lower branches / handrails from the forking Scots Pine, as well as the 2-person crosscut saw to remove a major side branch.

From our newly cleared vantage point, we were able to see through the wood towards the other side of Hollywood and took the opportunity to go exploring this neglected corner. Luckily, Tilhill Forestry hadn’t neglected the bit under the electricity wires and we discovered another goodly pile of their lop and top in need of sorting for firewood.

The first of the winter’s peanut flour and tallow bird cake was hung up today (from CJ Wildbird Food then Food then Fat Products) and hopefully the local flocks of Long Tailed Tit will find it as irresistible as ever.

01 Nov 07    Today was going to be grass cutting all the lawns for the very last time this year, but it rained, so I didn’t. Yesterday’s work included a very impressive de-bramble of the 1984/5 Scots Pine which is now crowding its neighbour. A safe working area has been created around the base of the 2 foot diameter trunk and some of its lower branches removed and saved as potential handrails for the slippery bit of the path.

From Sleights village car park opposite the shops there is a good view across the dale to Groves Coppice. The range of autumnal colours within this one small wood is really very striking, from a few trees still in full green leaves, through all shades of yellow to brown to crimson red to bare branches.

October 2007    Weather Summary    Max 19°C (66°F). Min -1°C (30°F). Rain 22mm (⅞ inch). A real Indian Summer for much of the month with mild, dry, calm and sunny weather day after day after day. With just a few wet days towards the end of the month, before the fine weather returned again. High pressure and a Southerly airflow brought dry and exceptionally mild days and chilly nights.

31 Oct 07    Another lovely day wasted on near pointless meetings, but luckily the Bank Vols were available to do something useful: starting to de-brambl Wasp Nest Corner, as well as sorting, carrying, sawing and stacking felled branches from the top of the wood.

By dusk I was back again to admire their progress and to watch a couple of dozen Redwing pile into the wood as the sun set and the temperature dropped. I think it is time to start lighting the wood burning stove again this evening.

30 Oct 07    Yet another lovely day, again ruined by an all morning meeting, a working lunch in Whitby, a belated dog walk up the drive (lots of autumn colour now, right the way up the dale) and then a brief sit down at dusk before off to another meeting this evening. What a waste of a lovely day, with the temperature at 60° F (15° C), the sky all blue and the sun shining warmly all day.

29 Oct 07    Another lovely day for being outside, but report writing ruined the morning. SA sorted out another pile of lop and top and later BC & I also helped to carry more recently felled wood down to the woodyard and add cut it to length for the new cord of the woodshed.

Later we all went into the saleroom in Whitby to look at a Mouseman cheeseboard (old style with the mouse carved on the board rather than the handle) and a very unusual pair of wooden nutcrackers with the mouse carved on the end of one handle. Each item was expected to sell at auction tomorrow for about £150…

28 Oct 07    A wet and windy night with the rain still clearing this morning. This is the first rain for at least a couple of weeks and it didn’t really amount to much. My rain gauge is still only showing 1 inch so far this month.

A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory revealed: Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Great Tit 2, Blackbird 1, Blue Tit 1, Marsh Tit 1, Nuthatch 1, Robin 1, Wren 1 and a Frog croaked unseen from the pond. (10-10.15am, 8/8 cloud cover, drizzle clearing, calm and mild). Later, as the sun shone again, 6 Blackbirds and a Redwing searched the back lawns for worms and grubs.

26 Oct 07    Today we checked the wood, looked for our next jobs, stacked more felled timber, coppiced the last of the Sycamore (and a Hawthorn) in the big orchard, wove a bit more fence, de-Convolvulus-ed the recently laid hedge (now that we can stand in the uncovered ditch again), felled a dead Apple tree and finished coppicing the Sycamore behind the woodyard. Enough already!

My computer, which had been poorly for a few days, was returned today in full working order, so: Hello again!

25 Oct 07    Strimmed the Groves Dyke orchard (1 hour) and also the ditch alongside the hedge which we laid last winter (another hour). All orchards are now fully strimmed (bar the Wasp bit), which is very good news. But the lawns all need cutting again…

Several Blackbirds and a couple of Redwing continued to strip the Hawthorn just behind the woodyard.

24 Oct 07    Orchard preparation this afternoon, with a full compliment of Bank Vols once again. We removed all Brambles and fallen branches from Groves Dyke orchard, which will make it much easier to strim tomorrow.

23 Oct 07    Another 3 hours today and the big orchard is fully strimmed – apart from, of course, Wasp Nest Corner which will just have to wait for much colder weather! Yesterday there was a very large Wasp battering my sitting room window to get out…

22 Oct 07    Yet another dry, calm sunny day so I managed another hour of strimming in the big orchard. This is almost enjoyable. And such a contrast to the usual ‘I have to get it all done today ‘cos it’s the first dry day in weeks and it’s forecast to rain again tomorrow.’ It now looks well under control and I may even finish it in the next few days.

BC arrived in time for lunch and afterwards we coppiced another two Sycamores made accessible by this morning’s work. We added the lop and top to the Baked Apple Tree bonfire site, trailed Honeysuckle from a much reduced Sycamore onto a young Apple tree instead, carried weaving poles and firewood back to the woodyard and wove the one and stacked the other.

So, yesterday’s ‘File on Four’ (BBC Radio 4) was all about Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and how they fail to keep track of hundreds of millions of pounds of EU Regeneration money – despite of all their excessive bureaucracy. This programme featured the RDA for the West Midlands (the one that sponsored last month’s RuralNet conference which I attended), but 2nd worst in this respect is the RDA for the North West and 3rd worst is (you’ve guessed it) Yorkshire Forward. Oh dear god, if they can’t keep track of £100m each, just think how much more bureaucracy they will claim they have to introduce in order to find out where it has all gone! The upshot, let me predict, will be that they RDA will each give another RDA millions of pounds of our money in ‘consultancy fees’ to check up one one another in some kind of grand ‘Monitoring and Standards’ exercise… Will this be the fore-runner for the ultimate Department for Departmental Affairs from Yes Minister?

21 Oct 07    What a perfect autumnal day for the Captain Cook Memorial Service in St Mary’s church at the top of the 199 Steps. Well attended, the Bishop of Whitby said several kind words, Cllr Clegg read from Cook’s sea log, Marske Male Voice Choir sang seafaring hymns, the pupils of East Whitby Primary School gave us a sea shanty, then we had a cup of coffee and a biscuit at Abbey House Tearooms before crossing the river to lay a wreath or two at the feet of his statue, as hundreds of visitors looked on. But nobody sang ‘Happy birthday dear Captain Co-ok, happy birthday to you’.

19 Oct 07    A near frost overnight but it soon warmed up again once the sun rose in the clear blue sky. A scattering of Blackbirds, Redwing and possibly even Fieldfare were ‘chiree’, ‘seep’ and possibly even ‘chakka chakka chakka-ing’ in the wood this morning as they feasted on the Hawthorn berries.

BC and I completed the coppicing of the unwanted Sycamores at the bottom of the steep Bank orchard, piling all the cuttings up in the Baked Apple Tree bonfire site for later. This is a much easier and safer job  while the ground is dry, than when it also becomes wet, slippery and even more treacherous underfoot. As we cut the springwood, saved the Honeysuckle and built the bonfire we were being bitten by small clouds of fiercely biting midges.

Glad to escape their attention, we moved off to weave a few more Sycamore rods into the woodyard fence, before sawing up and stacking more Tilhill produce into this winter’s cord.

18 Oct 07    Spent the day at York Racecourse for FOOTSEY 100, the largest social enterprise (any organisation somewhere in between a not-quite-charity which can not legally make a profit and a not-quite-plc which legally has to maximise profits but only for its shareholders) event in the UK. I’ve no idea what the FOOT stands for, but the SEY is for Social Enterprise Yorkshire. With well over 100 exhibitor stands and 800 delegates, this was a big, expensive event backed by Yorkshire Forward (our Regional Development Agency or RDA), the Regional Forum (backed by Yorkshire Forward) and Charity Bank (funded by central government).

Far too expensive an event for small local charities like us to attend, at over £50 per head, but luckily a new organisation sprang up weeks beforehand to dish out £200 per person in travel, admission, lunch, etc to enable us all to go to the event. Which seems remarkably generous, until you remember that this is  what local government officials would be claiming in expenses to get there for the day. That generous local organisation is, of course, funded by Yorkshire Forward, which gives them the money to give to community reps to enable them to go and see all the Yorkshire Forward funded stalls.

The 100+ stall holders are big, middling and small community social enterprises all offering services to the punters like us. It is very expensive to take a stand for the day in such luxurious surroundings, but I suspect that some generous government department or ‘agency’ or local group will have sprung up just in time to provide them with sufficient funding, too.

So, since the stallholders are part or fully funded by Yorkshire Forward or some other government department or ‘agency’, and the punters are part or fully funded by Yorkshire Forward or some other government department or ‘agency’ – then why don’t they just make the whole damn thing free to all exhibitors and free to all attendees?!? That way there would be no need for endless grant application forms, endless correspondence, and the whole bureaucratic round of invoices / cheques / receipts / accounts / auditors and not forgetting all the glossy Annual Reports showing how much each organisation has ‘achieved’ in the last 12 months. Almost all of it very expensive admin, just for the sake of it. Not to mention keeping lots and lots and lots of bureaucrats very well employed, trying to cope with all the admin they generate.

It all has to be so very expensive, of course, because the super new and very plush venue at York Racecourse is very, very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that if I ever find that it too was funded by Yorkshire bloody Forward…

But don’t worry, every single UK region has its very own Regional Development Agency, so you too are paying for exactly the same sort of excessive admin for the sake of it, no matter where you live. Come back Victor Meldrew, you were right all along!

17 Oct 07    A Grey Wagtail visited the pond as I was having my breakfast this morning, the first I have seen for a while.

Minus one Bank Vol (on a short term migration) BC and I continued to stack and glean the Tilhill Forestry piles below the high voltage wires at the top of the wood. The day was warm and sunny and the work was hot, so we cleared away 3 more sites before returning to the house for a nice long, cool drink and an ice cream. Yes, that’s right, trying to keep cool in mid-October. Very odd.

As we recovered, a Frog hopped across the patio and leapt up at the dry stone wall surrounding the pond. With a little bit of (human) help from on high, it got into the water and swam downwards. Then we were off to the big orchard to slither down the freshly strimmed slope to the Sycamore and Ash stumps which were in need of coppicing. One day, when the young fruit trees we planted 20 years ago have finally become established with extensive root systems of their own, these old self-sown stumps can be removed. But until then, I suspect that it is only their long established root systems that stop the bank from slumping in really wet weather.

We coppiced four or five medium sized stumps, stacking and sorting the produce into either potential firewood, weaving rods for the wickerwork fence, or lop and top for the bonfire site just below the Baked Apple Tree. The eight weaving rods were added to the Groves Dyke fence and the firewood added to the new cord in the woodyard.

16 Oct 07    The good weather continues and so does the strimming, interrupted only by the rescue of a rather desiccated Smooth Newt. Once put on the marginal vegetation of my pond and with one foot in the water, it began to recover and walked, slowly but gratefully, below the surface.

Long Tailed Tits visited the feeding station, as did a Nuthatch, while Jays called up in the wood. The big orchard, after a total of 4 hours strimming on the more than 1:3 slope, is almost half complete…

15 Oct 07    The grey clouds cleared and the sun shone, so I did another couple of hours strimming in the big orchard. Now it is beginning to look as if somebody is getting serious, with a sizeable chunk (¼?) now under control again.

14 Oct 07    More perfect autumnal weather for stacking the freshly cut logs and gleaning through the piles of lop and top. The Jays are calling loudly as they ferry acorns across the wood and the Nuthatch has reappeared at the feeders.

13 Oct 07    The calm, overcast but mainly dry weather continues, with very mild nights and even milder days. Today was a housekeeping day (mine, for a change!) while the gasman completed the annual safety check and maintenance of all the Groves Dyke appliances.

My little Beech Hedge by the pole barn was the first to turn and now has more autumn colour than anything else in the dale. A young Ash tree by the drive is now completely yellow, while elsewhere its cousins only sport an occasional yellow / green branch. A Wild Cherry in the wood is still holding bright orange leaves, which will drop with the first (still very unlikely) frosty night. Flag spent the day chasing each and every ripe apple when it dropped from the trees and by late afternoon he had gathered up a goodly collection at the mouth of his backdoor lair.

12 Oct 07    The last few days were spent at the RuralNet Conference at The Belfry in the West Midlands, with a very impressive collection of interesting people and big name speakers. Lots more conference details at and then click on RuralNet|2007 for the Conference Blog. Lots of quotable quotes, which I will add later, but in the meantime, here is a conference anecdote:

The first supermarket opened in the village, threatening all of the traditional shops. One shop-keeper put out a big sign ‘Sirloin steak £15.99 / kilo’ and next day the supermarket displayed a bigger sign with ‘Sirloin steak £14.99 / kilo’. The shop sign was changed to ‘£13.99 / kilo’ and within 24 hours the supermarket retaliated again with ‘£10.99 / kilo’. Undaunted, the shop-keeper changed his sign again, this time to a mere ‘£5.99 / kilo’, which soon brought the supermarket manager into the shop for a little chat. ‘This can’t go on’ he said. ‘If we keep this up, one of us will go bust’ and the shop-keeper replied ‘Well it won’t be me, since I don’t sell any meat…’

Tilhill Forestry have been and gone and seem to have done a proper job, dropping whole trees instead of just trimming a couple of feet off the tops. They even managed to saw them into useful firelog lengths and stack them neatly –  good lads! Us Bank Vols sorted our way through the neatly stacked lop and top, gleaning a few more useful bits of firewood and potential walking sticks. We re-stacked everything up off the ground, so that it would season rather than just rot. By late afternoon we had completed a couple of sites near the viewpoint, with 2 or 3 more still to work on another day.

08 Oct 07    Tilhill Forestry arrived to survey the work required in clearing trees from anywhere near the high voltage wires at the top of the wood. They hope to complete the work this week!

Today seems to have been a ‘better prune the apple trees now that the sheer weight of apples has snapped the branches’ day… and that was after we winched-in the floppy hedge alongside the Groves Dyke conservatory.

07 Oct 07    What a lovely day for a trip on the steam train from Whitby, through Newtondale Gorge to Pickering. The autumn colours are only just beginning to show on the wooded sections and will be near perfect in a another week or two.

06 Oct 07    Bright sun again today, calm and warm – so Flag and I had a stroll in Mulgrave Castle Wood before an outdoor lunch at the Bridge Cottage Cafe in Sandsend. We weren’t the only ones making the most of this ‘last of the summer wine’ type day, as every single outdoor table was fully occupied and the poor, end of season staff were run off their feet (but they still managed to produce a lovely lunch in an idyllic setting).

A short walk upstream to the Mulgrave Estate sawmill revealed a secret world of massive woodyard with massive windrows of massive trees, all seasoning gently by the beck. The sawn wood is then converted into a full range of garden seats, tables, arbours, trellises, etc, and all from ‘a local, sustainable and carbon positive source’, as the notice proudly proclaims. What could be better than that?

05 Oct 07    We completed the Rescue of the Rowan by dropping a fair sized Sycamore nearby. It was already Grey Squirrel damaged (Tree Rats!) by bark stripping and the leader shoot had died back as a result, with side branches growing out horizontally and starting to shade the poor little Rowan alongside. But not any more! Once down, the 2-handed cross cut saw went through it like a hot knife through butter and it is now stacked on site to season – unless, of course, we rearranged the timber into a 16 foot tall standing egg shape, just like the Andy Goldsworthy one I saw in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park yesterday…

During 3 o’clocks the Bank Vole continued to store bird seed for a rainy day, a Frog purred in the pond and a big, dark Dragonfly patrolled the airspace above it. Just another couple of months of this weather and winter won’t be so bad!

04 Oct 07    Off to see the world and discover if it has already invented the wheel… Called in at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Sheffield in time for 10 o’clocks (what a disappointing breakfast menu) and a flying glimpse of the Andy Goldsworthy (my hero!) exhibition, which was far more than enough to convince me that I need a much longer visit on a far more leisurely day.

Then on to Edale in the Peak District to be shown around their superb new Moorland Centre, complete with Sedum roof, overhead waterfall, passive heating (big south facing windows with a concrete block wall / display board just beyond), ground source heat pump, interactive touch screens (which actually work) and, best of all, a large and very accurate 3-D table map of the whole National Park – correctly orientated, of course (unlike far too many display maps elsewhere). We also heard about their environmentally friendly local produce logo scheme which lets the consumer reward good farming practice, etc by choosing to buy their goods, and how we might apply something similar to Whitby and district.

Then off again to the Derwent Valley to see their traffic management scheme near the Ladybower Dam, including a visit to the small log cabin visitor centre there (which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually) to hear the plans for a new, bigger and much better integrated eco-centre to be built into the hillside.

Home again by early evening, safe in the knowledge that we are not alone, the wheel has already been invented and it just needs to be rolled out in this area, too…

03 Oct 07    This afternoon us Bank Vols cleared several young Sycamores and even the occasional squirrel-damaged Oak from around a self-sown young Rowan tree (the only one in the whole wood) near the First Hazel Coppice. Since we hadn’t managed to carry up all the necessary tools, this proved interesting – until one of us volunteered to go back down for the rope, the big bow saw and the big loppers. Later we continued to coppice the slope just behind the wood yard.

Flag enjoyed some genteel digging and a fair bit of lying next to the hole and staring at it intently.

02 Oct 07    Pleasantly normal housekeeping, shopping and gardening this morning, followed by a bit of office work while the warm sun dried off the long grass in the orchard. By mid-afternoon it was ripe for strimming and I managed to make a bit of an impression on the big orchard. Only another 4 hours (some other day) and I should have it done…

01 Oct 07    Yesterday I heard the first Gabble Ratchet of the winter. It sounded big and fairly low, but this particular flock of migrating geese didn’t over fly the particular corner of sky that I could see from the bath where I was lying at the time. Later I discovered a redundant length of ‘temporary’ pig net fencing which was put up in 1982/3 and then abandoned (but not removed) in 1985/6, when the final quarter of the field / wood was fenced. Since then it has stood forlornly and pointlessly, a potential hazard to life and limb, and more and more bramble festooned with the passing decades. So today SA and I decided to remove it, which was much easier said than done. We slipped and slithered down the steep slope, got ourselves caught on assorted Briars, Brambles and Hawthorns, snipping, clipping, hammering and swearing at the fence, the posts and the surrounding vegetation until, thank goodness, it was finally freed and dis-combobulated. The result is a fence-free corner of the wood, a couple of 25-year old tannalised and absolutely perfect posts, a 20 yard length of pig net in pristine condition and two Bank Vols heavily scratched, stung, muddied, bloodied and still unbowed. Almost.

The good weather has returned, with warm, sunny, calm, dry days and cold nights, with almost a touch of frost. We also removed various lengths of barbed wire from the boundary fence between the wood and the garden, just for good measure. In late afternoon I strimmed the path around the wood and then enjoyed the Nuthatch on the peanuts and the 26-strong Tit flock which moved through the woodyard.

September 2007    Max 26°C (78°F). Min 1°C (34°F). Rain 45mm (1¾ inches). The good weather returned once the school holidays were over. Warm, dry, calm and sunny for much of the month, with a couple of very stormy days around the autumnal equinox (as usual). High pressure returned towards the end of the month, with clear sunny days and clear chilly nights.

30 Sept 07    A fifteen minute bird count from my conservatory produced: Magpie 3, Chaffinch 2, Coal Tit 2, Dunnock 2, Great Tit 2, Blue Tit 1, Kestrel 1, Robin 1. Not to mention Bank Vole 1. Cloud cover ⅝, Bright, calm, dry and mild. 10.25 to 10.40.

And then the Nuthatch arrived to feast on the peanut hanger.

8 Sept 07    We sawed up and carried away the dead Apple trees which SA had felled a few days ago. The bigger tree had been overhanging my phone wires and the smaller one was the young Apple we had planted dangerously close to the best bonfire site in the orchard. The result, years later, was that it got repeatedly scorched and became known as the Baked Apple Tree – until it all got too much for it and it just gave up. Note to self: Remember to bake the apples and not the tree.

The biggest bit of long dead Apple tree found its way straight into my woodburner (with a bit of persuasion) in time for our 3 o’clocks (lovely smell) and the second biggest bit went to the local wood turner. He and his wife are holding 3 Exhibitions and Sales of their ‘turned wood, beads and bits’ in The Institute at Thornton Dale (near Pickering) on Thursdays and Fridays 11 & 12 Oct and 17 & 18 Nov, and also at Sleights School on Sat 10 Nov 2007, raising funds for charity. I recommend them as their work is superb and I get many of my Christmas presents from them!

We also sawed and stacked the Apple wood, coppiced the few remaining Sycamores from behind the woodyard, sawed & stacked them and wove the rods into the Groves Dyke fence.

27 Sept 07    Yesterday was spent at the annual Heritage Coast Forum, held this year in the teeth of a full Northerly gale at the Northern Lights Suite of Whitby Spa on top of the West Cliff – an ideal place to appreciate the full majesty of the autumn equinox at full power, with the back doors blowing open in the wind, the whole bay flecked with white horses and the wind howling all around. Wonderful! It reminded me of the Mussenden Temple on the coast near Castlerock, where I worked as Warden for the National Trust. This was an 18th Century ‘Greek’ temple perched on the very cliff edge so that the wildly eccentric Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry could enjoy following the words of the inscription around the top: ‘Tis pleasant safely to behold from shore, the rolling ship and hear the tempest roar.’ Funny man. Peculiar, that is.

Today was much calmer down here in the shelter of the dale and I managed a bit of genteel shopping followed by some genteel gardening. After lunch I threw caution to the winds and got the strimmer out to complete the lawns and almost managed it – but I seem to have missed one terrace (it was the rain on my safety visor, honest). The woodyard is done and the path along the top of the big orchard is almost done. Then the rain just got heavier and heavier so I gave up and retreated indoors to keep the newly lit woodburner well stoked.

25 Sept 07    A meeting this morning to de-brief after the CREST conference, then a leisurely lunch in the conservatory before tackling the grass cutting for the first time in well over a week. By late afternoon Groves Dyke and all the back lawns were done, which just leaves my 3 terraces at the front, the woodyard and all the path around the wood. When (if!) they are done, then all that remains will be the Groves Dyke orchard (c1 hour) and then Groves Bank orchard (c5 hours, wasp nest willing)…

24 Sept 07    Dry morning yesterday, followed by a wet afternoon. The trap happy Wood Mouse had lifted the lid of another seed bin and was rescued again, this time just a little fatter and a little thirstier than yesterday. That’s another seed bin to empty, wash out, dry and refill with new seed and a heavy weight on top of all seed bin lids from now on. The day before, a very impressive Great Diving Beetle (Ditiscus marginalis) set off walking across the back yard in an effort to seek its fortune in some far off pond. Well over an inch in length and about ¾ of an inch across, this fine beast was clearly quite capable of looking after itself.

Earlier, I had startled a young Roe Deer which dashed into the pig net fence at the top of the wood, bounced back with a resounding metallic ‘BOING’ noise and then tried it again. And again. And again. With no sign of Flag, I manoeuvred myself around until I was between the panicking deer and the fence, when it took the hint and dashed off in a different direction, showing two clean pairs of hooves long before my staghound arrived.

Today is just the opposite, so we drank a lot of coffee in the conservatory before taking some of the scrap piping to the recycling centre, buying more masking tape for cardboard log rolling and then checking the excellent all day breakfast at Victoria Farm Garden Centre – yes, well up to standard, thank-you.

After lunch we started to coppice behind the woodyard again, but were driven under cover by the rain. By late 3 o’clocks we had reduced the corrugated cardboard mountain in the pole barn to a neat stack of cardboard fire logs, which we quality control tested in the wood burner as we dried out and warmed up over (another) leisurely coffee.

22 Sept 07    Ok – now where was I? The EU CREating Sustainable Tourism (CREST) conference is over and I am just catching up. We hosted the event at the new Whitby Youth Hostel in Abbey House (wonderful) and had representatives from 4 other small ex-fishing towns around the North Sea, from Orkney, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The similarities with Whitby are striking – all are holiday destinations with a short season, a low wage economy and high winter unemployment. We now realise that more and more and yet more visitors are not the answer, as their sheer numbers will only destroy the very things they come to enjoy – the peace, the relaxation and the unspoilt beauty.

Now approaching the end of the 2-year CREST 1 project, we have complied an 18 point checklist of sustainable development and proposed a weighting scheme for each box to be ticked, together with a minimum threshold value to be scored, before any proposed development would be accepted. Perhaps this way we can avoid the ‘We will build an office block in Whitby Harbour because it will create jobs and so we can tick our boxes – even though it will also destroy the historic setting of Whitby Harbour Conservation Area, but since there isn’t a box for that it won’t matter’…

The weather was wild, wet and windy the day they arrived (SA rebuilt the Honeysuckle Tripod in the wood)and we dragged them around Whitby anyway. It was warm, dry and sunny for our visit to the National Park’s wonderful new Danby Moors Centre and walk through ‘Aidensfield’ (Heartbeat is very popular in Scandinavia, but now they also know the true cost to the original village of Goathland and its residents), back to Whitby on the steam train to be welcomed by Whitby’s Mayor, who led us back up the 199 Steps to Abbey House. Wed was an indoor day, spent deep in discussion groups, with just a bit of real life in the form of a talk by our local Heritage Coast Project Officer. Thursday was indoors again, apart from a stroll down the 199 Steps to visit the Cook Museum in Grape Lane and (they insisted) an hour of shopping. And what did they buy? Well, they wanted things found / made / produced in the Whitby area, but found this very difficult since almost everything is mass produced in China and over-stamped with ‘Whitby’ before being shipped across. Whitby jet jewellery is one good local example, but even the ‘Whitby kippers’ are Herring flown in from the Baltic before smoking them here!

So what are the other delegates doing? Norway and Sweden are co-operating to create a huge, cross border Marine National Park linking their two communities, safeguard the marine wildlife, promote educational and recreational guided tours from the shores and by boat. Denmark has already re-established its medieval salt-making industry on the island, deliberately labour intensive to employ many local young people, each of whom is also a trained guide and can escort the visitors around the site and explain all of the process, stage by stage. They sell tiny little souvenir bags of local salt (c£10 each) to the visitors, raising over £1m every year and are currently creating a Health Spa complex to use the salt-enriched waters (previously a waste product) and employ even more local young people. Orkney is working on its proposed Boat Museum as a new visitor attraction, linking it to the local archaeological World Heritage Sites and to the islands’ Viking past.

And Whitby? What about Whitby? Well, Whitby is still recovering from the Battle of the Carbuncle in the Harbour, trying to establish a working relationship with Scarborough Borough Council and Yorkshire Forward (our Regional Development Agency), ‘consulting’ with North Yorkshire County Council over its plans to waste £2m on a new Park and Ride by Stationary Shuttle Bus, trying to save the railway station from apartment blocks which would scupper any future rail expansion, and generally running flat out to stand still long enough to convince everyone that any development MUST be sustainable, otherwise the whole town will just become one big traffic jam between all the apartment blocks that nobody wants to visit anymore…

Wet yesterday (just ¾ of an inch so far this month), so after the conference departed and the tidying-up had been done, the Bank Vols converted some corrugated cardboard into fire logs and burned the bonfire heap to ashes. It was still smouldering just a little on the following day, which was very appropriate on this 6th anniversary.

My farmer neighbour (with the breeding rams still miles from the breeding ewes) tells me that the National Sheep Association has suggested to DEFRA that the best place for their leaky Veterinary Research Lab would be as far away from any farm animals as possible – and ideally in the middle of London, where farm animals are least likely to catch any escaped virus. I agree. Right next door to the ‘ever so safe’ nuclear power stations and spent fuel storage facility underneath the Houses of Parliament, I would suggest.

15 Sep 07    On our usual pre-breakfast stroll around the wood this morning Flag and I encountered the first tit flock of the autumn. A couple of dozen Blue, Great, Coal, Long Tail Tits and probably a few other odds and sods by way of Warblers, Treecreepers, etc, were all moving and feeding through the trees while keeping together in a loose flock with a constant background of contact calls. I stopped to watch and listen, before trying out an old trick we used to use in our bird ringing days for the British Trust for Ornithology. ‘Pish’ is the human sound nearest to the flock’s contact calls, so the next time you are lucky enough to find yourself near a tit flock, just stand still, purse your lips and go ‘Pish, pish, pish!’ in a very high voice*. If you get the pitch and the frequency just right, this acts as a Super Contact Call which is almost irresistible, especially to the younger and less experienced birds. This morning I got it almost right and was soon rewarded by a couple of close inspections, including one by a tiny young Goldcrest, just a couple of feet from my head.

Suitable rewarded, I carried on walking – accompanied by a completely mystified Flag!

*It’s OK constable. I can explain everything…

My neighbour’s rare breed Teeswater Sheep are in the field next to the wood. All his prize-winning rams are there – but his prize-winning ewes are in another field a few miles away. Under the present Foot and Mouth Disease restrictions for the whole of England, farm animals can be transported only to abattoirs for slaughter. So how do you get the ewes pregnant within the remaining 3 weeks of the breeding season? You can’t – which could mean no lambs will be born next spring. So what can thousands of farmers do with their champion breeding stock if they can’t mate them nor sell them off, while they steadily lose condition as the grass slows down for the winter and the feed prices escalate? Well, I suppose they could just slaughter them for meat… Well done Ministry of Agriculture. Sorry, DEFRA now, isn’t it? Still if it gets really bad, I suppose DEFRA may just have to change its name. Again. And for exactly the same reasons as last time. Except this time it was DEFRA’s cost cutting and mismanagement which actually caused the current outbreak of Foot and Mouth. Good, innit?

DEFRA: the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs.

14 Sep 07    The Millennium Statue (or Y2K+1 actually)

SA sank a new shaft by the Willow arch this morning, ready for the raising of the Millennium Statue. About 18 inches down he met a rather large rabbit hole, not a million miles away from where Flag already had a well established minor drift mine. A bit of brick now seals that end of the shaft and we mantled the dismantled statue once again, but this time right beside the hole. Then, like the giant stone heads of Easter Island (well, almost) we raised one end and tipped it gently into the hole. A little bit of levelling, a couple of bags of gravel, a little bit more levelling, lots of tamping with a punner, a few photographs and shovel the spoil back in. Only then did we think of putting a penny of the right date underneath the statue… Damn! Never mind, we checked our pockets and found, even better, a 2001 two pence piece and pushed that well down between the two uprights. The statue is now in place and makes an dramatic visual statement at the entrance to the wood. So when is my hero, Andy Goldsworthy due…?

After well earned cool drinks and celebratory chocolate biscuits on the patio (yes, I can see it from there, too) we dragged down some more Sycamore rods and wove them into the wickerwork fence alongside the drive. A nearby Apple tree branch has cracked and collapsed under its weight of apples and will need some surgery, but not until the apples on it have ripened!

Apart from some rubbish to be removed tomorrow, the plumber and the plumber’s apprentice have completed the work and made a very nice job of it all. Now I have a modern loo, too and all the external pipe work around the whole house is now black plastic, which looks so much better than the previous odd assortment of pipes in green metal, rusty metal, white plastic, grey plastic and black plastic. All I need now is a proper chimney on the Stickery before the winter comes. Anyone holding their breath?

13 Sep 07    Flag and I walked the route from the always under-used Abbey Headland car park to the Youth Hostel / Abbey / St Mary’s Church / 199 Steps / etc, in preparation for next week’s CREST Conference (see ). In fact, we walked several routes, several times, in various directions. How very confusing! Would it be a good idea to pave it properly, cut back the overhanging grass verges, put up a few more sign posts, the odd safety barrier here and there and even some lighting? No? OK then… after all, it will only be assorted civic dignitaries, MPs, MEPs, etc, etc. So if they don’t need all that ‘unnecessary’ work and expense, why should poor old members of the public complain?

After a lot of walking in oddly shaped circles in the midday sun (yes, I know), we found a lovely shady cafe table just outside the Abbey House Tea Rooms (which doubles up as the dinning room of the new Whitby Youth Hostel) and, with lots of other members of the public, enjoyed the magnificent views down over Whitby. Flag and I also enjoyed a deliciously cold traditional lemonade and even more deliciously very (very) hot (‘Do be careful, I have only just made it!’) quiche full of locally grown produce. I must do this more often…

There are still a few Swallows flying around the old buildings, even though I haven’t seen a House Martin for several days.

12 Sep 07    Still very warm and sunny, so the Bank Vols finished coppicing the Sycamores under the low voltage wires behind the woodyard, sawing and cord building as we went. We even managed to add a few more weaving rods to the wickerwork fence alongside the drive and tidy up the Twigwam as well.

The plumber will be back again tomorrow to complete my new pipe work, loo and cistern, as well as various other minor works to bring my house up to the same standard as Groves Dyke.

10 Sep 07    Today SA and I removed the last of the one year old cord wood, sawed it into firelogs and stacked them at the lower end of the woodshed. Now that the cord frame is empty again, we started to build it up again using the newly coppiced Sycamore. I think this means that I am now 3 years ahead of myself, as far as fire wood is concerned!

07 Sep 07    Now, where was I?

A recent guest at Groves Dyke has kindly offered this link to his holiday photos, which gives me a whole new appreciation of my surroundings – Many thanks, Ian!

The Plum trees in Dyke Orchard are heavily laden and Flag enjoys eating the fallen fruit on the ground. As did a Badger which I surprised late one evening as I drove home. The House Martins left a few days ago.

There was some weather during August and the belated summary for the month was:

August 2007    Max 25°C (76°F). Min 2°C (36°F). Rain 67mm (2⅝ inches). A less than hot and sunny month, which even had a 4-day cold snap in the middle when I lit my wood burning stove in the evening and added my winter duvet at night. Very odd!

Since the end of last month I have attended a ‘How to be a Town Councillor’ training evening, a meeting to finalise arrangements for the CREST Conference in Whitby later this month, a Town Council Meeting, a Whitby Gazette photo call (full story see, had a swim and even done some shopping, some grass cutting and a little hoovering. The plumber arrived to replace the rusting pipe work outside Groves Bank and us Bank Vols even mantled the Millennium Statue (and then dismantled it again, until it is cool enough to dig the hole) and began to coppice the 10-year old Sycamores behind the woodyard. We started work on the Northern edge, to get the shade from the yet-to-be-cut trees further down the slope. Yes, that’s right: now that the holidays are over, the real summer weather has finally arrived!

03 Sep 07    Ok, we can all breathe again! Late this afternoon Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), after nearly 3 hours of intense debate, voted overwhelmingly to sink the Marina Carbuncle Office Block planned for Whitby harbour. It was almost unanimous, with just 2 Councillors still swimming against the tide. Now we all go back to the drawing board and just build what we all wanted years ago – a small single story building with better facilities for the boaties, public toilets and proper landscaping with riverside paths, so that everyone can continue to enjoy (as one Councillor put it) ‘the best view in the world’.

Thank-you! To everyone who wrote to SBC to object to their plans – a huge Thank-you from all of us who are lucky enough to live here, and also from everyone else who loves Whitby. It seems the Town Hall in Scarborough was inundated with emails from far and wide, all of which were circulated to all 50 Councillors, which really made them all sit up and pay attention.

So the moral of this story is: Beware the Regional Development Agencies and lots of other government QUANGOs (QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations) which award multi-£m grants to local government projects provided they create JOBS, because JOBS are much more important (to them) than any planning law or conservation area, far more important than any local opinion and far, far more important than anything as old fashioned as Common Sense.

Is this Democracy in action? No, I don’t think so. In fact, if this is how our country is run (and I suspect it is) then we should all we very, very worried. Vitally important decisions are made by remote and completely unaccountable QUANGOS which encourage (perhaps even bully?) local government officers into feeding their Councillors just enough information to ‘help’ them reach the decisions which give the best results for the QUANGO’s Annual Reports: ‘Just look how many millions of pounds we have spent creating hundreds of new JOBS in the UK this year! Aren’t we absolutely wonderful? Can we have even more £m for next year, so that we can create even more JOBS?’

It is sad that all kinds of valuable things (including democracy itself) just gets swept aside in the process…

31 Aug 07    Yes, we did do something – but whatever it was, Scarborough Borough Council occupied my mind throughout & I can’t remember. Oh yes! We used the new pole saw (only just long enough) to remove a couple of high Ash branches and let the sunlight get to the recently rescued young Oak behind (which needs all the help it can get).

30 Aug 07    Every successful local community depends on hundreds of local people all putting in thousands of unpaid hours of voluntary work every week, just to keep their local community healthy and vibrant.

But I wonder how many hours of Whitby’s voluntary effort have been lost from everything useful and everything  constructive, and just wasted on objecting / obstructing / fighting all the pointless and destructive projects promoted by and persisted with by Scarborough Borough Council over the past several years? We’ve had to fight them every step of the way as they just won’t take ‘NO’ for an answer…  If you haven’t emailed them yet, please see yesterday’s entry below and, if you prefer Whitby Harbour Conservation Area unspoilt by a thinly disguised office block, please email them asap. Only 1 working day left…

If you already have, then Thank-you from everyone in Whitby and from everyone who loves Whitby.

29 Aug 07    Ok, it’s crunch time: Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) are now rushing through their decision to build their thinly-disguised office block (the Water Resource Carbuncle) on Whitby Harbour Conservation Area, and their decision will be made in less than 3 working day’s time (on Mon 03 Sept 07). Clearly, they are hoping to get approval from all their councillors as soon as possible and before the protest grows any further.

Just to summarise what they are hoping to approve: To build a big new 2-storey office block (with 14 letting units to give them a nice annual income), in Whitby Harbour Conservation Area (that’s a bit odd!), on a Zone 3 Flood Plain (that’s a bit silly!), at right angles to the flow of the river in major spate (that’s just reckless!), using public money (your local, national and European taxes), against the wishes of Whitby (80% Against in a poll), and against the wishes of Whitby Town Council (unanimous Planning Committee rejection),  by accepting the cheapest bid of 4 tenders (all 50% more than SBC estimated), after being asked to re-tender 2 of these tenders were withdrawn, 1 was increased by £½m and the other one accepted (only after they had undercut themselves by £½m), but leaving out half the landscaping until Phase 2 (never, never time), leaving no money at all for a contingency fund but that won’t be required because (in the words of SBC Head of Harbours and Engineering) it is being built on an old landfill site therefore ‘I don’t expect any unforeseen complications”.

‘I don’t expect any unforeseen complications’!!! (On a 1970s landfill site? What about asbestos? Or toxic chemicals?).

If you also think that this is just too daft for words, please email Scarborough Borough Council with your objections before they make the final decision on Mon 3 Sept 07 (yes, just 2½ working days away). Contact details:

John Freeman, Chair of the Whitby Marina Action Group asks as many people as possible to please email Jim Dillon, Chief Executive of SBC and / or copy to Gill Wilkinson, the Council Clerk.  Please ask her to forward the email to ALL the SBC Councillors and to copy you in as well.  Email addresses are:  and Gill can either forward a straight email or a letter attachment.

If you like beautiful unspoilt Whitby, then please email SBC asap and help us to keep it that way. Thank-you all.

Before all that, the Bank Vols completed the handrails on the top bridge and boardwalk, chatted to the nice man delivering the extra fencing (‘Ten years ago we had 125 local dairy farmers on our books and now there are only 25.’ Also ‘Why is the British Army buying all its beef from overseas, when the MOD could be supporting British farmers instead?’), added the extra rail to the loft of the pole barn for storing extra cardboard logs, had lunch and started work on a duff duckboard. After lunch we all left poor BC to carry on alone, as we variously went off to the vet (with Bruno’s ear) or off to save Whitby from Scarborough Borough Council (see above).

Later some of us came back to assist BC in replacing a duckboard, sawing logs etc. Bruno’s ear is progressing nicely (lampshade for another week) but Whitby’s future is much less hopeful…

28 Aug 07    Grass cutting this morning (half of it) ready for tomorrow’s (long delayed) hedge cutting – but only if Scarborough Borough Council stop trying to ruin Whitby long enough for us all to have a little bit of Garden Leave from endless meetings to try to stop them!

This morning a Green Woodpecker yaffled in the wood for ages and then this afternoon I tracked down some very strange noises to a particular tree, only to have its occupant finally reveal itself by reverting to standard Tawny Owl ‘Ke-wicking’ and ‘Whoo-whooing’.

27 Aug 07    Minus Bruno the Bank Vol dog and his handler, we carried the last materials up to finish off the boardwalk handrail. After lunch he suddenly appeared, with lampshade (on Bruno, not his handler) and a poorly ear. We had a sedate afternoon in the pole barn cutting up the new supply of heavy duty cardboard (some of it very heavy duty!) and rolling it up into fire logs for the winter. This required new techniques for cutting (rechargeable reciprocating saw) and for rolling (preliminary weakening by bending it across a table edge), not to mention additional storage…

26 Aug 07    August Bank Holiday weekend, the weather is fantastic and the traffic is horrendous. We toured Whitby with a video camera, recording the 3 miles of standing traffic heading towards Whitby Marina car parks – but backed up all the way from the town centre, up Down Dinner Hill, all along Mayfield, all the way from Four Lane Ends petrol station back to Sleights roundabout and another ½ mile up the road towards Guisborough – every last one of them convinced that when they actually reach the town centre car park there will be ‘one available space just for me’. Sorry, folks, but the sad reality is that there won’t.

Park and Ride by shuttle bus will be equally impossible, with the shuttle bus route as blocked solid as all the other roads. But the good news is that there is a railway line that avoids all the traffic jams & runs straight into the town centre (just as long as we fight to keep it)!

24 Aug 07    Today was the Works Outing for the Bank Vols and we had a lovely Jolly, with a behind the scenes guided walk of Castle Howard’s monuments. Led by the Curator, we got inside the Pyramid, crossed the bridge, entered the Mausoleum (hard hats on) and the Crypt below (keep them on), then off to the Temple of the Four Winds before returning to the Big ‘Ouse for afternoon tea with cream scones (OK, so who ate mine, ‘cos it wasn’t me?). Afterwards we toured the house itself before heading for the Stableyard Cafe, where we bumped into I&D again!

Look out for ‘Brideshead Revisited Again’, as we were told that a sequel has just been filmed at Castle Howard and will be in a cinema near you (but there isn’t one near us) next year…

23 Aug 07    Glorious, warm and sunny weather again as I&D set off for Scampston Walled Garden and Cafe, near Malton. My car said it was just over 20°C and we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the garden before a superb lunch, another garden stroll and then into Malton for a bit of window shopping (try that very interesting little wooden things shop at the top of The Shambles. Very interesting.

Then home via Lockton, Levisham and what used to be the Forest Enterprise’s unadvertised Forest Drive towards Stape. The little ticket seller just over the Levisham level crossing has gone, all signs have gone, even the one telling you which way to turn in the middle of nowhere, just before the tarmac runs out! Another mile or so of increasingly pot-holed dirt track and, if you guessed left, you are out on the Stape to Egton Bridge road. The purple is still in full purple mode and the drive back over the moors, past the Roman Road and back to Goathland was magnificent.

22 Aug 07    By afternoon normal summer weather was returning and us Bank Vols admired the new top bridge duckboard, snipped a few brambles, sawed and stacked a few logs.

21 Aug 07    Ok, I admit it. Yesterday my car said it was just 14°C, yesterday evening I lit my wood burning stove (an August first!) and last night I added my winter duvet (another August first)! How very odd.

Today is not much better, with a strong onshore wind bringing a cool sea mist over Whitby and all its Folk Week performers and crowds. What an ideal day for a seemingly endless series of meetings, enlivened only by an afternoon drive around Whitby’s developing bits with D&I followed by an excellent afternoon tea at The Stables restaurant a mile outside the town on the A171 Guisborough road. Based on a family farm wiped out by Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001, the livestock have now all gone, the farm buildings  excellently adapted to a Restaurant with Rooms and the menu specialises in meat from Yorkshire farms ‘Without compromise’. Well done The Stables!

20 Aug 07    Cool and windy on the coast, so we retraced yesterday’s route but this time in glorious sunshine. As we crossed Egton High Moor D&I kept muttering ‘Purr, Purr, Perfect Purple’, which summed it up purrfectly. Up Chimney Bank at Rosedale, with a bracing stroll around the old ironstone kilns, then on through Helmsley to Riveaux Abbey for a good local lunch in their nice new cafe. Talk of a new kitchen led us on to Thirsk to admire the wooden craftsmanship of Treske Furniture. We fell for everything they had in the showroom, all in native and sustainable Forest Sustainable Council (FSC) Oak or Ash, and left empty-handed (but full-walleted). Again we followed yesterday’s route home, but this time even the car engine was purring up Blakey Rigg for a coffee stop at the Lion Inn at the top, with magnificent purple views of mile after mile of purple moorland heather in all directions. Unbeatable Purple Max!

19 Aug 07    Great to have D&I back in Whitby for about the 18 year in succession. Their timing is, as ever, immaculate and the blooming heather on the North York Moors is at Purple Max this week. We drove through low cloud from Egton Bridge to Hartoft, the cloud thinning and the sun strengthening as we left the coast. Morning coffee with cream scones at The Grange Hotel in Lastingham was well up to standard, then a short stroll up onto Spaunton Moor until the mizzle descended again. Into Helmsley for a potter around the village before returning in thick mist over the top again via Blakey Rigg to Castleton.

17 Aug 07    Us Bank Vols started work on the boardwalk to the top bridge, which involved lots of carrying heavy things uphill (especially SA!), hammering heavy things into the soft ground with even heavier things and then sawing and nailing lighter things across the heavy things, before carrying the heaviest things back down again. No, you are right, I’m not really very technical… The job is only part complete, with yet more sawing and hammering to do, not to mention adding an extra step to make life easier for little legs.

A Surprise Achievement by SA that morning had been to improve the steps above the Second Hazel Coppice, which are now vastly better than before.

16 Aug 07    Lampshade off today, ear fully recovered and the stitches in the head are due out on Mon. Great! And how is the dog?

A pleasant sunny day recovering, with Flag relaxing and enjoying the freedom of not having to wear a lampshade to stop him scratching at his ear. After lunch I strimmed the Groves Dyke lawns and the path around the wood, before relaxing in the sun again to recover. A Green Woodpecker yaffled up in the wood and the well grown young Elm tree (which I hoped might just be the one with natural immunity to Dutch Elm Disease) has finally succumbed and is now dropping more brown leaves every day. It had managed to grow to about 25 feet tall and 8 inches in circumference, which is more than most young Elms ever manage. Pity.

15 Aug 07    Heavy rain overnight with another ½ inch in the gauge. After lunch we took advantage of the low fire risk and lit the bonfire, as well as bedding down the slate spatio tabletop on a layer of heavy duty carpet underlay ‘reclaimed’ from a nearby skip.

An email enquiry from an Australian reader of this website trying to track down an antique fiddle-drill remembered from a now defunct antique shop in Sleights has led to the location of said agricultural implement still for sale elsewhere in the village and the possibility of a long distance trade exchange in the near future. Interesting place, Sleights…

13 Aug 07    Sunny and showers for yesterday’s Whitby Regatta Sunday, with less traffic than expected. The first rain of the month fell yesterday and my rain gauge now reads ¼ inch.  Today was dry, mild & sunny for a quick run to Goathland and back (purple moorland almost at its best…). SA had fixed the droopy gates and after lunch we examined the step and duckboard situation, before I cut half of the lawns and SA cut half of the badly split Yew tree.

11 Aug 07    Still, hot and sunny for Regatta, with the Red Arrows going past to perform in Whitby. Flag enjoyed his stroll, complete with lampshade, to the River Gardens for a cool drink and a scrap of cake by the river. His headgear was much admired, but he carried it off with great aplomb.

10 Aug 07    Breakfast at the spatio table, but soon it was just too hot. SA checked the wood (removing 2 Ragweed plants) and after lunch us Bank Vols all sawed, split and stacked the last of the Sycamore in the pole barn. Then we found a few old Poplar drums that had refused to split last summer, so we attacked them until they finally surrendered. We even found a 2 year old Whitebeam fork, which also surrendered. Eventually. This means that every single stick of wood in the pole barn has now been dealt with and it all looks remarkable clear and tidy. With all the heavy duty sawing and splitting now completed in the hottest season of the year (mad or what?), that just leaves the Millennium Statue to prefab into a Y2K+1 installation for the woodyard, and a tiny bit of cordwood to saw and stack in the woodshed – and then the decks will be cleared for the next batch of wood, wherever it may come from.

After strawberries and ice cream we had a pleasant stroll around the wood, snipping brambles, checking on the Grey Squirrels’ (Tree Rats!) bark-stripping damage and planning the winter’s management programme. The few red berries on the young Rowan have all disappeared bar one, but this evening I noticed the first two Lords and Ladies (Arum Lilys), complete with their own red ‘berries’.

09 Aug 07    The head bandage was removed this morning, the ear inspected (all ok) and the stitches checked (no problems). So now it is just a case of ear drops every day, complete the antibiotics, let the tied-back-ear neck bandage fall off in due course (2 or 3 days…) and return in a week to have the stitches removed. And the lampshade stays put until then (sorry Flag). Despite all that. he is as bright as a button and chased young Jet all around the garden this morning (and regretted it afterwards). NB: For any new readers, Flag is a dog and he has a poorly ear. As the vet said, Flag is well aware of his aching joints, but blissfully unaware of his failing kidneys.

Too damn hot for grass cutting, but I did it anyway just to keep on top of it. If the grass continues to slow down, I may even get around to trimming a few hedges…

08 Aug 07    After a short stroll around the garden the convalescing patient enjoyed a hearty breakfast of mixed normal food and new kidney diet, before receiving a lovely Get Well Soon card from young B next door, hand drawn and with highly appropriate flags of celebration drawn on the front and back. What a kind thought!

By afternoon Flag was ‘helping’ the Bank Vols saw and stack the dead Sycamore they had just carried down, and rolling his tennis ball down the inside of his lampshade and under the sawhorse. I had built the pole barn with the intention of using it to saw and store wood in wet weather, but today it was equally useful in providing us with much needed shade as we worked. The reciprocating saw earned its keep this afternoon and by teatime we had stacked enough fire logs to form the wall of over half a bay, or almost half of ⅓ of one side wall. (Yes, I know, but I can’t find the symbol for 1/6th)!

07 Aug 07    The pre-op blood test indicated a kidney problem, so no general anaesthetic for Flag. Just sedation and a local to drain the haematoma in his ear and remove the lump on his head. One groggy doggy was glad to be home again and sleeping it off, before trying on his least favourite lampshade for the night.

06 Aug 07    Still recovering from yesterday and almost as hot, I helped SA start to build my new table for the South Patio and we were joined later by BC. After lunch they stacked the Sycamore branches next to the path around the wood and carried some more firewood down to the pole barn. I, meanwhile, was discussing local politics and eventually we all completed the table, carried it onto the Spatio, topped it off with the big slab of slate which was once the side of the old bath in Groves Dyke, and drank large volumes of Elderflower Cordial.

Flag injured his ear a few days ago, probably on one of his mad late night stag hunting dashes through the wood, and will be having a minor operation tomorrow. While he is out for the count, the vet will also do some less urgent dentistry and remove the little benign lump on his forehead. See? I told you not to go stag hunting in the dark!

05 Aug 07    The hottest day of the year – and it felt like it! Standing for hours in Goathland asking visitors to help with our* Visitor Survey was very enlightening, but bloody hot as well. (*Whitby Beacon Town Forum – sustainable tourism for coast, moor and village communities).

This evening the max and min thermometer had been up to 29°C  / 84°F and that is quite hot enough for me, thank-you.

04 Aug 07    Afternoon tea in the coolth of the River Gardens at Sleights, sitting by the now well behaved River Esk and noting where the water level was about a month ago. Just up to the top concrete step of the cafe platform. Wow! What a difference a month makes.

A restful afternoon gave me the chance to tidy-up this website and archive the past 6 month’s Wildlife Diary. That should speed things up a bit!

Foot and Mouth Disease reported in Surrey. Deja vu again, or what? Just 6 years since the 2001 UK outbreak, which cost the UK economy over £6b (yes, that is £6,000 million), killed off 6 million farm animals, as well as thousands of farms, quite a few farmers and huge swathes of the rural tourist industry. Just in case some damn fool politician tries to put their foot in their mouth again (a nasty disease), the countryside in NOT closed, footpaths are not closed, rural visitor attractions are not closed and life outside the 2 mile exclusion zone near Guildford just carries on as normal.

So how come the UK is having its second outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, while not one single other EU country has had even one outbreak for decades? I wonder… but I bet this Guildford farm is not an organic farm. The big supermarkets which now control 70% of UK food sales attract the poor unsuspecting shopper with promises of ‘cheap food’, ‘low prices’, ‘special offers’ – all of which squeeze the farm businesses which supply them. When forced to cut their production costs year after year, good animal husbandry soon suffers with over crowded conditions, forced weight gains, maximum births in the minimum time, and then – guess what? Infectious diseases break out, we all look surprised and we have very expensive chaos all over again. Come back Florence Nightingale, all is forgiven!

And long live Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and any other chefs who think that good animal welfare makes far better long term sense than low supermarket prices in the short term. Still, what’s a mere £6b loss, as long as we can have ‘cheap’ supermarket food?

In the absence of chocolate, click here for some light relief with fresh Groves Dyke Giggles…

03 Aug 07    The larger Sycamore branches were cleared by SA by the time the rest of us Bank Vols arrived. We fitted a new shaft to the flying wedge and then tried to split the remaining heart rotted drums. By the time we had managed to split the first one, avoiding the spongy tissue in the centre as much as possible, we had very little useful timber to show for it but we had expended an enormous amount of energy. In other words, the calories we burned to obtain the firewood far exceeded the calorific value of ever burning it! So we abandoned all the mouldy drums and just settled for sawing the sound branches into manageable lengths. Once sawn, we tossed the cabers over the fence line to where we could carry them through the wood and down to the woodyard over the next several visits.

Large volumes of orange squash and several Fat Rascals were required to aid recovery.

02 Aug 07    The fine weather continues and I completed the grass cutting for this week. It is nice to be back on schedule again. Off to Goathland after lunch, where I was delighted to see that the moortop is purple-ing nicely.

Opposite the Grosmont turn-off a couple of JCBs seem to creating a new road across the moor, probably upgrading the old bridle track towards the head of Littlebeck, so that the Forestry Commission can start extracting timber from the nasty Sitka Spruce plantations which have occupied the moor for decades. ‘Send them back to Alaska, where they belong’ I hear myself shout ‘And do get the Forestry Commission to block up all the millions of miles of upland drains they created over the past 80 years of damn fool exotic conifer planting, so that the hills can go back to being proper peaty sponges again!’

Still, Tewkesbury and all the lowlands, what did you expect would happen if you let a misguided government agency spend almost a century encouraging as much water as possible to drain off the uplands as quickly as possible? Apart from central government encouraging, nay insisting, that all local authorities must build houses and industry all over all the natural flood plains in the lowlands, of course.

Just where the hell did anyone think all that water would go?? The sad answer, of course, is that nobody did think – but it is all a bit obvious now! Still, we are going to Carry On Regardless with building the tens of thousands of new houses in the Thames Gateway, where they already have a shortage of fresh water every summer and will soon be having rather too much salt water… Good, innit?

01 Aug 07    A fine, dry, warm and sunny morning, with bright red berries on the young self-sown Rowan tree near the Lieutenant Oak (it’s just a little bit less senior than the Major Oak). Near the top footbridge half a dozen Common Spotted Orchids grow tall and thin amongst the long grass, while in Bank orchard the Meadowsweet is in full flower. Probably because it has been too wet to give it its usual cut at the end of May, when all the spring-flowering plants have all set and dropped their seed.

SA rolled up some of the 1982/3 barbed wire from the crushed fence by the fallen Sycamore tree. In the light of Flag’s nasty accident a few years ago, I think a top strand of barbed wire can be dispensed with in future. Anyone with stock in the neighbouring fields is welcome to add their own top rail or plain bull wire if they wish.

This afternoon all us Bank Vols moved the big drums of good Sycamore down the steep hillside (don’t ask) and lifted them over the locked gate and onto the drive. Another half dozen even bigger drums remain, but these are devalued by lots of the heart rot which killed the tree. Each of the sound drums (up to 18 inches long, 15 inches diameter and probably weighing a hundredweight) was split into firelogs with the splitting axe. So big was the job and so expert and strong were we, that we even split the axe handle in the process! Numerous passers-by stopped to admire our work and we even considered selling tickets, but by late afternoon we had taken 2 car boot loads full of logs up to the pole barn and stacked them neatly undercover.

At dusk a Heron flew high across the garden towards the river, but was mobbed repeatedly by a Gull. It duck and dived, swooped and side slipped, tumbled and twisted, but still the noisy Gull mobbed and mobbed again until the sparring pair flew downstream and out of sight. Poor Heron, I do hope it finally got to the river in time for a fish supper.

Weather Summary for July 2007

Max 26°C (79°F). Min 5°C (41°F). Rainfall 85mm (3⅜ inches). Mild, cloudy and wet for the first half of the month, then drier, warmer and sunnier thereafter.

31 July 07    Another perfect summer’s day – except that I was indoors all morning at one meeting and then indoors all afternoon at another one…

30 July 07    I caught up with the grass cutting (Groves Dyke, the wood, upper woodyard and 2 terraces) while SA winched the tufty end out of the tree. After lunch I helped as he sawed the dumb end into drums, ready for rolling down to the drive before splitting & transporting by car. The hot sunny weather continues, which is a lovely change, but it is not really ideal for heavy duty tree work.

29 July 07    It’s sunbathing weather again, so I made the most of it!

A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory revealed: Blue Tit 3, Dunnock 2, Wood Pigeon 2, Great Tit 1, Nuthatch 1 and Great Tit 1 (10.15 to 10.30, 6/8 ths cloud cover, dry, sunny and warm). Later C dragged excess pondweed from my pond while G and I weeded the raised bed alongside and pruned the Pyracantha.

27 July 07    Yes, the fallen tree is finally on the ground (mostly), thanks to SA taking the very simple and sensible step of carefully removing the staple from the barbed wire fence on which it was resting! Now why didn’t we think of that?

The big stick was soon sawn into several drums, according to just whose big, medium or small fireplace they are destined for, and these were stacked to keep them off the damp ground. That just leaves the dumb end still lying on top of the crushed pig net and barbed wire fence, and the tufty end still snagged up on a young Sycamore. The plan now is to carry the winch up to the site and winch the two ends towards each other – either one or t’other end will move to the central ground where we can deal with it and that will just leave the remaining end to be sorted.

As we basked on the patio two Green Woodpeckers yaffled themselves into the top of the leaning Ash, soon to be joined by a third. Mum, Dad and Our Kid? The sunny weather continued well into the evening so we celebrated with a very pleasant and slightly alcoholic BBQ…

26 July 07    This morning I took G & C to Danby to see the newly reopened National Park Visitor Centre there. Having been partly closed for several months, the refurbishment has been very successful. A different entrance door, new shop, wonderful new exhibits, new studio / gallery space under massive horizontal wooden beams with superb natural wall lighting, new riverside paths with willow sculptures, new children’s playground, new paths around the wood and a new hide overlooking the feeding station. Excellent! And well worth a visit.

We had lunch out of doors, with only one light and quickly passing shower to dilute the super soup and dampen the butties.

25 July 07    Lots of deer slots in the muddy bits of the path around the wood this morning, but I still haven’t actually seen who is making them.

A useful morning meeting (3¼ hours) when Scarborough Borough Council’s Whitby TIC Task Group was finally persuaded to abandon their plans for a 30 year lease on two thirds of our Tourist Information Centre as a cafe. This daft plan is now a dead duck and will not be recommended as a way forward. It was the Visitors’ Survey results which done it, proving beyond doubt that the best plan for Whitby Tourist Information Centre was to concentrate on being a Centre for giving Information about Whitby to Tourists. Wow! Brilliant! Now why didn’t we think of that…?

This afternoon SA & I took a look at the fallen Sycamore tree and were delighted to see that our earlier work had made it settle much nearer the ground, although it is still snagged at both ends. We used the brand new super wonderful telescopic pole saw (from a safe distance) to trim off a few more supporting branches and the tree settled down even further. Perhaps if we leave it another couple of days it will sink the last few inches to rest firmly on the ground and then we can start work on sawing it up safely?

23 July 07    A spontaneous management meeting on the patio this morning required pots of coffee and the big parasol to keep the sun out of our eyes. Very pleasant, too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, ‘tchick-ing’ loudly as it went.

Grass cutting this afternoon, while waiting for the gas man to cometh to changeth the meter ‘Between 8am and 8pm’. It’s now 19.40 and still no bloody signeth of him, so I think I may giveth upeth and take the poor long suffering dogeth for a walketh.

22 July 07    A dull but dry start soon brightened to full and glorious sunshine from midday onwards. Lovely!

21 July 07    All right, all right, already!

That may be enough now, thank-you: Barry, Birmingham, Tewksbury, Stratford on Avon and parts of central London have just had up to a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours and 1,000s were stuck in their cars for hours on the flooded M5 motorway and elsewhere 1000s were in emergency overnight accommodation and several 100 were rescued by RAF helicopters. In fact, the RAF say that in the last 48 hours they have carried out their ‘largest peace time evacuation’ in the UK. And the Prime Minister has now promised local authorities 100% compensation for flood costs. And the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency has blamed 30 years of building on flood plains. And she has challenged the UK to decide if we would rather change our ways and also pay up front to create bigger and better flood defences, or just go on and on paying for all the mopping-up afterwards, for years to come, as climate change gets worse and worse…

Here there was another inch of rain last night and my rain gauge is now reading just over 3 inches – add that to the 6½ inches from the last half of last month and that gives a total of 9½ in the last 5 weeks. Not bad, when the average monthly rainfall is about 2 inches! The Esk is flowing brown and fast and the sun was shining again by mid-afternoon. I even had a coffee and chocolate cake on the river bank in the River Gardens. All very odd, but perhaps we have now actually got the attention of the chattering classes, the national media and the politicians? I wonder…

20 July 07    Yesterday there was a tornado on the moortop just above Sleights. Honest. Still don’t believe me? Then visit the Whitby Gazette webpage, click on ‘Tornado over Blue Bank’ to read the whole story and then click on ‘Video’… See? I did tell you so!

Cooler but bright and dry as us Bank Vols tackled the fallen Sycamore in the neighbour’s field. We cut through the small Elder which seemed to be supporting the fallen trunk (and it did go with a twang!) but the Big Stick remains in mid air, a few feet above the ground and still snagged at both ends. The good weather continued and we sawed more than half of the 2-year old cord into firelogs and stacked them in the woodshed. A Green Woodpecker called in the wood and the Nuthatch fed on the peanut holder.

It seems it has been raining heavily in the South of England (and not ‘just’ the South West) and many areas are flooded, roads closed and railway lines disrupted. Sorry, folks, but it does seem to be the only way to change public opinion in those parts of the country where the decision makers and ⅓ of the UK population actually live. I came to the conclusion years ago that it was pointless flooding New Orleans, it would have to be New York. Similarly, there is no point in flooding Carlisle / Sheffield / Doncaster / Hull / Pickering / Filey / etc. It will have to be London… Sorry London.

19 July 07    Grass cutting – and no sign of any rain! Now that all the lawns are back under control again, today I strimmed the path around the wood (for the first time in ages, it was actually dry enough).

I see that Filey, just 30 miles south of Whitby, made the news tonight with its flash flooding. Ok, we have had enough up here now – and Westminster isn’t really very interested. When will it be the turn of the Thames? When will 20% of London’s housing be 2 or 3 feet under sewage-laden flood waters? Boy, we’d soon see some meaningful Climate Change legislation when that happens!

And I hope it never does, but somebody had better start taking this whole thing seriously, or else…

18 July 07    Log cutting with the Bank Vols (until the rain started again).

Flag pounced on a little baby Wood Mouse which tried to dash across the car park, and maimed it so badly that I had to put it out of its misery. Triumphantly, he carried it off to play with the remains while we got ready to saw more cordwood into firelogs.

This included some Blackthorn, but my nice new leather gauntlets protected me from the spines. However, as we worked, I became increasingly concerned about the strange ‘thing’ which kept rubbing the end of my thumb… It took a bit of extracting, but there, jammed right into the top end of my left gauntlet thumb, was the very dead baby Wood Mouse! What a nice dog I have, laying his fresh kill as an offering on top of my gloves, which I had left on the ground while I fetched the bow saw, etc. Ugh!

17 July 07    Grass cutting (until the rain started again).

16 July 07    This month the rain gauge reads 2½ inches already, but add that to the 6½ inches which fell in the last 2 weeks of last month, and that makes 9 inches of rain in the past 4 weeks.

Today has been nice and sunny, with the Groves Dyke guests returning from Sandsend slightly sunburnt (thank goodness)! Yes, it has been wet, but yes, the sun has shone strongly in between the wet days. Last week, the Whitby Hoteliers’ Association had got so many holiday cancellations that they issued a News Release pointing out that this part of Yorkshire (in fast, almost all of Yorkshire) is NOT flooded and is carrying on as usual. Just goes to show how powerful a good dramatic story on the TV News can be, even if it only applies to a few extreme areas in the South of the UK’s biggest county.

Flag had his 3-month MOT this evening and the vet has pronounced him improved, but still with permanent cartilage damage to both front legs. He is now down to just one Previcox (the wonder drug) tablet on alternate days and a change to Hill’s Science Diet (for arthritic joints) for the rest of his life.

At least I’m not the only one with a daft dog:

15 July 07    Fine sunny start soon deteriorated into a damp afternoon and a downright wet evening and night.

Flag spent a few minutes digging just behind the woodyard this morning, and the rest of the day regretting it.

13 July 07    A wet day was forecast, but the Bank Vols and I managed to put a new Dormouse nestbox in the 2nd Hazel Coppice (no evidence of having any Dormice here, but c10 years ago Mr Dormouse from English Nature said this wood would be suitable ‘in about 10 years’…) and we also cleared all the self-sown young trees from the Heather bed at the front of the house (moorland management by scrub removal?), before the rain began in earnest.

We then retreated to the pole barn where SA used his chainsaw to turn the last of last summer’s Poplar into firelogs. Once that was complete, we put our Andy Goldsworthy hats on and used the chainsaw to cut the heavy duty tannalised timbers into the new, improved and enlarged Y2K+1 Millennium Statue. All we have to do now is bolt the whole thing together and then plant it just below the entrance to Groves Coppice.

A young Kestrel was making very odd noises from the wood and a young Nuthatch was making the most of the peanuts at the feeding station.

12 July 07    A trip over the moors to Goathland, with just a hint of purple as the Bell Heather starts to come into flower. Probably another few weeks before the really widespread Ling comes into glorious colour…

11 July 07    Another perfectly acceptable summer’s day, almost too hot for jungle-bashing a path to the fallen Sycamore tree and clearing the up-hill side of the site of all brambles, branches from surrounding trees and layers of Ivy (the fallen tree may suddenly roll downhill the moment we cut the first vital supporting branch). Now that we can see just what the situation is, we seem to have a c100 year old Sycamore tree, rotten at the base but with sound timber beyond, some 20 inches diameter, lying horizontally across the slope and some 3 feet above the ground, with the butt end resting on top of the 25-year old barbed wire and pig net fence, a big angled branch supporting much of the weight nearest the fence, the upper trunk snagged on a small Elder tree and the upper branches snagged in a squirrel-damaged Sycamore sapling. That will be interesting, then..!

I think this calls for a careful cutting of the small Elder tree (which may let the fallen trunk drop a bit nearer the ground) and the addition of an anchoring rope to tether the fallen trunk to a big mature tree uphill, so that it can’t roll downhill towards the drive and any passing people or vehicles. And then we can start to chainsaw ‘the big stick’ into manageable chunks…

Earlier in the day SA cleared lots more invading Blackthorn from the 2nd Hazel Coppice & we all split the drums of the Ash felled a few months ago, and layered a few more Hazels in Coppices 1, 2 and 3. Another few years of this and they will all merge into just one big Hazel coppice alongside the western hedge.

10 July 07    A lovely summer’s day, warm, dry and sunny. The afternoon was spent strimming all the remaining lawns, as well as half the woodyard. Next week, weather willing, I can try to get the grass cutting back into a weekly rotation again, so that it doesn’t all change overnight from flower-rich meadow to close-cropped desert.

09 July 07    SA & I completed the shade curtain on the raftings, before spending the afternoon jungle-bashing our way to inspect the fallen Sycamore in the neighbouring field and then de-Blackthorn-ing the 2nd Hazel Coup (SA) and strimming a few lawns (me). Mechanical malfunction (loppers) and human intervention (welcome and unexpected visitors) led to an early finish. Just as well really, as the heavens opened for a very impressive thunder plump in the late afternoon.

08 July 07    Civic duties included attendance at the annual Blessing of the Fleet by the Bishop of Whitby. Two pleasure craft and a small crowd listened as he blessed the fishing boats, the crew, the equipment, the dock handlers, the fish merchants, the lorry drivers, the unions and the decision makers in London and Brussels. The only ones who didn’t get a mention were the poor bloody fish, on whom all the others depend… And then the rain began and we all dashed for cover.

So which endangered species shall I have with chips for my tea tonight – North Sea Cod or North Sea Haddock?

06 July 07    Today the Bank Vols rolled more cardboard logs, sawed more cordwood into logs, beefed-up the rather thin (post pruning) Twigwam and layered several more Hazels to extend the 2nd Coup.

The news media have only just discovered that 20% of the city of Hull was flooded (c16,000 homes damaged). Still, you can’t expect national reporters or politicians to venture any further north than damp Doncaster or soggy Sheffield, can you? That would be far too far from London! But don’t worry, as new Prime Minister Gordon has announced £13 million, which seems a mite optimistic to repair all the flood damage in these three major cities. Especially when the village of Helmsley (in the SW corner of the North York Moors) was flash flooded, the repairs to roads and bridges alone came to £3 million – and that was 3 years ago…

05 July 07    The sun shone today but it was mid afternoon before I was free to cut the Groves Dyke lawns and finish the path around the wood. The showers recommenced about teatime, but it was nice to have a day that was mostly dry and sunny for a change.

A young male Sparrowhawk perched briefly on the feeding station crossbar and, later, the Kestrel hovered above the newly cut path.

04 July 07    More sun than showers today, but my rain gauge is already reading 1 inch of rain since the beginning of this month. This afternoon the Bank Vols gave the Twigwam a serious prune, the off cuts providing several useful lengths of 3 inch diameter firewood and numerous weaving poles for the deadwood fence, not to mention endless armfuls of Willow branches to pile onto the bonfire heap. A few wands were pushed into the Twigwam circle to give some structure to it, until they take root and the stools regrow. Hot work requiring lots of Elderflower Cordial and Radford’s Apricot Pie with Beacon Farm ice cream!

03 July 07    Endless rain again today, so bad that I had to continue tidying the office. I see that the Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) have stripped all the bark from a 4 foot long section of a 25 year old Willow tree up in the wood, between the First and Second Coop. I thought bark stripping was only supposed to be a problem with young trees, and not with older, tougher bark – but obviously not.

01 July 07    Sunny and just occasional showers, with a strange big yellow thing up in a bright blue sky. Very odd.


Weather Summary for June 2007

Max 26°C (79°F). Min 4°C (40°F). Rainfall 167mm (6½ inches). Dry, warm and sunny until mid-month, then the ‘June Monsoon’, with seemingly endless rain. To begin with this fell on dry ground and was absorbed, but after several days everything else was just runoff. The Met Office declared this the wettest June since records began.

30 June 07    A drier than expected morning, with a very pleasant outdoor lunch at the River Gardens, Sleights. Last Monday the river level rose and rose until it reached the top-but-one concrete step on which the wooden cafe stands, higher than the cafe owners had ever known in the past 30 years. Today the river is back down where it ought to be and everything is back to normal. Except more rain is expected tonight and tomorrow…

Whitby Tourist Information Centre (TIC), with its half million annual footfall, was almost leased off to a multi-national coffee outlet for 30 years, but everyone in Whitby kicked up such a fuss at this short sighted ‘let’s balance the books for this year and to hell with the future’ proposal that Scarborough Borough Council has been forced to ‘review’ their decision. Thank goodness! Their website now has a Questionnaire seeking the views of visitors and local residents alike (it is entitled ‘Residents’ Survey’ but that is a mistake) so please click here and fill it in anyway. Thank-you.

29 June 07    A tiny, tiny Froglet hopped down from my pond edge and set off across the patio towards my conservatory. Clearly its sat nav was fawlty, so I picked it up and popped it into the beck. See you in a few years!

It has been so wet and horrible and I have been so busy that I haven’t had the opportunity / weather / energy for any grass cutting at all this week. So now I am a week behind again, while the grass still grows longer in leaps and bounds.

27 June 07    Sunny and showery, then sunny and showery. Again. SA trimmed the Willow in the beck this morning, as well as snipping off some more invading Blackthorn from the Second Hazel Coup. After lunch BC and I help him (while it was sunny) saw up some more of the 2 year old cord and stack the resulting logs in the woodshed. By late afternoon the cord was noticeably smaller and just over 1/12th of the woodshed is now neatly filled with firelogs. Not to mention (while it was showery) rolling up a whole stack of corrugated cardboard into cardlogs in the Stickery.

26 June 07    Only another ½ inch of rain last night, which gave the river a chance to drop a little before high tide. This morning I was able to drive from Sleights to Ruswarp (‘passable with care’), noticing that the Fire engine was parked in the River Garden pumping the flooded car park and grounds back into the river again. At Ruswarp the railway bridge (and the pub!) were still there, but with masses of trees and branches caught up in the bridge piers. By early afternoon the River Garden was open to the public again, pretty much as usual. Very impressive!

I spent the afternoon in the Saleroom at Whitby, waiting for several Tom Whittaker (Gnome Man of Littlebeck) items to be auctioned. Smaller, un-marked items went for £10 or £20 each, but anything with a gnome carved on it was much more. Click here for details…

25 June 07    Over ½ an inch of rain fell overnight, it rained all morning and most of the afternoon as well and, in desperation, I have begun to tidy the office. Well, I always managed to put it off while the weather is good enough to go out and do something interesting, but after several days of rain I have run out of excuses. Glastonbury is over now, but Wimbledon starts today, so what do you expect?!

By tea time there had been another inch of rain since last night and when it finally stopped I took the camera out for a drive to record the spectacular flooding. Clearly the rainfall on the moortop had been a great deal heavier. From Sleights bridge I have never seen the River Esk so high in 19 years of living here, nor in the many visits since 1975. The Salmon Leap weir has disappeared completely and the swollen brown waters just charge down the valley unchecked, spreading out ⅓ of the way across the field towards the railway line, leaving the line of bankside trees isolated in midstream.

At Briggswath the back gardens of the houses are flooded and the River Gardens are more river than garden, with just a few yards of the car park nearest the road still above water. The Road Closed signs are out and the far chicane is surrounded by water, so no chance of driving to Ruswarp via The Carrs (from Alder Carr, a habitat type indicative of frequently flooded valley bottom).

At Ruswarp (via the long way round) the lowest floor of Ruswarp Mill is flooded, as is Waterloo Cottage on the far side of the river. The underside of the railway bridge decking is just 1 foot above the standing waves created by the big branches and tree trunks jammed against the legs of the bridge. A bit more water or a few more trees and there may not be a railway bridge in the morning. The view from the French windows of The Bridge pub is downright scary, with the picnic benches in the beer garden already standing almost seat deep and the river rushing headlong just beyond the flimsy little fence.

In Whitby, the rate of flow in the river is spectacular. Even though it is low tide, it’s enough to make some of the pontoons dip – and high tide will not be until 1am. Not many people in Ruswarp nor Whitby will be sleeping soundly tonight…

24 June 07    A short stint in the wood this morning, snipping off the Blackthorn suckers which are threatening to invade the 2nd Hazel coup. These began life as hedgerow plants, but have been leaving the hedge line and advancing sideways for years. Now some of them are big enough to shade out the Hazel, so it is time they were halted. Only the little ones are being attacked while it is still bird breeding season, but the bigger ones will require some serious attention this winter.

An excellent Sunday lunch at Netherby House in Sleights today, ancestral home to Brenda H English and, slightly more recently, her brother Hugh. Both are now long gone and the old village doctor’s house cum surgery cum pharmacy is now an award willing hotel, which still displays some old medicine bottles and jars in their new dining room.

In late afternoon the showers became heavier with one particular one, which probably only lasted 10 minutes, trapping me in the conservatory until it was over. The rain gauge then read 4¾ inches so far this month, so I emptied it out (it only holds 5 inches maximum) to make room for whatever else may fall in the last week of the month. I think I have only ever had to do that once before. Still, it is the Glastonbury pop festival this weekend (as wet as ever), so I suppose all England ought to be on flood alert!

A hysterical young Green Woodpecker swooped across the woodyard and landed on the electricity pole by the path, still screaming frantically. It clung there for a few minutes, calling all the while, before flying off into the wood, still yaffle-ing. Was it ‘Mummy, Daddy, where are you?’ Or was it more ‘I’ve just escaped from a Sparrowhawk’? Either way, I think the poor wee thing has been emotionally scarred for life and will require a long term social worker…

22 June 07    Another proper summer day, just like June is supposed to be. This afternoon the Bank Vols (BC & SA) and I toured the wood to see just what needs to be done and in what order. Then we used the ‘new’ two-handed saw to turn most of the remaining Poplar into firelogs & stack them in the pole barn, before moving the sawhorse to the woodyard and beginning the major task of turning the cord of 2-year old wood into firelogs and stacking then in the new, improved woodshed.

This was hard work for a hot day and required lots of orange squash and ice cream…

21 June 07    Hot, dry and sunny today, but I just had to go to Whitby so the grass cutting was completed this afternoon. Now every lawn has been cut and my normal rotational mowing is back in step again after my holiday break. This way, I only have to cut half the lawns early in the week and the other half later in the week, so it isn’t too exhausting for me and the whole garden doesn’t change from wildlife friendly lawns to close-cropped desert overnight.

The Nuthatch was feeding silently this morning and the steam train was shuttling back and forth up the valley with lots of steam and puffing. Very pleasant.

20 June 07    Yes, another ¾ of an inch of rain did fall last night, but without any great damage. My rain gauge now reads just over 4¼ inches of rain so far this month – which is about 2 month’s normal rainfall, except most of it fell in 24 hours! Today is now dry, warm and sunny, which is a nice change from the cool, clammy sea roke which has plagued Whitby for several days.

SA and I examined the Groves Dyke hedge and ditch. The hedge is growing and recovering well from its hedge-laying just a few months ago. The lower and middle section are growing strongly and all the laid species are knitting together well, with only handfuls of Goose Grass and Convolvulus to remove. Near the upper end of the laid section one whole, aged Hawthorn has died completely, even though we winched the whole root ball over without part-cutting any of the stem. We cut Hawthorn slips or ‘Quicks’ from further down the hedge and pushed them into the ground to fill the gap (Hawthorn’s traditional name was Quickthorn, because it grows so quickly from slips) and we will give the root ball another year in the hope that it may yet recover.

The upper end of the hedge we had planted with young Beech trees, which were now overgrown by Grass,  Rosebay and Thistle. This section we weeded and then, severely scratched and stung, we retreated to the raftings to get out of the sun and have a cool drink. Orange squash. Honest!

Then a tour of the wood to check on a Wild Cherry which SA had noticed was ‘bleeding’ sap profusely from a point on the trunk. No wound was visible, but the outflow was considerable and the sap had congealed in a heap at the base of the tree.

19 June 07    A 15-minute bird count from my conservatory this morning revealed: Great Tit 3, Dunnock 2, Marsh Tit 2, Grey Squirrel (Tree Rat!) 2, Blackcap 1, Blue Tit 1, Chaffinch 1, Coal Tit 1, Robin 1, Wood Pigeon 1 and the out of sight Blackbird is still spending hour after hour in beautiful song, somewhere just beyond the pole barn. (0945 – 1000, ⅞ cloud cover, Dry, calm and mild).

More dire warnings from the Met Office about further torrential downpours expected overnight, but this time it will be falling on already saturated ground…

18 June 07    Dry, bright and sunny again, with a distant Roe Deer feeding in the field above the wood, a silent Nuthatch feeding on the peanuts and a greedy Blackcap feeding on the fat cake. Strimmed half of Groves Bank grass this morning, had lunch in the shade of the raftings and then BC delivered an antique two-handed, rather rusty crosscut saw. We sawed a hefty log to check its teeth and, despite its age, its teeth are near perfect and still sharp enough to go through an 8 inch Poplar log with ease. They just don’t make them like that any more! Leave a modern bow saw blade out overnight and the morning dew is enough to blunt it straight away.

17 June 07    Dry, bright and sunny again but visitor numbers were down for the Whitby’s Spirit of the 40s weekend, organised by Whitby and District Tourism Association. Doubtless, the pictures on national tv news programmes of a few bits of Yorkshire under 3 feet of water have given everyone the message that ‘All Yorkshire is flooded’ and many have just stayed away. Ah, the power of the media…

15 June 07    The Met Office was right! It’s been pouring all night, so the first job was another round of all the drains and ditches, gutters and gullies to keep them all flowing as freely as possible. Found a recently dead Mole on the path around the slippery wood – perhaps it had been flooded out of its normal underground tunnels & expired on the surface? Oddly, the ditch by the newly laid hedge was completely dry, which suggests that the dry ground is managing to absorb almost all this rain. The rain gauge was showing 2½ inches after breakfast. Time for a swim in Whitby indoor pool, I thought.

When I got there a fire engine, blue lights flashing, was parked outside trying to drain several feet of rainwater from the plant room – trust Scarborough Borough Council to organise a flood in a swimming pool! No swimming today, then, so Bank Vol BC and I spent the afternoon burning the huge woodyard bonfire while the fire risk was so low. It is great to be able to stand in the dry, under the nice new woodshed roof, and just dash out occasionally to tend the fire. And only one match required! The big blue water butt, without any guttering at all, is now full just from the drips off part of the new roof.

After lunch another round of drains and ditches, and this time the Dyke orchard ditch was flowing strongly. The heavens stayed open until mid-afternoon, with ¼ inch falling in just 30 minutes. By late afternoon it had almost stopped raining and the gauge showed 3½ inches, all in the last 48 hours and most of it in the last 12 hours. Not bad, Met Office, just a little bit less than predicted.

14 June 07    Just a bit too grey and drizzly to give some of the lawns their next strim, or to rake up all the hedge trimmings from yesterday – so I just took the afternoon off, lit the wood burning stove for the first time in weeks and read one of my new books. What a pleasant afternoon! Perhaps I should do this more often? What do most retired people do?

A brightly coloured Jay investigated the feeding station while I was having coffee in the conservatory. Jays always look so unlikely that some people assume they must be an escaped tropical bird. Bright pink overall, with black and white bits here and there, and then a vivid blue flash on the wing, Jays are native to the UK and a member of the Crow family.

This morning there had been just ¼ inch of rain in my rain gauge since the 1st of the month, but by tea time that had increased to ½ inch. A Severe Weather Warning from the Met Office is predicting up to 4 inches for the Midlands and Yorkshire…

13 June 07    A morning meeting to prepare, amongst other things, for the international conference which we are hosting in Whitby – in less then 3 months! CREating Sustainable Tourism (CREST) is an EU funded project to help isolated former fishing villages around the North Sea. That is all the meetings planned for this week, which (thankfully) was not quite as many as last week.

This afternoon the drizzle was never far away but Flag and I trimmed all the hedges. Just a light short back and sides to keep them looking neat, without disturbing any nesting birds within. Major surgical re-shaping will have to wait for the winter months.

12 June 07    Two meetings today, the first to try to improve Whitby Tourist Information Centre. SBC wanted to make a 5% budget saving this year, by leasing-off 66% of the TIC as a cafe for the next 30 years. Howzat for investing in the town’s dominant industry? Then a routine committee meeting of Whitby Town Council.

In between meetings, it began to drizzle just enough to convince me not to start hedge trimming, so I walked the dog on the old railway line instead. But not too far.

11 June 07    Completed the strimming of anything still unstrum, including the path around the wood. Some lawns are almost ready for cutting again, but I will try to get them back into a rotation again as soon as possible. That might give me a chance to trim-up all the hedges, not that I want to dig too deeply into them for fear of disturbing any nesting birds.

A pair of Collared Doves, the first I have seen for weeks, flew around the gardens, a Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wood while young Robins, Great and Blue Tit explored the feeders. Rain tomorrow, it says, which will be the first this month…

One meeting this evening to hear the two top men of Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) trying to convince Whitby Town Council that we would be better off staying with them, than going for the proposed North Yorkshire-wide Unitary Authority. Sorry, fellas – as far as I’m concerned you’ve had 33 years to do the right thing by Whitby and you still haven’t managed it yet! Next week we get a visitation by the top man of North Yorkshire County Council to try to convince us that their option might be better than Scarborough’s. Now that’s a difficult one…

10 June 07    What a lovely summer’s day for a nice drive around the lower Esk Valley! I must do this more often…

09 June 07    Bright, warm and sunny once the morning mist burned away in the sun. A male Green Woodpecker clung to the yat stead in the woodyard, yaffling anxiously. Methinks there may be a few youngsters about, giving mum and dad a worrying time!

08 June 07    Yesterday was cool and cloudy and I spent much of the day at Sneaton Castle ( with the Whitby 50+ Club, finding out more about climate change and how it will affect us all. Presentations from the Carbon Trust and from the Stockholm Institute at University of York. We all had a good time, a nice lunch, played Climate Change Bingo and got a free low energy light bulb each. So that will be ok then.

Thought for the day: There is no Planet B.

Today was the AGM of the Captain Cook Tourism Association (CCTA), held at Great Ayton where young James Cook went to school in what is now a museum of his childhood. Cool and cloudy when we left the coast, warmer and sunnier as we went inland across the North York Moors. The EU funding for our brochures has ended, as all available money is now going to the new accession countries of Eastern Europe. Good for them, I say. Their need is much greater than ours, without doubt. But it does mean that the CCTA had to decide today to become a mainly web-based organisation, which costs far less than one which prints, stores and distributes tens of thousands (ie tons) of paper brochures. So please visit to see what you may be missing in not getting a pretty brochure from a Tourist Information Centre.

Glorious sunshine for a lovely run back down the Esk Valley from Commondale, via Oakley Walls, all the way to Whitby. And not a single Wheatear in 25 miles of minor moorland roads. There used to be one pair holding territory every half mile or so, ‘way back in the early 1990s.

Another thought for today: If you wanted to live in a fair world, you have come to the wrong one.

06 June 2007    Yesterday morning was cool, grey and misty in Whitby, mild with weak sunshine in Sleights but hot, dry and sunny in Pickering – what a difference moving just a few miles inland can make, when there is a sea roke laying along the coast! I cleared out the laundry (long overdue) and spent the afternoon cutting the grass on all the Groves Bank lawns. Silage, anyone?

I see the ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook has just described Whitby as ‘…bloody wonderful!’ More info… and then click on Whitby Top Town…Again…and Yet Again!

Today SA moved and stacked some of the sawn Ash from up in the wood, down to the woodshed and then we had a very enjoyable stroll around the wood to see just what needs doing and in what order it needs to be done. We noticed a mature Sycamore (rotten) has toppled into a neighbour’s field and will have to be cleared. Just when did that come down?! We also watched a Roe Deer stroll across a field and planned how best to clear more growing space for the best of the young Oaks. Not forgetting that we also layered a couple of Hazels by pegging-down a suitable rod from each into nearby clearings. What a nice change from roofing the woodshed!

04 June 07    As yesterday, a cool, grey & misty start but by mid-morning the sun had burned-off all the mist and it was back to hot and sunny again. This afternoon SA completed the woodshed with a few more bits of trellis, while I cut all the Groves Dyke grass, the sides of the drive and the grass verge at the bottom. Then we moved the water butt and placed it under the low end of the new  woodshed roof. The ground runners for stacking the fire logs were finalised and then the whole site cleared of all building materials. Another little project completed! So all we have to do now is saw up all the nearby cord of 1+ year old wood and stack it inside the new shed…

02 June 2007    Hot! Hot and sunny! Far too hot and sunny! It’s almost 20°C, which is 70°F in real money! Oh no – its TDH again… (Too Damn Hot). Ok, so I have just driven over 1000 miles (but my little Renault Cleo was giving me 52.9 miles per gallon) and I had only driven it 6000 miles in the last 12 months (the national average is 12,000 miles / year) – so it can’t be all my fault!

And anyway, if the government does close 1500 rural post offices in the next few months (as promised) that alone will create another 30 to 40 million car miles of extra traffic every year, as all those disappointed rural customers will then have to drive to their nearest urban post office instead (calculated by CPRE, the Council for the Protection of Rural England). Good innit?

01 June 2007    Just back from a tour of Scotland (click on any of these underlined hyperlinks), including lunch on top of Cairngorm, Loch Garten Ospreys (then scroll down), Black Isle Red Kites, Moray Firth Dolphins, Ythan Estuary Eiders, Montrose Basin Shelduck, Firth of Forth Puffins, North Berwick Gannets and lunch up a tree at Alnwick Garden. Hot and sunny today, with occasional sea roke along the coast. The lawns are calling urgently…

Weather Summary for May 2007

Max 25°C (76°F). Min 2°C (36°F). Rainfall 67mm (2⅝ inches). Dry, warm and sunny until mid-month, then wetter, with the occasional cold day.

19 May 2007    Warm, sunny and very windy today. Patio chairs, the big (furled) parasol and the barbeque are all lying elsewhere on the ground – but the new roof on the woodshed is still exactly where we put it! The big leaning Ash tree has finally produced a few green and tufty branch ends, while the Major Oak has been fully clothed for what seems like weeks.

Yesterday morning the Green Woodpecker and a pair of Jays were down on the newly cut lawns and the woodyard, doubtless checking up on the standard of grass cutting, or perhaps just feeding on all the freshly exposed edibles. SA tidied-up the woodyard and added some trellis and stacking bars to the new improved woodshed, while I just got distracted with far too many other things.

Yesterday evening I and (and few other campaigners) were in the audience for BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, chaired by Eddie Mair live from Caedmon School in Whitby. We each had our topical questions (but with a local twist) ready for the team of Michael Meacher (ex-Environment Minister, aware of climate change & not building anything unnecessary on a Zone 3 flood plain), Will Hutton (Work Foundation think tank, ex-editor of The Observer newspaper and keen on social enterprise), Sayeeda Warsi (Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for cities) and Graham Taylor (ex-pupil of Caedmon School, ex-Curate of Cloughton, sorry ‘ex-Vicar of Whitby’, and fiction author). What a wonderful panel, so articulate and so able to discuss lots of our local issues with national significance. And did they?

No, ‘cos all the audience questions actually selected by the editor were just bog standard topical questions which could have been asked by anyone in any city anywhere in the UK. Pity.

17 May 2007    Since the 14th, when the rain gauge showed less than ½ an inch of rain, there has been another 1¼ inches. It has rained mainly at night (thank-you Met Office) with dull, mild and mizzly days between. The soil is damp again, the grass is growing like billy-o, the earthworms are active and a couple of Song Thrushes have time enough on their wingtips to spend hour after hour in duelling duets from either side of the garden. Eat your hearts out, banjos!

Today SA and I completed the new corrugated plastic roof (all 24 x 8 feet = 192 sq feet of it) on the woodshed in the woodyard, and the job’s a good’un. A few rails laid across the corrugations will trap fallen leaves, encourage moss growth and gradually build-up a very thin (and lightweight) grass roof, which will look much better than the clear plastic sheets. Perhaps just a bit of moveable side-panelling to keep any driving rain off the firelogs still to be cut from the cord and stacked within? Although it now has a much better overhang, so perhaps no sides are required… Certainly the big plastic water butt can be set under some low end guttering, just as a fire precaution.

13 May 2007    Yesterday, afternoon tea at the River Gardens in Sleights was a T-shirt and sun hat affair, not at all what the Met Office had predicted. Today it is cloudy but still mild and pleasant for pottering in the wood, collecting a few more straight Hazel rods for ‘flower arranging’ as wedding decorations. Grass cutting this afternoon, with some of the wild flower bank, the beck lawn, the dog lawn and all of the path around the wood cut before the rain is due…

Still a few problems with email and with web access, so if in doubt please phone 01947 810220 until I get it sorted.

11 May 2007    Cooler and cloudier with occasional light showers. A flock of c20 House Martins are circling high over the garden and the river, occasionally joined by my first Swifts of the year (1 pair). The two and only remaining Elm trees, both youngsters c25 years old, are now in seed but the Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) are busy stripping them to eat and scattering the twigs and leaves on the drive below. Never mind, soon they will be eating the eggs and young of all our songbirds, instead…

The very first Ash leaves are only just beginning to unfold, while the first Bugle and first Red Campion are now in full flower. The Blackcap was feeding on the fat cake again this morning.

9 May 2007    Yesterday the first ton of gravel was delivered before 8am and the second ton about an hour later. I got the first spread before breakfast and the other one spread before 10 o’clocks. NOT my usual morning routine, but the run-up to my pole barn / car port now looks a lot better. The afternoon was spent in Scarborough, buying my new set of government 50% funded low energy light bulbs from B&Q, and then attending a training session about the new online accommodation booking scheme. It seems a far better system than the one I had via Yorkshire Tourist Board (which they have recently abandoned). The new booking system should be up and running in the next month or so.

More Bank Vol activity in and around the improved woodshed today, with SA adding the finishing touches to the new log racks and then BC & I helped to put on a bit more roof. We got rained off in the late afternoon so finishing the roof will have to wait a few more days.

5 May 2007    My first Swallow flew through my airspace this afternoon, although I had seen one over Victoria Farm Garden Centre a few days ago. No, sorry, I can’t remember which day. This afternoon I began to pick and shovel away the steepest part of the drive-in to my car port / pole barn, ready for 2 tons of gravel to be delivered on Tuesday (as well as the rest of the woodshed roofing sheets). It’s all been a bit busy recently:

Yesterday the Bank Vols finished the log rack within the newly re-roofed (almost) woodshed. Also the Whitby Town Council elections were counted and I have been elected to help represent Ruswarp Ward. Thank-you for your support, I’ll wear it all the time (Goon Show c1960)! The day before that a trip to Dalby Forest (near Pickering) was interesting, with their brand new Eco Visitor Centre and highly scary (looking) mountain bike trial track. Then on to their re-sited bird feeding station by the big lake on the Forest Drive, before afternoon tea at The Everley (where I introduced the Gnome Man carvings to the rest of the group), then to Forge Valley Birders’ Car Park (to show what CREST Whitby is creating at Victoria Farm and at Ruswarp Duck Landing, etc) and home via the recently completed eco-friendly Youth Hostel at Lockton. All good examples for September when Whitby will be hosting the international conference for CREST (CREating Sustainable Tourism) at Whitby Youth Hostel.

2 May 2007    The Bank Vols worked on the new woodshed today, with SA removing the old (and crooked) log racks this morning. After lunch BC & I joined in and helped to put the re-used corrugated plastic sheeting onto the newly raised roof. By tea time almost half the shed was roofed & it all looks very smart.

The Early Purple Orchids (all 8 of them) in Bank orchard are past their best, while the Major Oak is practically in full leaf now. The leaning Ash, on the other hand, is still not showing even a partly open leaf – so definitely ‘Oak well before Ash, in for less than a splash.’ NB: Leaf burst on Oak trees is triggered by temperature, while that on Ash is triggered by day length – which explains the huge difference this year, with the warmest April in over 300 years!

Stand by your water butts, I think we may be in for a very dry summer…

Weather Summary for April 2007

Max 22°C (70°F). Min 0°C (32°F). Rainfall 5mm (⅛ inches). Actual at 09.30 today: 10°C (50°F) with ⅛ cloud cover, dry and bright but with a Force 2 Easterly breeze. An exceptionally mild and dry month with numerous warm or even hot sunny days – with cool, clear nights. Towards the end of the month Easterly winds kept the coastal fringe cloudy and cool.

30 Apr 2007    A brave failure: at a full meeting of Scarborough Borough Council today one Whitby councillor proposed to suspend Standing Orders and postpone the construction work on the office block in Whitby marina until after the local government elections and a reconsideration of the on-shore plans by the new SBC. She was defeated by something like 35 votes to 15. Isn’t democracy wonderful?

28 Apr 07    A bit cooler and cloudier today, as the Met Office prepares to declare this the warmest April in 200 years of UK met records.

Yesterday us Bank Vols completed the framework for the new woodshed roof. It is looking very respectable, with all its parallel verticals, horizontals and right angles. Most unusual, as I never really went in for that kind of construction before. But then, I didn’t have a well equipped retired engineer on the team before!

This evening Ruswarp Ward is DONE and I celebrated with a spectacular fly-past of the first House Martins of the year. Welcome back, guys!

26 Apr 07    Flag is still progressing nicely, thank-you. His head and tail are still up, but he still takes it easy and spends lots time just lying in the sun and watching the world go by. Good idea. I should try that sometime, instead of days spent pounding the pavements of Ruswarp and Mayfield with Whitby Town Council election flyers.

Yesterday NEDL’s latest bunch of contractors spent the day all over everywhere, climbing leccy poles, laying out cables from pole to pole, replacing the transformer in the wood, shouting from pole top to pole top, with 2 big vans, 2 van-based cherry pickers, a pick-up and several private cars parked all over the yard, the drive and the neighbouring area. What fun. ‘We are upgrading all the overhead wires in the area’ said the boss proudly ‘And yours are going up from 25 kilowatt to 50 kilowatt capacity’.

Oh good. Just as I am reducing my electrical requirement from the National Grid by fitting low energy light bulbs, installing thermostatically controlled radiator valves and flushing out the central heating system (each one of these actions will reduce my electrical demand by 10%), not to mention the existing solar panels, wood burning stove with back boiler, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and double glazing – just as I need even less electricity, NEDL have decided to ensure that we can all use twice the amount of electricity I used to have! Brilliant, or what? How’s that for an integrated carbon reduction policy!

Still, as SA said, it will be useful when I start to export all my excess home-generated electricity to the National Grid!

Yesterday the Groves Bank Volunteers (the ‘Bank Vols’) and I poured the concrete for the new legs of the new roof on my woodshed. SA & I had finished digging the holes last week, when my usual hole digger choose that week to go off on sick leave.

24 Apr 07    Yesterday afternoon a friend, recently trained in Raki, spent a few minutes holding Flag’s bad leg, joint by joint, while the healing energy flowed from her hands into his damaged tissue. No, I don’t believe a word of it either, but – this morning he limped across the lawn with his head up, tail up and wagging as it used to, had a mini-scamper on the grass and then tucked into his breakfast. Explanation? Raki works? Or the wonder drug is suddenly starting to take effect (after 10 days of no apparent improvement)? I don’t know. Do you?

23 Apr 07    Cloudier, duller and damper these past few days, but still very mild. Hardly a trace of precipitation in the rain gauge. Flag was only moving about 3 times a day, when I insisted that he got up and limped tail down, head down, to the nearest bit of lawn and back. Any visits from little doggy friends did cheer him up a bit, but at least the pain is keeping him very still, which is just what the vet ordered.

21 Apr 07    Bright, dry, warm and sunny again. Flag managed a short walk around the lower part of the wood this morning – but then suffered for it afterwards. Then his little friend came to visit and that really perked him up a lot. Then I took him in the car to Victoria Farm Garden Centre, just outside Whitby, to watch me refill the bird feeding station in the car park there. Lots of cars, people & movement, which he always enjoys. My first Swallow flew over the garden centre and a Skylark sang from invisibly high in the sky.

This afternoon I strimmed half of the lawns, avoiding the Primrose flowering on the top terrace, the 6 Cowslips in the wildflower bank and the 10 Bluebells by the silt pond. A Kestrel perched on top of the leaning Ash, a Bank Vole and a Wood Mouse scuttled and bounded (respectively) below the feeding station and small birds were notable by their absence, with just 1 each for Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Wood Pigeon – and 2 for Robin. I think they must all be on eggs…

20 Apr 07    It’s cooler and cloudy today. But never mind, the Whitby Gazette has published our latest News Release (below) and the front page story is that at least one influential local councillor has suggested that the new Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) should ‘reconsider’ their plans for the office block in Whitby marina, once they have got re-elected on the 3 May. As my father used to say: ‘Live, old horse, and you will get hay… Honest.’ Of course you will. No doubt about it… Jam tomorrow…

Sorry, but I think a definite decision by the current SBC to Cancel the Carbuncle now would be far safer…


News Release. Issued Fri 20 April 2007 – for immediate use:


The leaders of local organisations which banded together to fight the planned office block on Whitby Marina, see a continued need for such a group, ready to speak up for the town and district. They are now inviting the leaders of other local organisations to join their alliance.


‘There was so little time to fight Scarborough Council’s disastrous plans for the Marina, that a few of us just got together and called ourselves ‘Whitby Joint Chairs’ for the time being’ said Ivor Greer, Chair of Whitby and District Tourism Association.

‘But there are other issues looming that will need similar action and ‘Joint Chairs’ sounds as though we specialise in orthopaedic furniture!’ added John Freeman, Chair of Whitby Marina Development Action Group. ‘What we needed was a new name, which would be both self-explanatory and much less ambiguous.’

‘After much discussion we chose Whitby And District Combined Organisations, or WADCO for short’ said Tom Saunders, Chair of Whitby Business Chamber. ‘ This shows that many local organisations have combined to speak with one voice. We need to be ready to act together whenever there is a threat to the well-being of the Whitby area, whether to tourism or to the wider community.’

‘We are inviting the leaders of other organisations to join us. The only conditions are that they must be local and non-party political’ said Niall Carson, Chair of Whitby Beacon Town Forum, ‘and they must be as concerned for the future of the Whitby area as we are. We will not all agree on every issue, but it will allow those who are concerned to get together and co-ordinate their actions very quickly.’ Other organisations already represented on WADCO include Esk Terrace Residents’ Association and Whitby Hospitality Association.

If your organisation would like to join WADCO, please contact any of the above; or phone Whitby 811275; or email

Ends (309 words) Photo Opportunities on Request. Notes to Editors:

Niall Carson, Chair, Whitby Beacon Town Forum T: 01947 810220

(Sustainable tourism for coast, moor and village communities)

Dick Brew, Chair, Whitby Hospitality Association

(Hoteliers and Guest House Owners’ group)

Ivor Greer, Vice Chair, Whitby and District Tourism Association

(Representing numerous local tourism businesses) T: 07950 937823

Tom Saunders, Chair, Whitby Business Chamber

(Whitby and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce)

John Freeman, Chair, Whitby Marina Development Action Group

(Harbour users and townspeople) T: 01947 602799

Keith Brice, Chair, Esk Terrace Residents Association

(This fine terrace borders and overlooks the marina)

# No single organisation in Whitby is in favour of this large building (mostly office units) and even the Whitby Harbour Users Group have referred SBC’s actions to the Ombudsman.

# On 29 Mar 07 Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) planning meeting voted 11 – 2 in favour of their own development, the ‘Water Resource Centre’, in Whitby marina.

# Construction work on this new office block is imminent, ignoring all the concerns of the harbour users, the local residents, local businesses, local organisations, English Heritage and the Environment Agency.


18 Apr 07    Yet another lovely day! I see that so far this month the max temperature has been 70°F and that there has been not one single drop of rain. When is the hosepipe ban due?? This really is April, innit? At this rate, I wonder what August will be like?

SA & Bruno worked on digging post holes for the new woodshed roof, while Flag & I lazed about in the sun (and one of us chewed the super bone). Flag did bury it in a very shallow hole this morning, as I discovered when he appeared with a red raw nose – yes, he dug the hole with his nose! Obsessive, or what? Once Bruno arrived, he decided it was safer unburied again, so the poor old nose got even redder. Rudolph!

I helped to dig the postholes, but I still haven’t got over the fact that when I really do want some holes digging in the woodyard, the master digger dog is no longer able to dig them! How unreasonable is that?

By late afternoon 3 pairs of postholes each 2 feet deep were ready and, just in case any passing Hedgehogs are determined to fall in, we even put a branchy branch escape ladder into each, until Phase II starts next week.

16 Apr 07    This morning the sun had burnt off the mist by 10 am and I started cutting the grass, completing half of Groves Dyke, most of my back lawn, the top terrace and half of the wildflower meadow by the steps (leaving the first Cowslips to set seed, of course). SA delivered more limestone gravel for the woodshed re-roof and then the chimney sweep cameth and wenteth.

The dog is still improving and we even managed a stroll to the bottom of the drive and back again.

15 Apr 07    Another very pleasant and restful day, with an al fresco meeting on the patio to plan our next move to Save Whitby – Sink the Office Block!

14 Apr 07    Flag looked a bit better this morning and was quite satisfied with a faltering trip to the nearest lawn and back again for a lie down to recover. By noon he had brightened up a little and I gave him a lovely big bone to keep him amused and take his mind off his pain. But no, he wouldn’t just lie there and chew it, would he? He absolutely had to carry it to the woodyard and hide it safely – but at least he didn’t try to bury it!

We had a very restful day, enjoying the warm sun, listening to the birdsong, watching the wildlife (and not even chasing the Tree Rats off the bird feeders), and just pottering around the lawn. By mid-afternoon the rest and the wonder-drug made him feel well enough to bring me a tennis ball, which is about the first sign of ‘normal’ behaviour he has managed since yesterday.

The big Sycamore in the paddock opposite is now in full leaf, the first of its species. Up in the wood, it looks like the Oak is going to beat the Ash by a long stalk (but then it is Grand National day today).

13 Apr 07    The sea mist has come this far inland, but was burned off again by mid morning. Flag had enjoyed his usual stroll around the wood before breakfast, but once fed and rested, was remarkably reluctant to get up or move around. Thinking he had pulled a muscle, I pottered about indoors while he took himself off to bed again. By midday he was unable to get up out of his beanbag without assistance, so after a brief excursion to the lawn and back, I let him rest.

By mid afternoon he was still reluctant to move, but a visit from a little doggy friend or two soon cheered him up and he even had a little scamper on the lawn. BC & SA, the Groves Bank Volunteers (Or ‘Bank Vols’ for short?) and I pruned the big white Buddleia (we were told it would be purple!) and dragged the bits to the bonfire site, decided how to re-roof the woodshed and then began sawing up the last of the bought-in Poplar logs.

At the local vet’s evening surgery Flag’s front leg joints were diagnosed as ‘seriously damaged’. A lifetime of running, followed by two years of obsessive digging, have finally taken their toll. He had a shot of morphine to ease his immediate pain and will be on some new pain-killing wonder drug (with no side-effects) for the next few years. This will also help to repair a little of the damage to his joints, but his long walks and hours of digging are well and truly over. Yes, he can still go for walks, but only short ones. Yes, he can still dig (because he enjoys it so much), but only for 5 minutes a day. Yes, he can still go on the beach, but only for short sessions. And no more endless running, just for the sheer hell of it. But for the next 5 days it is to be strictly ‘lawn exercise only’.

Poor old Flag the Wag, but that does explain his recent behaviour of just lying by a partly dug hole and barking at it – it was sheer frustration at not being able to dig it any deeper! You really have dug yourself into a right hole this time, poor old fella, haven’t you?

12 Apr 07    Yet another lovely day. Flag and I swept the drive and the yard before going for a swim and then home again for a late lunch out of doors, watching the steam train go past. The Broomrape is out (I can’t really say it is flowering, since it’s a parasitic plant without any chlorophyll) and the Chiffchaffs are going nuts.

A friend is getting married and she asked if I could supply tall thin bundles of Willow rods to decorate the village hall. There isn’t enough Willow of the right size and shape in the wood, so BC and I experimented with making a Hazel one. Not so much coppicing as flower arranging, really. By the time we had finished the bundle was 6 inches in diameter and tall enough to reach the upstairs windows. Not every wedding has one of these unique decorations, you know…

The Yorkshire Tourist Board are going through a reorganisation process of some sort (again) and will be transferring to a new online booking system next month. The old system is still available for a couple of days and will then cease to exist. No great loss really, as it was a difficult system for the suppliers and also difficult for the customers. Which is a bit like the National Health Service, really. If it isn’t working any better after the last reorganisation, let’s just reorganise it again and then we can really confuse everyone. And when we have reorganised it often enough, we’ll all be back where we started. But totally confused and a great deal poorer. Let’s all hope that the Yorkshire Tourist Board aren’t going to follow the NHS…

11 Apr 07    I’m sorry to go on and on about them, and you know they really are my favourite Borough Council (even if they are near the very bottom of the national league tables of all UK local authorities), but guess what the hell they have just done now?! 40p a pee! Yes, that’s right. Scarborough Borough Council will now charge you 40 pence to use the Super Loo public toilets in Whitby town centre! That’s a 100% increase on last year’s charges. And you don’t have much choice, as they have already reduced, closed, demolished or sold off almost all the other public toilets in and around Whitby. They are building some new ones at the Beach Management Centre (bottom of the Whitby Cliff Lift), but that should have been completed in time for summer 2006 – and it STILL isn’t ready! And then… and then they have the cheek to say ‘the proposed Water Resource Centre [the Carbuncle in Whitby Marina] will include some much needed public toilet facilities’!!!

On a trip to Scarborough this morning I am delighted to say that Jugger Howe Moor appears intact, so I still don’t know where this moorland fire ‘near Scarborough’ is. There was a fire near RAF Fylingdales, which is as ‘near Scarborough’ as Kirbymoorside is – which is actually about 30 miles away. Sorry, BBC News – I’m not sure I trust you quite as much as I used to…

Warm and pleasant enough for lunch on the patio, with the afternoon spent pottering in the garden.

10 Apr 2007    I am delighted to add the CJS Giggles section to this website. This is a huge compendium of good, bad and indifferent jokes faintly relevant to the countryside. Previously published on the Countryside Jobs Service website ( they now have a new home on this website. Click here for Groves Dyke Giggles or track them down via the Other button on the header, above.

09 Apr 07    Cloudier today, but still warm and dry. Flag had a boring morning as I spent 2 hours grass cutting, then a break for lunch out of doors. After a nice walk up the drive, back to another hour of grass cutting and stacking a the remaining logs from the ‘Cupresses’ (as they were always called here) felled by the electricity company. And then, thank goodness, taking a break with some unexpected but very welcome visitors. A Smooth Newt hung about in the pond while dozens of Tadpoles wriggled on the sunken birdseed accidentally swept into the pond.

A Green Woodpecker yaffled up in the wood as I surveyed the day’s work: All of my side cut, except for half the woodyard and half the settling pond, and half of Groves Dyke cut. Not bad, especially since much of it was having its first cut for 6 months.

On the national news this evening, ‘8 square miles of heather moorland destroyed by fire in North Yorkshire’. Two of the fires are ‘way over in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, near Masham while the third is here in the North York Moors National Park ‘near Scarborough’. Since it can’t be the moor near Ravenscar (still not recovered from the major fire there a couple of years ago), it can only be Jugger Howe Moor, as it’s about the only moor left near there!

Jugger, by the way, is a corruption of Jaeger (German for ‘hunter’), a reference to one of the breeds of packhorse pony used on the moors in ancient times. The other popular breed was the ‘Gal’ or Galloway pony.

08    First Comma Butterfly by the woodyard this morning as Flag and I pottered in the wood, enjoying the warmth of the sun and listening to the steam trains chuffing back and forth on their new run from Pickering right into Whitby. Brilliant – a Park and Ride by Train that actually works! And they all leave their cars right outside the National Park at Pickering!

The spring has well and truly sprung, the lawns need cutting, birdsong is everywhere and where is Ogden Nash when you need him?

A small Toad tried to wriggle down into the gravel by the door of my conservatory. As the sun got higher and hotter, the wriggling became weaker until I picked it up and popped it into the marginal vegetation of the pond.

07    Lunch in t-shirt and floppy hat at the River Gardens in Sleights. A salad, too. In fact, I think that should be first salad of the year, certainly out of doors. A very noisy couple disrupted everything with their dramatic arrival and their loud conversation. This Greylag Goose and Mallard Duck could be heard approaching noisily as they flew upstream, splash-landed by the picnic tables and then walked across the lawns, still chattering loudly to each other. Flag was keen to join them (probably with a big wooden table in tow!), but I persuaded him not to.

JW brought back the lump of recently felled Ash, but this time as a beautifully turned and perforated paper-thin lampshade, just as I had requested. I told you he would do something more useful with it than just burn it! A few days ago he had come for a lampshade fitting and ‘returned’ the small piece of Hornbeam from the saplings by the steps – only now it was an exquisitely turned, wavy-edged, eccentric (ie not circular) little vase – with a tiny band of the original bark all the way around the rim. Just perfect. The next time he and G are having a sale of their craftwork at Sleights School I will advertise it here, as they both deserve a wider audience for their skills and charity fund-raising.

06    A lovely, warm, dry, sunny day for loafing about, swimming & then helping SA & BC saw the last of the felled Ash poles, the last of the hedge-laying stems and a few other odds and sods. Very pleasant. The tame daffs are well past their best while the traditional ones are still looking fairly impressive. A carpet of Wood Anemone and Dog Violet fills any daffy gaps.

Today’s Whitby Gazette carries the story of SBC’s embarrassing retraction on Radio Cleveland and gives the full story.

05 Apr 07    The story was carried on ‘Today’ but with an interesting editorial twist. We need to stress that our Joint Chair group entirely supports all the harbour users who want better facilities. The only split is between what most of Whitby wants (a small block of modern toilets / showers and drying rooms) and what Scarborough Council plans to force on us: a very large 2-story block of modern toilets / showers and drying rooms and 11 office units and a large function room and yet another cafe!

Sink the Whitby Office Block!

Click here for the Today interview (07.23 am):

The senior officer of Scarborough Council who made the untrue claims on Radio Cleveland about their non-existent petition of ‘many thousands’ of signatures in favour of their plans, issued a retraction statement which was read out at the same time on today’s Breakfast Show.

Well done Radio Cleveland for forcing SBC to back down so quickly. We know we are in a propaganda battle, so every sound bite matters even more than usual. What we still need is a national public outcry from everyone who loves Whitby, to the Town Hall, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 2HG or Tel: 01723 232323…

Today, I think, is the first day of this year when the temperature climbed above 15°C (60°F). It did get close a few weeks ago, but today it is: Spring!

04 Apr 07    The interview we recorded yesterday was broadcast on Radio Cleveland this morning and Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) then had a senior officer on to respond. He claimed on-air that SBC had a petition of ‘several thousand’ people in favour of their proposed marina office block. But we could prove this was untrue (SBC archived Planning Committee minutes on the SBC website) and asked the BBC to follow this up. They did and SBC’s retraction will be broadcast on tomorrow morning’s breakfast show, at about the same time.

This kind of mis-information is not unexpected. Just for the record, we had a petition of 2462 against the building, while SBC had a grand total of 421 exhibition feedback forms, emails & letters, of which only some were in favour. Apparently they have now tried to dismiss us all as ‘just a few individual troublemakers who didn’t get what they wanted’. Now that’s no way to describe the Chair of Whitby Chamber of Commerce, nor indeed any of the other 5 pillars of the local community, is it? Perhaps the real truth is that a few individual troublemakers within SBC didn’t get what they wanted?

This afternoon we were interviewed for tomorrow’s BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme and we will have to wait and see what SBC have to say about that…

Another joint chairs meeting this evening & more midnight oil tonight, but I did notice the first Violets and the first Dandelions in full flower alongside the drive today, the Hawthorn hedge laid at the front of Groves Dyke lawn is now in leaf and the male Blackcap is still intent on eating a whole fat cake all by himself. And why not? It’s a very long flight from Africa! First Peacock Butterfly.

03 Apr 07    Here is the News Release we sent to the national media early this morning:


Last-ditch Fight to Save Whitby Harbour

Leading community organisations in Whitby have joined forces in a last-ditch attempt to save their historic harbour from Scarborough Council buildings. The Council gave itself the final go-ahead at a planning meeting last Thursday, (March 29th) to build offices and a café on Whitby harbourside. The committee took less than 15 minutes to vote 11 – 2 in favour of their own development. There were cries of ‘Shame on You!’ from the public as Whitby folk walked out of Scarborough Town Hall in disgust.

Now the community groups have vowed to work together to carry on the fight. They argue that public money from the EC and Yorkshire Forward should not be used to fund buildings so clearly against the wishes of the local community. The original request by the marina users was only for better toilets, showers and drying facilities, but developers Scarborough Council have added eleven office units, a café and a function room, together with an electrical sub-station and waste disposal site. The end result is three buildings, including a large, two-storey structure right on the waterfront, blocking the much-loved open views up and down Whitby Harbour. Building work is due to start very soon.

‘Scarborough Council claims to be ‘a listening organisation in touch with its residents, businesses and visitors’ – but they are not listening to anyone in Whitby’ said Niall Carson. ‘These are poorly-designed, ugly buildings that are totally out of keeping with the historic setting of the Whitby Conservation Area. Local people have demonstrated strong opposition clearly and repeatedly, but Scarborough Council is determined to have its own way. It has abandoned local democracy in its greed to rake-in EU grants before they run out. Only a huge public outcry from everyone who loves Whitby can stop them now.’

Ends. (300 words). Photo opportunities on request.

Niall Carson, Chair, Whitby Beacon Town Forum

(Sustainable tourism for coast, moor and village communities)

Dick Brew, Chair, Whitby Hospitality Association

(Hoteliers and Guest House Owners’ group)

Ivor Greer, Vice Chair, Whitby and District Tourism Association

(Representing numerous local tourism businesses)

Tom Saunders, Chair, Whitby Business Chamber

(Whitby and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce)

John Freeman, Chair, Whitby Marina Development Action Group

(Harbour users and townspeople)

Keith Brice, Chair, Esk Terrace Residents Association

(This fine terrace borders and overlooks the marina)


02 Apr 07    A fine, bright, sunny day with birdsong from all directions.

01 Apr 07    Recent bio-security directives from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) may spell the end of hedge-laying on English farms. Traditionally the lop and top removed during  hedging was burned on site or carried to a more suitable place for burning. As part of the hedging process, the ditch alongside the hedge was also cleared out at the same time and the silt piled along the top of the ridge on which the hedge grows, as a useful fertilizer.

Sadly, this centuries old tradition is now at risk, thanks to the latest ruling by DEFRA. Lop and top is now classified as ‘agricultural waste’ if it is moved off site, and an ‘agricultural waste transfer license’ must be obtained before it can be moved. Agricultural waste can only be moved by a DEFRA licensed ‘approved agricultural waste carrier’ and it can only be taken to a DEFRA approved ‘agricultural waste disposal site’. If it is burned at the original location then the fire must be started without the use of any other inflammable materials such as old cardboard, scrap wood, petrol, diesel, etc, as under existing legislation this ‘industrial waste’ cannot be ‘transported’ without a transfer license, nor ‘disposed of’ anywhere that is not an approved industrial waste disposal site.

Nor must the silt from the newly cleared ditch be put anywhere within 2 metres of the hedge line, as this boundary strip MUST be left ‘uncultivated and unimproved’ to encourage wildlife! Nor can the silt be moved off site (ie more than 2 metres away) because that would then require an agricultural waste transfer license. Several thick glossy booklets (probably printed on recycled paper) have been published by DEFRA to explain the new directives. Any failure by a farm to comply with any single part of the new legislation may mean the loss of all their DEFRA Single Farm Payment, which is now the only agricultural subsidy still available.

Now I know that you know that today’s date is the 1st April and that you have already realised this highly improbable tale would make an ideal April Fool Joke. Sadly, the real April Fool Joke is that this legislation is real. It was introduced throughout England a few weeks ago and I have just been saving it for today.

No wonder the poor English farmer feels that they have just been DEFRAcated on. Again.

Single Farm Payment? Some of them still haven’t been paid last year’s yet and are only surviving on commercial bank loans to stay in business! Last week a Commons Committee published their report on the whole Single Farm Payment debacle and concluded that it has cost the UK tax-payer several hundred million pounds extra, because of the complexity of the system, the inadequacy of the software, the incompetence of the management and the refusal to listen to the farmers who advised that the proposed system was just far too complex. You will be delighted to learn that all the top civil servants involved in the decision are continuing with their careers as normal and the Secretary of State responsible, Margaret Beckett, has been promoted to Foreign Secretary, where she will be capable of doing even more expensive damage to the UK’s economy. Good, innit?

My traditional and wildlife-friendly hedge-laying will continue, as will my on site bonfires of lop and top, lit with whatever waste materials are available and appropriate, as will my ditch cleaning and tipping the silt onto the hedge bank – but only because mine is a garden, not a farm. I get no subsidy whatsoever from anyone for managing it in favour of tradition and wildlife, but I believe strongly that it is the right thing to do. How on earth have we let the Law of Unexpected Consequences actually prevent the farmer from benefiting wildlife as I do, on the grounds of (believe it or not) ‘benefiting wildlife’? Madness!

Weather Summary for March 2007

Max 14°C (56°F). Min -3°C (27°F). Rainfall 37mm (1½ inches). Actual at 09.30 today: 8°C (48°F) with ⅞ cloud cover, dry and bright but with a Force 2 Easterly breeze. A fairly dry month with a promise of spring early on, but this was set back by overnight frosts. Towards the end of the month Easterly winds kept the coastal fringe misty and cool.

31 Mar 2007    The male Blackcap continues to feed  voraciously on the ‘peanut cake’ (made of tallow and ground peanut flour), which suggests that he may actually have flown all the way from Africa, rather than be an over-wintering bird. At least 2 Chiffchaffs are calling incessantly up in the wood and I am told that the Curlew are back on the moors.

At Victoria Farm Garden Centre I see that some kind person has added more wild bird seed mix to the feeding shelves, which is exactly what we hoped. Overhead my first Skylark song came from invisibly high, suggesting that Spring is well on its way – but my car says the temperature is still only 8°C.

30 Mar 2007    After lunch BC, SA, dogs and I prepared the last big bonfire at the far end of Bank orchard. All the recent branches chucked on top were carefully removed, cut down into short lengths and then used to set the older, brambly heap going once they themselves were alight. The cool easterly breeze carried the flames into the heart of the older stuff, until the whole heap was roaring in a very satisfactory manner. Once the bonfire formed the characteristic doughnut shape (ie having burned everything in the middle until there was only a hole with nothing left there to burn), it was just a case of pushing everything from around the unburned edges into the hole, until there was nothing left at all, save a few embers and a bit of woodash. Very satisfying work and a job well done.

29 Mar 2007    My 3 minute speech to the Planning Committee of Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) this afternoon, against the new  SBC Water Resource Centre building on Whitby Harbour, was:

Good afternoon. I am Niall Carson, Chair of Whitby Beacon Town Forum. Since only one speaker is allowed, I am also speaking against this application on behalf of five other business and tourism organisations, including Whitby Tourism Association, Whitby Hospitality Association and Whitby Chamber of Trade.

These 6 organisations represent over 500 Whitby residents and well over 200 Whitby businesses dealing with thousands of visitors. There is not one, single Whitby organisation in favour of this application – and last year 2,500 members of the general public also signed a petition against it.

Whatever community consultation was supposed to have taken place, it was clearly not carried out effectively. We ARE the local community and we vehemently object to these ugly buildings in the heart of the Whitby Conservation Area.

The landscaping improvements and harbourside walkway were the only saving grace of the original proposal – but even those have been cut back in the application now on the table.

The latest alterations, adding an external fire escape to the building – and the afterthoughts of a separate sub-station and a hazardous waste store – only serve to make these proposals even less acceptable than last time around. They are NOT improvements. As English Heritage said, these extra buildings should have been incorporated into the original building design – not littered across this incredibly sensitive site.

All of the houses around Whitby harbour will have their views of the harbour spoiled. SBC requires these ratepayers to preserve the historic setting of the conservation area; won’t allow them to put up satellite dishes, etc – but SBC then proposes to erect this mish-mash of badly-designed buildings and afterthoughts in the centre of the harbour Conservation Area! Surely public buildings erected by the council should set a good example, a high standard of design – and inspire civic pride?

I ask you to imagine these buildings transplanted onto Scarborough harbour, alongside the new pontoons. Would they inspire civic pride there? Would you approve the application? Somehow I doubt it – yet the Scarborough marina proposals are for a single-storey building designed to be “in keeping with the historic and maritime setting”. Why not a similar, small building for Whitby marina?

I suggest that these ugly buildings would never be proposed for historic Scarborough – so please, please do not inflict them on historic Whitby. Thank you.

Niall Carson, Chair, Whitby Beacon Town Forum

Dick Brew, Chair, Whitby Hospitality Association

Ivor Greer, Vice Chair, Whitby and District Tourism Association

Tom Saunders, Chair, Whitby Business Chamber

John Freeman, Chair, Whitby Marina Development Action Group

Keith Brice, Chair, Esk Terrace Residents Association

After some discussion, the Scarborough Borough Councillors decided to approve the new Water Resource Carbuncle building on Whitby Harbour and all its 80 ‘minor’ amendments, with just 2 votes against.

Sorry, Whitby. We tried…

If you wish to let SBC know how impressed you are with their decision, you can contact Councillor Fox, Leader of Scarborough Borough Council at Town Hall, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 2HG or Tel: 01723 232323…

28 Mar 2007    Tomorrow is decision day by Scarborough Council on whether or not to ruin Whitby Harbour Conservation Area with their proposed Water Resource Carbuncle. Any more midnight oil, anyone?

A single Woodcock flew up suddenly from under a bush as I walked around the wood this morning.

27 Mar 2007    This morning my first Blackcap (a male) joined me for breakfast. At least, he was at the feeding station and I was in my conservatory. A cool grey mist hung around Whitby all morning, with a slightly grey day in Sleights but a lunchtime trip to Goathland revealed the sunshine in all its glory. It’s just that onshore breeze affecting the coastal strip again, while the rest of the country inland basks in the sun.

Up in the wood this afternoon we heard the first Chiffchaff calling, followed by the first Buff-tailed Bumblebee as we enjoyed the afternoon sun on the spatio as the first steam train chuffed from Whitby to Grosmont. I gave the top lawns their first grass-cutting of the season this afternoon, just a gentle top strim, so it really must be Spring!

26 Mar 2007    After a day of meetings I took Flag for a refreshing walk by the River Esk near Grosmont, where we got up close to a lazy Heron loafing by the water’s edge.

A torchlight inspection of my pond this evening revealed 8 Smooth Newts just hanging around (as they do) in mid-water.

25 Mar 2007    Back to mild, dry, bright sunny weather as I prepared the final bonfire at the far end of Bank orchard. All the cut Hawthorn and Ash I had removed from the orchard before the Daffodils came up has now been piled into one big heap beyond the magnificent show of Daffs, with the minimum of trampling on the carpet of Primroses at that end. Weather permitting, we may get it burned later this week – hopefully without setting light to the whole 5 acres of woodland immediately up slope.

The slightest cool breeze from the East made my very first lunch on the patio a little bit too chilly, but the problem was solved by carrying it around the corner to my new Spatio (South patio), which was in full sun and full shelter. Perfect!

This evening AD noticed the first Smooth Newts of the year in my pond, as two of the little dears lurked around in the shallows.

24 Mar 2007    Here is a copy of the letter we sent for publication in today’s Yorkshire Post newspaper:


Letters to the Editor

Re: Letter from Cllr. Tom Fox, Leader of Scarborough Borough Council (Yorkshire Post 17 Mar 07)

It appears that the Leader of Scarborough Borough Council prefers to address the Whitby community through the letters page of the Yorkshire Post, rather than meet them face to face. Rather typical of Scarborough’s consultations about the Whitby Marina project, which were so flawed that harbour users were driven to complain to the Ombudsman. But the construction cranes have moved onto the Marina site this week, without waiting for the Ombudsman’s decision. Surely somebody, somewhere has the power to stop Scarborough Council perpetrating this act of sheer cultural vandalism on wonderful Whitby, the jewel in Yorkshire’s crown?

We appeal to readers who value Whitby as a very special place, to support our fight to stop the construction of this unwanted, ugly building on the most prominent site in the centre of Whitby Harbour Conservation Area. The signatory organisations to this letter represent over 200 Whitby businesses opposed to this building. Last year, some 2,500 people signed a petition against it and last month Whitby Town Council voted unanimously to recommend refusal of the planning application. Both English Heritage and the Environment Agency have concerns about the effects of this building on its surroundings. Despite all this opposition, Scarborough Council, as the planning authority, is utterly determined to grant to itself, as the landowner, revised planning permission for this commercial building for which, as landlord, it will collect rent from the offices and café which occupy most of the space. This despite Government planning guidelines warning against siting offices and retail premises on a Zone 3 flood plain such as this.

Indeed, Scarborough Council is so intent on extracting maximum income from Whitby that it has conveniently ignored long-standing Government recommendations to make the governance of Whitby harbour more open and accountable to the local community and ensure that all profits from the harbour are re-invested in harbour facilities. This would pay for new toilets and showers for marina users, without the need for grants and this grossly unsympathetic building. A building that many in Whitby believe to be a Trojan horse for further commercial development of the marina, which would remedy the Council’s financial woes.

Scarborough Council claims “to be a listening organisation in touch with residents, businesses and visitors” Since it has repeatedly ignored the views of the residents and businesses of Whitby, may we appeal to readers to write to The Leader of Scarborough Council (Town Hall, Scarborough) with your views as the visitors who are the very backbone of our local economy. It seems that a public outcry is now the only hope of stopping this wanton spoiling of Whitby harbour, so treasured by residents and visitors alike. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Niall Carson          Chair, Whitby Beacon Town Forum

Dick Brew             Chair, Whitby Hospitality Association

Ivor Greer              Vice Chair, Whitby and District Tourism Association

Tom Saunders       Chair, Whitby Business Chamber of Commerce

John Freeman       Chair, Whitby Marina Development Action Group

Keith Brice            Chair, Esk Terrace Residents’ Association


Copied to:

Ruth Kelly, Sec of State Dept of Communities & Local Government, MEPs, Government Office Yorks & Humberside, Environment Agency, Local Government Ombudsman, Commission for Rural Communities, North Yorkshire County Council, Yorkshire Forward, Whitby Gazette, etc.


23 Mar 2007    The small, short ‘traditional’ Daffodils in Bank orchard have survived the bad weather intact and are now all in full and glorious flower, but the triangular patch of big, pale ‘tame’ Daffs in Groves Dyke lawn have been partly flattened by the strong winds and the hail. The front page story in the Whitby Gazette this week is entitled ‘Here Comes Summer’ next to photos of storm damaged beach huts, cars skidded off the road on the ice, roads blocked by snow, etc, etc.

This afternoon the last of the Ash and Willow was sawn into cordwood, mainly by BC but with some assistance from SA and me, and stacked. The new cord is almost complete now, with just a few more smallish Ash poles for me to carry down next week.

In mid-afternoon we all drove to Victoria Farm Garden Centre (a mile outside Whitby on the A171 Guisborough road) to rendezvous with a couple of others. Between the five of us we put up a framework for hanging bird feeders. These now hang above the feeding ledges already in place on the post and rail fence of the Garden Centre car park. This gives Whitby residents and visitors their very own public Birdwatchers’ Car Park, based on the Natural England one at Forge Valley NNR near Scarborough (but 20 miles closer), where motorists can go to watch the birds from their own mobile hides (cars) and to feed the wild birds. The Whitby CREST (CREating Sustainable Tourism) group is very grateful to Mark Noble and all the staff at Victoria Farm Garden Centre for their assistance in creating this new wildlife amenity.

So next time you are passing the Garden Centre, pop into the car park, drive to the far left corner and park facing the feeding station to watch the birds. If the feeders are getting a bit low, please add some of your own seed or peanuts or fat balls. If you haven’t got any (or if you are feeling hungry!) then why not go indoors to feed yourself in their wonderful cafe (with the best view of Whitby I know), before buying some more bird food? The more people who become interested in local wildlife and its conservation, the better the chances of a sustainable future for it, for us and for the world at large…

22 Mar 2006    The floating crane ‘Rebecca M’ has started work in Whitby harbour, preparing the extra pontoons for the Marina. That’s ok, but in two weeks Scarborough Borough Council will also start building their big, ugly and almost completely unnecessary new building right in the middle of the Whitby Harbour Conservation Area.

This ‘Marina Resource Centre’ (known locally as the Marina Resource Carbuncle) has mobilised almost everyone who loves Whitby against Scarborough Borough Council (SBC). They have ignored all the protests from Whitby residents, businesses and visitors. It seems that SBC have given themselves planning permission to build it on their own land, where as landlord they will be able to charge rent to their new tenants in their new cafe (another cafe in Whitby?) and in their new function room (another function room in Whitby?) and in their 11 new office units (which get lots of grants, thus paying for all the extra and unnecessary bits). Isn’t democracy wonderful?

The marina users only wanted better toilets and drying facilities, but they are getting this big ugly carbuncle instead! In fact, it was the Whitby Marina Users Action Group which reported SBC’s actions re this development to the Local Government Ombudsman – but SBC are carrying on with the construction work without waiting for the Ombudsman’s decision. How typical of SBC!

The campaign against this monstrosity is hotting-up as construction approaches, so do keep a look-out in the local, regional and national press. More details in the online version of the Whitby Gazette (Type “Whitby Gazette” UK into your search engine) and even more juicy news to follow here.

Or you could let SBC know just what you think of their plans for Whitby’s Marina Resource Carbuncle by contacting Councillor Fox, Leader of Scarborough Borough Council at Town Hall, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 2HG or Tel: 01723 232323…

21 Mar 2007    The first day of spring, as the sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere, and the equinox gales are now over. There may be an inch of snow down here this morning, but the bright sun soon melted it away. Up on the moortop the temperature is a bit cooler and the snow continued to lie well into the afternoon.

After lunch SA and I dragged the sled up the hill to the felled Ash and then brought down the two smaller drums. Another trip up for the big lump (about 14 inches diameter by 2 feet long) and the route back down again was even muddier than before. As we slithered down the steps, one pulling the sled forwards from in front and one braking the sled backwards from behind, we decided we would have to adapt the Laws of Thermodynamics for our particular situation:

1. Every force has an equal and opposite woops!

2. Matter can neither be created nor whereditgo?

3. Wasn’t there a third one? Ok, we give up. It was a very long time ago. What is it?

Once down on fairly level ground, SA used his big chainsaw to trim-off the ends of each drum at right angles, so that a friendly local wood turner can put them on his lathe and do something even more useful with the wood than just burn it. Having admired his work at a fundraiser for Sleights Primary School, I’m sure these awkward drums will soon be beautiful objects d’art.

20 Mar 2007    Flag looked at the heavy snow shower this morning and decided that there was no real need for a long walk around the wood, when a short trip up the drive and back would do instead. Even though it would snow hard for 10 or 15 minutes, the ground is warm enough and the sunny spells between the wintry showers are bright enough, to melt any freshly fallen rain / hail / sleet / snow before the next shower. The dale has turned a lighter green and the moortop does look almost white, but by late afternoon the snow had gone from the dale. The triangular bed of ‘tame’ Daffodils are looking a bit battered by wind and hail but, on balance, Spring is still winning over Winter.

Despite the nasty weather, arborists from Fountain (remember them?*) trimmed the self-sown trees from under the low voltage power lines in the wood. At my request they felled one of the garden Cypresses which insists on growing up through the wires, despite having been cut back many, many times. They also looked at the big dead limb on the leaning Ash and declared it ‘OK’ for another few years. Their work has created quite a bit of useful firewood for a couple of years’ time, as well as a fair bit of lop and top to rot down in situ. Still, better that, than hours and hours of ear-splitting mechanical shredding!

*Wasn’t Fountain Forestry the big firm that drained and planted exotic conifers over thousands of acres of the Flow Country in North-east Scotland, so that the super rich could avoid paying UK tax like the rest of us, way back in the 1970s or 80s? Wasn’t Terry Wogan involved, as well as lots of other celebs? And now that everyone has agreed that wrecking such a unique habitat wasn’t such a good idea after all, aren’t the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage currently being funded by the UK tax-payer to undo some of this damage, fell all the trees Fountain planted and block up all the drains they dug, so that we can try to rescue something of this special landscape and its unique wildlife? Wasn’t I walking along the Caithness flagstoned nature trail of the breath-takingly wonderful RSPB Forsinard Reserve just a couple of years ago, enjoying every moment of this deep peat Flow Country experience? Yes, I do believe I was.

Funny thing, the UK tax system, the way it first pays to do all the damage and then it pays again to try to undo some of it, just a few years later. Good thing we don’t mind paying twice, innit? And whatever happened to that Lou Pole, the tax avoidance consultant? I bet he’s alive and well, and stilling finding lots of other ways to make the rest of us pay twice as much tax as necessary…

19 Mar 2007    The wind is from the north, the clouds are scudding past at a rate of knots and my car says the temperature is just 1°C – and it feels like it! My rain gauge is still at just ½ inch of rain so far this month, but today’s occasional wintry showers of hail, sleet and snow are likely to intensify over the next few days.

Five Robins shared the feeding station this morning, with hardly a squabble in sight. It can’t be spring just yet…

18 Mar 2007    Cooler but still bright and dry. Blizzards? What blizzards?

17 Mar 2007    After preparing Groves Dyke for its new arrivals, I carried the splitting axe up to yesterday’s worksite and had a very satisfying 10 minutes splitting a few of the freshly sawn drums of Ash.

It’s cooler today, with no sign of any Frogs, but the first Forsythia flowers by the garden steps have opened. A fine male Grey Wagtail investigated my pond before tiptoe-ing noisily across the roof of the conservatory. The repeated ‘tchik’ of a Great Spotted Woodpecker came from the big leaning Ash behind the woodyard, while 3 Jays screamed blue bloody murder from the trees further up the beck.

Winter is expected to return tomorrow, with a Met Office Severe Weather Warning of heavy snow… Never mind, in the Lake District one holiday site owner has ‘planted’ hundreds of plastic Daffodils, so that their Easter visitors won’t be too disappointed that climate change has made the Daffs flower (and then wither) several weeks too early. Climate change problems? What problems? Just burn a bit more fossil fuel to make a few more plastic species to replace the living ones ruined by already burning too much fossil fuel…

16 Mar 2007    This afternoon SA and his chainsaw got to grips with the recently felled Ash tree, while BC and I cleared away the cut branches, sorting them into poles for firewood, long thin rods for topping-up the woven hedges, or ‘reject’ brash for stacking into habitat heaps. The big drums were rolled or carried and stacked nearby for splitting and seasoning. Once they have lost half their weight they will be carried down to house for firelogs (no point in carrying down all that heavy sap). A couple of hours later and we were admiring our handiwork before leaving a very tidy worksite for a well earned pint or two of orange squash.

15 Mar 2007    Attended a meeting at the superb new Whitby Youth Hostel at Abbey House, following its £3m restoration. Great care has been taken to preserve and conserve the best features of this fine Grade 1 Listed building, from the two 12th Century stone pillars in the basement, through the wattle and daub corridor wall (now displayed behind perspex), the ornate carving of the grand wooden staircase, and right up to the re-used ship’s ‘knees’ which still support the roof timbers. Now accommodating twice the number of the old Whitby Youth Hostel in the abbey stables, this wonderful new facility has created 10 permanent local jobs, will soon have a cafe open to the public and is destined to be the 2nd busiest YHA in the UK. Well done to all concerned! Visit and type Whitby into the search box.

14 Mar 2007    Sunnier, warmer, dryer and calmer than ever, but only 3 or 4 Frogs in my pond today. BC and I pruned the Twigwam, which involved sawing through the biggest of the Willow stems just above ground level and removing the whole stem completely. Much easier this way than trying to lean a ladder up against the apex and taking the very tops off! We removed half a dozen 25 foot long stems of up to 4 inches butt diameter, which isn’t a bad growth rate for the 4 or 5 years since it was planted. Then we tried to encircle the remaining stems with biodegradable cord and pull the whole thing back into a cone shape, which was almost successful.

For the very first time this year I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming (very briefly) near the top of the drive and later the Yaffle (Green Woodpecker) was back in the wood again. We were also lucky to have a rare sighting of a Weasel, as it worked its way in and out of the dry stone wall behind the pond.

Bud burst is just starting on the newly laid hedge, which is always reassuring. Of course it was going to survive this centuries-old traditional treatment – but I always heave a great sigh of relief none the less! Well done SA!

13 Mar 2007    Flag had a marathon dig near the roots of the big leaning Ash tree (which won’t help it at all), while I caught up on some boring office work. There has only been ½ an inch of rain so far this month and I can walk around the wood without wellies for about the 2nd time this year.

12 Mar 2007    A fine upstanding male Bullfinch worked its way along the edge of the wood by the car park.

11 Mar 2007    The fine weather continues. I trimmed a few more branches off the felled Ash up in the wood and a Yaffle (Green Woodpecker) called in the distance.

10 Mar 2007    Another nice dry, calm and mild day, with rather fewer Frogs singing in my pond. About 25-ish, I would say. There are now 2 large mega-dollops of spawn, one of about 1 pint and the other of about 2 pints. In Bank orchard more than half the ‘wild’ Daffodils are now in flower and the Robins are beginning to squabble at the feeding station. It must be Spring!

09 Mar 2007    Another fine, dry and sunny day, but with a cooler wind. With invaluable help from SA’s chainsaw we dropped the stag-headed and multi-stemmed Sycamore which has been trying to grow too near the electricity wires by the woodyard. It came down without too much trouble and we burned the lop and top on the bonfire site in the woodyard, as well as that from the young Hornbeams near the steps which I thinned a few days ago.

Frogs are still purring in my pond (5 dollops of Frogspawn now) and the triangle of ‘tame’ Daffodils in Groves Dyke garden are now all in full flower.

08 Mar 2007    SA and I completed the removal of all the rusty barbed wire and rotten posts from alongside the newly laid hedge. It’s a warm, sunny, dry and very pleasant spring day, with up to 27 Frogs purring in my pond. My car says it is 14°C, which is near as dammit 60°F in real money – and that is my definition of the end of winter.

Taking the crate, sack and overflowing coils of rusty wire to the scrap metal skip at the nice, new recycling centre at Whitby industrial estate, I asked the nice man dumping lots of old floorboards and joists if I could have a few of them for my wood burner. He was quite happy to help transfer them to my now empty boot, instead of the skip. ‘What happens to the timber in the skip?’ I asked the attendant. Apparently, it is taken to Scarborough industrial estate (20 miles away) and shredded (big, nasty, noisy, gas guzzling industrial sized garden shredder), then mixed with garden waste and composted (except it takes far longer than usual) and bagged and sold back to us as compost. Would it not be simpler to just stack the good bits of wood neatly at the recycling centre and then let others come and take it away for firewood? Perhaps even for a few pence?

Obviously not.

07 Mar 2007    Guess how many government forms you have to complete and sign if you dare to even try to save energy in your home? Nine. Yes, that’s right, nine (9):

Two (2) forms for anything electrical, two (2) forms for anything plumbing, two (2) forms for anything gas, two (2) forms to say that you promise to supply energy consumption figures showing how much you will have saved over the 6 months after the work has been completed – and one (1) to say that you have invested at least ½ an hour of your own time (not to mention the other 50% of the cost) in arranging all the necessary plumbers, gas fitters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, stress councillors, aroma therapists and bloody undertakers! Did I only imagine that I also had to fill in the details of my maternal grandmother’s inside leg measurement?

You also have to produce at least 6 months of old utility bills for comparison, as well as a request for details of your income, your ‘ethnicity’ and whether the property is in ‘majority masculine ownership’ or ‘majority feminine ownership’! Oh dear god, what chance have your grandchildren got?

Still, I now realise that the grandchildren of bureaucrats will all get government immunity from the effects of droughts, floods, storms or death by heat wave. So that’ll be ok then. What a pity they don’t have more bureaucrats in Bangladesh…

06 Mar 2007    Attended the national conference on ‘Local Action on Climate Change’, held in Middlesbrough. Ex-RoboCop chief constable Ray Mallon (suspended by the Home Office for upsetting too many ‘law abiding’ people by catching too many of their drug dealing friends, and now the popular elected Mayor of Middlesbrough) welcomed the 225 delegates. ‘I don’t understand everything about climate change’ he said, ‘but I know that it scares me and that I worry about the world we are creating for our grandchildren…’ Other speakers included Sarah Parkin, Founding Director of Forum for the Future (‘We have 13 years to stop it running out of control’), Sir John Harman, Chair of the Environment Agency (‘It’s bad, it’s going to get worse and it’s accelerating’), etc, etc. It was all good stuff and some local authorities are actually starting to take it seriously, but the sad reality is that:

Tomorrow I am having a second meeting with the people who give government grants to home-owners for energy saving adaptations ‘to help me fill out the application forms’ (why drive 100 miles round trip, twice, to help me fill out over-complicated government grant application forms to give me a 50% refund on 7 new thermostatic radiator valves, the flushing out of the central heating system and a few low energy light bulbs? Might all that car travel not produce more CO2 than these adaptations could ever save?? As for my enquiry about a micro hydro-electric scheme for the beck through the wood? That, it seems, is money from a different government department and will require yet another visit from somebody else…

Then we will spend the next several days fighting Scarborough Borough Council’s plans to build their unwanted Water Resource Carbuncle on the Whitby Harbour Zone 3 Flood Plain (even the Whitby Marina Users Group don’t want it, we do NOT need another cafe in Whitby, nor do we need the 11 new office units nor the function room).

Then we will spend the next several weeks trying to persuade North Yorkshire County Council not to spend £2m creating a Whitby Park & Ride by Bus scheme (which is doomed to failure, as the shuttle buses will get snarled-up in the town centre traffic jams, while the heavily subsidised train runs right past and into the town centre, almost empty. When asked about spending a fraction of the money on creating a Park & Ride by Train instead, NYCC replied ‘We don’t do trains’)!

So how’s that for a well co-ordinated government policy to save us all from Climate Change? Bloody awful. And I don’t care which political party happens to be in power, I’m sure one would be just as useless as the other. I think I’ll start building a well insulated boat…

04 Mar 2007    Last night’s eclipse of the moon was fully visible from here. Just before midnight it had reached the lunar ‘diamond ring’ stage, with a narrow ring of light around the moon and then one very bright point on the ring as the shadow began to withdraw from the moon’s face. Very dramatic, with the Tawny Owls calling loudly from the wood!

Cooler today, which has dampened the poor Frogs’ ardour, with only a dozen or so having a very half-hearted affair in my pond this morning. Their numbers were swollen by the addition of some more Frogs, rescued from a disappearing pond by some good neighbours, who also noticed the first Frogspawn in my pond. Only about 1 pint of it, so far…

I did a bit more tidying-up in Bank orchard and then after lunch the rain set in for the rest of the day. On a late afternoon walk we surprised three Roe Deer which were walking across the drive. Seeing Flag, the two leading deer dashed forwards across the paddock, while the tail-end Charlie doubled back up into the wood. This clever ploy fooled poor old Flag completely and, not knowing whether to follow two down the hill or one up the hill, he just ran along the drive instead and missed all three of them! That’s the trouble with only having one brain cell.

03 Mar 2007    Another fine day and the Frogs all celebrated the arrival of Spring by holding a mass orgy in my pond, with 36 or more purring their little heads off in their mating frenzy.

I, on the other hand, celebrated the same occasion by having my first outdoor lunch of the year at Bridge Cottage Cafe, Sandsend, after a very pleasant Snowdroppy walk through Mulgrave Castle woods. And very good it was, too – but by comparison…

02 Mar 2007    A fine, dry, sunny day and this afternoon the Groves Dyke hedge was finally completed when SA, BC and I slit planted the 25 yards of Beech hedge, filling the big gap at the top end where there had been no surviving hedge to lay. Just some sawn-up firelogs to remove from the edge of the orchard now and then the whole job’s a good ‘un!

01 Mar 2007    A full day trip to see the new Attenborough Nature Centre near Nottingham ( ). Run by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, this innovative eco-centre is as green as it can be, with a roof of solar electric panels to create almost all the electricity it uses (any spare production is sold to the national grid), heat pumps in the surrounding lagoons (ex-gravel workings), wonderful views of close-up wildlife and very pleasant walks around the reserve. Well worth a visit – and the centre cafe makes wonderful homemade soup and snacks. Organic, of course!


Weather Summary for February 2007

Max 12°C (52°F). Min -5°C (22°F). Rainfall 75mm (3 inches). A few days of snow early in the month seemed to bring parts of the UK to a near standstill, but life continued here almost as normal. Once the snow had thawed the weather was wet but unseasonably mild.

27 Feb 2007    Wet this morning and an ideal day for a trip to Castle Howard Tree Nurseries to collect the 25 yards of Beech Hedge plants (which I hope to plant later this week). Lunch in Malton, followed by a fascinating visit to a local fish farm on the way home again.

This evening was spent at Whitby Town Council’s meeting where, after 1½ hours of discussion, they voted unanimously to reject Scarborough Borough Council’s proposed Water Resource Carbuncle in Whitby’s town centre Conservation Area. It will be interesting to see if SBC continue to push it through, regardless of all local opposition… not even the Whitby Marina Users Group want it! It was they who referred SBC to the local government Ombudsman, but SBC have already said that they will carry on with the project even if he does find against them! Isn’t democracy wonderful?

26 Feb 2007    A dozen Frogs sang sweetly from my pond this morning. I spent much of the morning composing the perfect letter to save Whitby Harbour from Scarborough Borough Council’s development plans, while at the same time sawing off the side branches from the recently felled Ash tree. Only when the blood was flowing freely from my finger did I realise that I should have been paying much more attention to my sawing and much less to my Planning Objection letter! Woops. Mental note to self: must follow my own advice and always keep my left hand well away from the saw blade when sawing and preferably on the other side of something solid. Good thing it was only a bow saw. Will SBC be insured for ‘consequential loss’ if I sue them?  They have a lot to answer for… But if I win, will my Council Tax to up again? Perhaps I shouldn’t sue them after all…

Flag ignored my brief blood sucking antics and continued to dig frantically nearby. I think he is going for the hat trick: Bank Vole 2 days ago, Wood Mouse yesterday and now all he needs is a Shrew…

The afternoon was completely wasted, slaving over a hot word processor to try to process the perfect words that might save Whitby from SBC. Might.

25 Feb 2007    No Frog song this morning, but Flag got involved in another major excavation on the way around the wood and eventually reappeared carrying a very dead Wood Mouse. Isn’t it great having a mini Nature Reserve to protect all the native wildlife! Why won’t he just confine himself to catching the real vermin, like the exotic Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) which are busy killing all the young trees and all the small birds? I suppose he would have to learn  to climb trees very quickly…

24 Feb 2007    Half asleep and half submerged in my bath this morning, I mentally processed all the sounds from outside the open window: Dunnock singing; Robin singing; Milkman talking to Flag; Song Thrush singing; Funny Noise; Wood Pigeon billing and cooing; Funny Noise again… that’s not a bird, but I still ought to know it… I know I know it… it must be a Known Unknown… or it might be an Unknown Known… now I remember: it’s the sound of Frogs Singing! And so it was. Just a few of them in my pond, with only their little pointy snouts showing above the water and all purring away. Why did anyone ever call this lovely noise ‘croaking’? This is my first Frog song of the year and a sound to gladden the heart. It is Spring! And there should be even more tomorrow…

23 Feb 2007    My rain gauge is now showing 2½ inches of rain so far this month. Drier this afternoon so out came the saw for a bit more fire-logging of the leftovers from the hedge laying, while Flag dug frantically in Dyke orchard. Later I noticed him playing ‘cat and mouse’ with some poor unfortunate small mammal. Having put the poor Bank Vole out of its misery (much to Flag’s disappointment) I then tried to get him into the car to go shopping, but he would insist on trying to bring his latest toy with him. No chance: its dead and you’re only a dog! Now leave it behind and get in…

21 Feb 2007    The crumpled brown leaf on my patio revealed itself to be my first Toad of the year. It then  skid-steered its way across the wet flagstones to a hole in the dry stone wall around my pond. Spring!

A very pleasant afternoon was spent sawing up the Blackthorn, Hazel and Hawthorn poles gained from the hedge laying. Half is now done and half to do…

19 Feb 2007    The sloven looks ok, so I think I’ve got away with it. I expected it to be almost triangular, telling the world for years to come what a very slovenly job I had made of felling the tree. (Yes, that is where the word comes from). This is one of the two 25 year old Ash trees which were crowding-out the four 25 year old Oak trees just below the middle of Bankfield. Some 16 inches in diameter, these Ashes are twice the diameter of the slower-growing Oaks, which are suffering as a result. Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!) have already stripped the bark and killed off the leader shoots on two of them, so even if they do survive these Oaks will always look a bit like giant, leafy Prickly Pear cacti.

The 30″ bow saw seems quite adequate to the task as I start. The first cut is made in the front of the trunk, a horizontal cut facing the clearing where the tree is to fall. Once this cut is ⅓ of the way through, the second cut is also begun on the front, a few inches higher than the first and angled downwards to meet it. When the two cuts finally meet, a big wooden wedge is removed to leave a birdsmouth which undermines the tree on that side. All that now supports the tree is the remaining ⅔ of the fibres at the back of the trunk.

The third and final cut is made at the back of the tree, a few inches higher than the first. As it bites deeper and deeper into the tree it severs the remaining fibres one by one, until the tipping point is reached and the tree falls in the desired direction. This third cut should be kept exactly parallel to the apex of the birdsmouth, creating a long, narrow wooden strip of fibres which will hinge over to bring the tree down safely in the right direction. But before then, as the tree settles under its own weight, it begins to grip the blade of the saw until cutting becomes impossible. A steel wedge is hammered in to open up the cut and allow more fibres to be sawn through. Then the resistance increases again and the wedge is tapped further in until the saw blade can be disconnected at one end and drawn completely out of the cut. A few more taps on the wedge should tilt the whole tree beyond its tipping point…

It doesn’t. The wedge is all the way in now and the tree leans a little, rattling the twigs of its neighbours. A second wedge is added and hammered in until it too, is all the way home. The tree has a decided lean by now, a few more twigs have rattled as it tilts further, but it still isn’t going to go. With both wedges hammered all the way home it still refuses to fall. The birdsmouth is sawn a little deeper but the blade soon begins to bind and this solution is abandoned. In desperation the ends of the sloven are sawn through, with the saw blade at right angles to the traditional 3 cuts. First one side is cut as far as the steel wedge, and then the other. Still it stands, but now at an even more unlikely angle. Then the disconnected saw blade is fed back into the cut, reconnected again and a few more fibres severed, but only with the aid of buckets of sweat. Confucius was right, blast him: He who cuts his own firewood does indeed warm himself twice.

With just one or two extra fibres severed the tree leans a little further in the right direction, suddenly releasing the wedges and the saw blade – but it still won’t fall. Standing back to recover, I stare at it in amazement. Whatever has happened to gravity? Why isn’t it working on this tree? Will I have to buy a nasty noisy, dangerous chainsaw after all? By all that is reasonable, it should have gone long ago! But now that I can use the bow saw freely again, I soon cut the critical fibres and the whole 2 tons of timber come crashing down, just clipping the side branches of one Oak tree. Two hours. Two hours for 3 simple cuts with a good sharp bow saw to fell a 25 year old tree. Hard work, but do-able. Chainsaw? No thank-you.

But never mind, we both enjoyed our morning’s work. Flag has dug an enormous hole 50 yards away from the tree felling, despite being tied up, and I will have enough firewood to see me through the winter of 2008/9. Another half hour is spent tidying-up, removing entangled side branches, steadying the trunk securely and measuring its full length at 40 feet. I stand back and admire this fine, big Yorkshire specimen which hung on so stubbornly, long, long after lesser mortals would have let go. I think I will call it Hugh.

18 Feb 2007    A Great Spotted Woodpecker worked its way up the electricity pole by the path into the wood. I think that is the first one I have seen this year, never mind heard. The first Lesser Celandine is flowering in Bank Orchard today. The invading Hawthorn bush was finally removed before the Daffs there are all out, and the nearby accidental Oak was pollarded again and the cut branches moved clear. That just leaves one more bonfire at the non-Daffodil end and the stage will be all set for the annual Spring Spectacular…

17 Feb 2007    The 5th and final bonfire dealt with the very last of the lop and top from the newly laid hedge, as well as all the bramble-snipping from the wildflower meadow bit of Groves Dyke garden. The sun shone warmly on my back, the bonfire sparks burned my t-shirt front, the dog dug happily under my feet (!), birds sang sweetly from the Apple trees, the Snowdrops, Daffs and Crocuses flowered optimistically all around and all is well again.

16 Feb 2007    A busy few days, which sadly included the loss of Anthea’s brother, Hugh. His parting was exactly as he wished (‘no funeral and no fuss!’) and his send off was a small and poignant family affair. He would have approved entirely. On the way home banks of low cloud – or was it mist – back-lit by the late afternoon sun, lay seemingly anchored to the bottom of the dale by the silhouettes of stark winter trees. The Esk valley at its most beautiful, in honour of his passing.

13 Feb 2007    After finishing Groves Dyke and seeing the new arrivals in (and admiring the first ‘wild’ Daffodils in Flower in Dyke orchard), Flag and I went for a lovely stroll on the beach at Sandsend, our first for ages. It was very pleasant and so mild that I could have done without my hat and fleece. Lots of people, kids and dogs (so Flag was in his element) on the beach, with half a dozen surfers enjoying the big waves still pounding the shore from the recent windy weather.

The single tall Willow in Groves Dyke lawn is now in leaf and the Twigwam is budding well.

12 Feb 2007    Spent most of the day finishing the redecoration of Groves Dyke. Shame to waste such a nice day. When I wasn’t redecorating, I was dashing about Whitby getting organised to fight Scarborough Borough Council’s latest plans to build a nasty, new, bendy, glazed (very non-traditional local architecture in the middle of their own Planning Department’s Conservation Area!) marina building in the middle of Whitby Harbour. Nobody in Whitby wants it, not even the marina users themselves and they are still awaiting the Ombudsman’s decision on whether SBC had carried out proper consultation beforehand – but SBC say they will build it anyway, regardless of his decision!

The proposed Marina Resource Centre will include a cafe (another cafe? Just what Whitby needs…), public toilets (at last!), showers etc for the marina boaties, (ok), 12 office units (why? We’ve got lots of empty ones in Whitby already!), a function room for the boaties (ok), a waste disposal building (old oil, old batteries, chemical toilets contents, etc – right next to the new cafe?) and an electrical sub-station (why does a cafe need a new substation? Or is this just part of SBC’s long term intention of building hundreds of bog standard Anyport Marina Apartments all over the marina car park?). They have just changed their architects and changed their intended builders and made over 38 ‘amendments’ to their original plans, including extending the balcony around 3 sides and redesigning the structural steelwork (Woops! Allegedly it wasn’t structurally sound before!), added an external fire escape (woops! Allegedly they just forgot about that completely on the original plans), altered the disabled toilets (woops! Allegedly the original plans didn’t meet the Disability Discrimination Act minimum requirements!!) and added the electrical sub-station (Allegedly the local leccy board insist that it must be on a very high plinth to withstand the inevitable flood waters – but the proposed Centre is much lower – so it will just flood then, will it?). Why on earth build anything on a flood plain? If it just remained as a car park then everyone could just drive to higher ground when (not if) the river rises. Or is that just too obvious?

10 Feb 2007    Heavy rain overnight and a good thaw has created the traditional ‘February fill dyke’ and the dyke (local name for a ditch) alongside the newly laid hedge was certainly full this morning! So full, in fact, that by midday it was in danger of flushing all the hedgelaying off cuts down towards the culvert and jamming it up. I removed the imminent blockage bit by bit in the nick of time and the flood waters got away safely.

In Yorkshire every bank has a dyke. In other words, every hedge bank has a drainage ditch (locally called a dyke) alongside it. Everyone drained their field by digging a dyke alongside the boundary and piling the soil up into a bank which would then have a hedge planted along it to mark the actual boundary line. You just can’t have a dyke without a bank. So when my late parents-in-law retired to this house in the 1960s and found that their next door neighbour’s surname was Dyke, they decided (with typical Yorkshire humour) to name their newly acquired house Groves Bank (the Groves part coming from nearby Groves Hall). Years later the Dyke family moved elsewhere and my parents-in-law bought the house next door and named it Groves Dyke – and that is why these adjoining semi-detached houses are called Groves Bank and Groves Dyke – because in Yorkshire every bank has a dyke.

By mid-afternoon the rain gauge was reading 2¾ inches (c7 cms), whereas a couple of days ago it was just ½ an inch (c1 cm). The rain and the snowmelt have made the River Esk rise suddenly and the angry brown water is now thundering over the nearby weir. Today was a very good day to finish off the redecoration in Groves Ditch. I mean Dyke!

9 Feb 2007    What! Hundreds of schools in the Midlands were closed yesterday ‘because of the snow’? Just how much snow was there, exactly? A couple of inches? Eee – when I were nobbut a lad we walked nearly a mile to school in the snow – and we enjoyed it. We would soon make an icy slide across the playground, polished by hundreds of kids’ feet as we each ran up and then ‘surfed’ the next 20 or 30 yards. Even as a teenager in the bad winter of 1963 we still got to school, 7 miles by bus and then a 1 mile walk.

All these schools were closed yesterday for, apparently, ‘health and safety’ reasons. Reasons like ‘It wouldn’t be safe for the staff or the children to get here’ or even one head teacher who said ‘we had to close because we couldn’t guarantee that the heating would work’!! Why the hell shouldn’t the heating work in the winter, for heaven’s sake? What would be the point of a school heating system if it only worked in summer?

But I really do pity the tens of thousands of gas-guzzling suburban mummies who finally, finally almost had a real justification for driving the kids to school in huge 4-wheel drive vehicles – only to find that the school was closed! Oh, dear, the poor wee things…

Here there was a bit more hail again last night and today was brighter than yesterday, with the temperature a degree or two above freezing. But not quite bright enough nor mild enough to tempt me of doors to chop the lop and top for another bonfire!

Anybody Hungary for mass produced factory-farmed turkey? It’s ever so cheep. The poor supermarkets are now complaining that demand for poultry is down by 10% in the last week. No wonder! I stopped buying cheap supermarket poultry when I read the small print on the packet and discovered it came from Indonesia! God only knows what they do to them out there. And why is it cheaper to bring them all the way from the far east? Because, of course, the workers are paid less, the animal welfare standards are poorer, they don’t have to bother with vets, etc. Do please look out for the Little Red Tractor symbol, which shows that food is produced in the UK, where there are at least some minimum standards of humane treatment, proper hygiene, decent veterinary care, some  pharmaceutical limits, etc. Visit for more info.

Better still, just pay the extra for proper organic and/or free range local food, which will actually taste like real food. Free range animals at least have the chance to build up some natural immunity against disease. Why not track down your supermarket manager and ask them politely ‘Where is your organic / free range and local produce, please?’ It will only take a couple of dozen customers to do that before they all start to jump on the band wagon…

8 Feb 2007    Frost and a good layer of hail overnight has covered-up any melted areas, but it’s still not cold enough to stop it all turning to slud again. While the radio and TV news are full of stories about the South and East of the UK getting a bit of snow (for a change!), from a Southerly direction (isn’t that a bit unusual?), up here we are just getting the occasional wintry shower off the North Sea. There are logs to saw, lop and top to burn, a Twigwam to prune and a tree to fell – but neither dog nor I are quite that daft! Today is an indoor day and we are unanimous about that. Painting or study tidying? That’s not much of a choice, is it..?

7 Feb 2007    Just over an inch of snow fell last night and the pond is frozen again. The sun grew stronger and the snow laden trees soon began to drip, turning the path around the wood into a muddy slush (mush) or a slushy mud (slud). Cold? No, not really. The coldest it has been so far this month is -5°C (22°F) and now it’s just a degree or two above freezing.

Proper cold was the wonderful Christmas we spent in a holiday cottage 1000 feet up in the Cairngorms, in 1995 or thereabouts. Widespread power cuts went on for several days, with the temperature falling to -25 at night and rising to a maximum (yes, a maximum) of -10 in the daytime.

Now that really would have been cold enough on a ship’s deck to freeze the pyramid of canon balls off a brass (no sparks) retaining tray, known to the sailors as a ‘monkey‘. Hence the phrase. Just another little reminder of our nautical past…

This evening a couple of nice, very well seasoned Oak logs in my wood burner brought the living room thermometer up to a near record breaking 22° C / 74° F. When it was too hot for comfort I opened the door to let the excess heat into the hall, from where it could find its own way upstairs. And all 100% renewable energy, with zero net carbon emissions, too. So why has the government recently cut the DEFRA grant on tree planting for electricity generation by half? Don’t ask me. Ask them!

6 Feb 2007    Another hard frost last night, with a good layer of ice on the pond. Six, possibly seven, Robins fed peaceably at the feeding station, all aggression abandoned in the quest for survival rather than territory. So much for every garden having ‘just one Robin’!

The sun soon shone but the air was distinctly cooler as SA and I tackled the last bit of hedge laying. We back-laid a couple of small stems, then used his winch to haul over a big multi-stemmed Hawthorn, with a bit of Hazel entwined. This was completed by lunchtime and after lunch we winched the final big Hawthorn over, pinned it all in place with a few posts and cleared all the lop and top off the track to the field. We shook hands across the completed ⅔ of the hedge line and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. That just leaves the remaining ⅓, a complete gap with nothing there to lay, to be planted-up with young Beech trees just as soon as Castle Howard Tree Nursery delivers them…

4 Feb 2007    Sawed a bit more off the fallen Apple tree in Bank Orchard, then removed a bit of Hawthorn that shouldn’t have been there at all.

3 Feb 2007    Flag worked all day, digging holes in the morning and more holes in the afternoon. Luckily, some of them are (accidentally) on the line of the hedge and will be useful for planting the occasional extra Hawthorn sapling. I painted in Groves Dyke in the morning (boring!) and then lit the 4th bonfire so far and got rid of all the remaining lop and top from the hedging (fun!). Only 2 more plants to lay next week and if the weather stays as dry, mild and sunny as it has been for several weeks, they won’t take long.

And now the UK has its very own H5N1 Bird Flu. Bootiful, as Sir Bernard Mathews used to say in his ads for turkey.

This outbreak was not in some small, backyard, organic, free range poultry farm (as the experts expected), but inside one of 22 high-tech purpose-build hanger-sized super-sheds each holding up to 10,000 birds in one of the most biosecure turkey factories in the UK. I wonder what that tells us?? Whoever would have thought that having 10,000 birds in one shed (and 160,000 on one farm) might be a disadvantage? Especially when a major new animal disease was expected, that might just cross-over into the human population? What can possibly be wrong with such profitable intensive monoculture? I seem to remember that even Florence Nightingale realised that tightly packed individuals in a warm, confined space probably wasn’t such a good idea when it came to disease control. Just how many years has it been since she had such a good idea ‘way back in the Crimea War?

I just hope that the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) handles this outbreak a darn sight better than the original Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) which made a complete pig’s ear of dealing with the Foot and Mouth outbreaks of 6 years ago. It was their  incompetence then which led to their replacement with DEFRA. Just remember that ‘change the name and do the same’ always employs all the same people in all the same offices, but now with a very expensive set of new letterheads, new brass plates and new vehicle logos. Watch this space…


Factory farming, monoculture and all the things we say we don’t like about farming will continue just as long as the supermarkets’ customers continue choosing the cheapest food. Sorry.

1 Feb 2007    SA worked all day, separating rusty barbed wire from rotten fence posts in the morning and then JM and I joined him after lunch to winch and root-lay another big Hawthorn. Another 5 or 6 yards completed and only 2 more big plants to root-lay…

Yet another cold call from a new employee of Everest this evening: “I’m just checking that everything is OK with the products you bought from us a few years ago…” he said, before I interrupted his spiel and brought him up to speed on just who is still Everest’s most annoyed customer. He dropped his sales pitch and eventually even his loyal defence, as I piled on the evidence. Poor man, but then I didn’t ask him to phone me, did I? “I’m just the trainee…” he said, which shows that they care just as little about their own staff as they do about their poor customers! You don’t know about Neverest? Do let me bring you up to speed… (click here)

Weather Summary for January 2007

Max 14°C (56°F). Min -3°C (26°F). Rainfall 57mm (2¼ inches). The mildest January in the past 80 years, with day after day of dry, mild, sunny weather. Some windy weather and a few days of snow were the exception.

31 Jan 2007    This morning I opened the sitting room curtains to see a Roe Deer strolling across my lawn! Later, as Flag and I walked around the wood, 3 Roe Deer walked sedately from the top of the wood and crossed the open fields above. Flag the Sensible showed some interest in them, but decided not to try and jump the barbed wire fence to give chase.

Walked Flag from Sandsend into Mulgrave Castle Woods (free public access on foot every Sat, Sun and Wed, closed during May). It was so mild that I was hoping for an outdoor lunch, but sadly the Bridge Cottage cafe was closed. On the way home my car assured me that it was 13° C, a quite unheard of temperature for late January in North Yorkshire.

The afternoon should have been spent spring cleaning, but it was far too nice to be indoors, so I sawed and stacked a few more bits of cordwood while Flag tried to undermine the entire cord with several new tunnels.

This evening I had an interesting enquiry from a family in southern Italy about renting Groves Dyke in mid-summer ‘to avoid the heat’. Climate change? I think so, don’t you?

30 Jan 2007    First a very useful visit from the nice lady at North Yorkshire County Council’s Energy Efficiency Centre, with news of 50% grants (for both businesses and individuals) for work which will reduce energy consumption by 10%. It seems that things like topping-up loft insulation to 12 inches, flushing-out central heating systems, fitting thermostatic valves to each radiator, etc, etc may be eligible. More info is on its way, but it is well worth contacting your own local county council & asking for their Energy Efficiency Centre…

Then I joined SA to start root-laying the big, scattered Hawthorn trees in the mid section of the hedge. His Tirfor hand winch was just the job for pulling the trees down to the horizontal, once their roots on the opposite side had been severed. By late afternoon we had root-laid a massive 20 yards, which is very impressive – even if only two Hawthorn trees were involved, each 30 foot tall! Without the winch it would have been a far more difficult job.

One bonfire was revived to dispose of the new lop and top, and SA noticed the first Primrose in flower in a sheltered corner of the orchard.

29 Jan 2007    This afternoon I lit 2 bonfires (sheer skill, of course – and a gallon of very old diesel, left over from the last fuel blockade) and cleared all the heaps of lop and top from the hedging. Chatting to a retired local farmer, he noted that not only was this the mildest January in over 60 years that he could remember, but it was also the first January he had ever had without seeing a single Fieldfare. Usually he has flocks of up to several hundred, but not this winter. He’s right! I haven’t seen or heard a Fieldfare either, but I just hadn’t realised. Yes, a few Redwing (the other migrant thrush from Scandinavia) but not a single Fieldfare.

28 Jan 2007    I carried out a 1 hour survey for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend and saw 11 species from my conservatory. Just after the survey period a Jay hopped about the trees beyond the woodyard, looking most unlikely in his black and white, and pink and blue livery. How very exotic and un-British they always seem – even though they are a native species. Those species which did appear within the survey hour included: Long Tailed Tit 7, Blue Tit 4, Chaffinch 3, Great Tit 2, Robin 2,  Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 1, Kestrel 1 (landed on top of a garden Cupresses), Marsh Tit 1, Nuthatch 1. Non-birdies included 2 Tree Rats (Grey Squirrels) and not a single Bank Vole. The weather was mild, dry and sunny with 2/8 cloud cover and a Force 3 Westerly breeze (1015 – 1115 hours ie The Archers Omnibus, of course!).

Lopped off a few low branches from the two Ash trees which I plan to fell in the next few weeks. Once they are down, the three neighbouring young Oaks will get a lot more sunlight and should do much better than they have so far.

This afternoon Woodlands Drive was busy with lots of walkers strolling up and down, with or without kids and / or dogs, all enjoying the fine mild sunny weather. This is how I remember Sunday afternoons always used to be, before the Foot and Mouth disaster when the government announced that ‘the countryside is closed’ and everyone just stopped their Sunday afternoon country strolls. Even though that announcement was reversed within months, once the impact was appreciated on the rural economy, it has taken 5 or more years to get back to today’s ‘normal’ Sunday strolling habits.

27 Jan 2007    The temperature rose, the wind dropped, the sun shone, the dog dug and the Robin sang all morning as I bramble snipped the wildflower / rough grass part of Groves Dyke lawn. Flag disappeared briefly without my noticing, only to reappear proudly bearing a tennis ball. It look familiar, so I went to check and yes, he had chewed through the branch jamming the metal grating in place, he had pushed the metal grating aside, he had crawled down into the culvert, he had found the missing ball, he had reverse crawled back out again and he had retrieved it just like his genetic breeding had intended. No wonder he looked so proud! I hadn’t the heart to tell him off, so he just got away with it. Lucky dog. This time.

I saw my first Treecreeper for months. It spiralled up the electricity pole, before flying down to another tree trunk at the back of the woodyard.

Planted a nice young Buddleia (an old fashioned dark purple one, which should attract even more butterflies) next to the two well established ones on my front lawn. Between the three of them, they should add a lot of wildlife interest when I’m sitting on my spatio this summer…

25 Jan 2007    What a fine, bright, cold, dry and sunny day to complete the lower end of the hedge laying. SA & I started work about 10, with the Flag and Bruno ‘helping’ as much as possible. By lunchtime only a couple of Hazel stems by the gatepost were still to lay, so we had a little break and then finished the job by early afternoon. The dogs were very upset after dropping the tennis ball into the culvert, where it rolled away into the depths. It seems the recent snow melt had flushed out all the little twigs that previously stopped it rolling too far inside. Deciding it was now impossible to rescue, we prevented their attempts to crawl down after it by leaning an old metal grating across the opening. This upset them more and Flag even managed to move the grating and had to be prevented from crawling inside. The grating was replaced and jammed in firmly with a hefty branch.

After raking and sweeping up we returned to the conservatory for a little rest and were soon joined in our celebrations by not one, not two but three very welcome visitors. Flag refused to settle and, thinking he just wanted his usual afternoon walk, we eventually strolled up the drive. I should have known that he only wanted to rush straight back to the culvert and his irretrievable tennis ball!

Supper over, he was rewarded with a wonderful brand new furry orange tennis ball, in the hope that he would relax and forget about the culvert…

24 Jan 2007    Still some patchy snow in Sleights, with a bit more above Sneaton and then less and less as I approached Ravenscar to collect D & I. We drove via Hackness to the Birdwatchers’ Car Park at Forge Valley National Nature Reserve, on the Hackness – Great Ayton road, near Scarborough. This steep, narrow dale is still heavily wooded, despite the centuries of iron smelting and blacksmithing which gave the dale its name). Now managed by Natural England (the new UK government agency pre-starved of cash even before its recent launch, as DEFRA tries to claw back some of the £ millions wasted on the incompetent handling of the Foot and Mouth outbreak 5 years ago).

Parking in the Birders’ Car Park we sprinkled some seed on the bonnet of the car and a few peanuts on our windscreen wipers, hoping to attract the birds as close as possible. After more than 20 years of bird feeding at this particular car park, the abundant woodland birdlife is well used to vehicles being used as mobile hides. A Nuthatch, a Coal Tit, a couple of Marsh Tit and a load of Chaffinch all refused to perch on the car, but did feed from the assorted tables and feeders just a couple of feet away. As did 2 very well fed Grey Squirrels (Tree Rats!), which is very bad news for all these birds come their breeding season when the Tree Rats will quite happily eat as many of their eggs and young as they can lay their nasty little orange rodent teeth on. Pity. I want my nice, native, vegetarian Red Squirrels back again!

Back towards Hackness a mile or two for a very good lunch at the Everley Hotel, where we also enjoyed searching for (and finding) the gnome furniture carved by Tom Whittaker, the Gnome Man of Littlebeck (new readers click here). As well as the two corner benches with only one gnome, there are also 2 fine Oak fire surrounds, with a couple of gnomes on each. On the fire in the bar both gnomes are smiling (ie carved on a Friday) while in the dining room one of the gnomes is the first ‘Action Gnome’ I have ever seen. He stands sideways in his little niche, maul raised in one hand ready to strike the chisel in his other hand, as he carves out the very niche he stands in. Wonderful! There are also several adzed Oak doors which are probably Whittaker’s, but seem to be gnomeless. I shall come here again, to explore both the furniture and the menu in much greater detail…

Above one adzed Oak door in the bar is a large Oak lintel carved with a hunting scene. A pack of hounds and several (rather heavy) horses and riders are gathered near a large building, perhaps a manor house. I must try to find out if this is a local building, perhaps even Hackness Hall? Any more information will be much appreciated. Click here for my Gnome Page dedicated to Tom Whittaker, the Gnome Man of Littlebeck, Whitby.

Back home via Thornton-le-Dale and the Hole of Horcum, with mile after mile of patchy snow across the black and white moortop. We gave Flag a run in Grosmont woods before driving back to Ravenscar and watching the next wintry squall coming in off the sea. What a super day.

23 Jan 2007    A good dusting of hail / snow on the lawns this morning and the fields just below Sleights moor are all white. SA and I prolonged our opening coffee to see if the wintry shower was going to stop. It did and we decided to spend the morning hedging, then break for lunch before spending the afternoon lighting the bonfire. The am plan went well, with a couple of short breaks in the conservatory for heavier snow showers, before an early lunch. Then the snow settled in and kept snowing, so eventually we abandoned any plans for more work. Judging by the tracks in the inch deep snow, a Pheasant had strolled across my patio while we had been inside.

22 Jan 2007    A colder morning with an East wind that made my eyes water. It soon brightened up when the sun got through and I removed several Sycamore and Ash poles from Bank orchard, even though their roots are probably the only things holding the bank up, but the young fruit trees do need a bit more space to grow so that they can take over the job. Sawed a few few more firelogs while Flag dug yet more holes and fetched yet more tennis balls. Once exhausted (me, the dog and the rechargeable saw) I started to improve the old bedsprings in the single bedroom, which involved a quick trip to the new Whitby AGI DIY shop to bolt the new bit all together.

Snow is forecast for tomorrow and the sky did look a bit yellow this evening, which is always a bit of a warning…

20 Jan 2007    Back to bright, dry and windy weather again, so I cleared away all the lop and top from the hedging. These bonfire heaps are getting a bit too impressive but they will still have to wait for a calm day with rain on the way. The squally wintry showers started by mid-afternoon, so we stopped chasing tennis balls and sawing firelogs in the pole barn and went back to tidying the study.

Be sure to watch David Attenborough on BBC 1 tomorrow evening for the results of the biggest ever climate change survey. Initial results are already on the BBC website and its not looking too cheerful for the UK. Much worse for the Maldives and any other countries just a meter or two above sea level. Like all of Bangladesh – god help them.

19 Jan 2007    And this must be the calm after the storm, I suppose. Dry, bright, sunny with just a good breeze from the west. Far overhead the high flying clouds are speeding past from North West to South East, so the change to a colder, more northerly airflow is already on the cards.

Also speeding past, but in the opposite direction, was a low flying Roe Deer with an even lower flying Golden Retriever lagging behind. Sorry, poor old Yellow Fellow, you’ve go no chance of catching up with that one!

18 Jan 2007    Gale? What gale? Or so I thought this morning. A bit windy, yes – but it wasn’t until I left the shelter of this little island of calm at the bottom of the dale and got around the corner onto more exposed ground that I realised just how windy it really was! No sign of any damage in the wood, so I may still get away unscathed – unless the wind direction backs a few more points to South Westerly or, worse still, Southerly… My barometer has been almost permanently ‘Fair’ for several months, but today it’s as low as I’ve seen it for years, at 28.4 inches (of mercury) ie ‘Stormy’.

This morning BBC Radio 4 had another item about Climate Change and, as ever, and in the interests of so called ‘balance’, had managed to find the 1 in 1000 scientist who was still in denial, to put the opposite view. His so called ‘evidence’ against man’s effects was dismissed by his mainstream opponent as ‘the ranting of a wild-eyed employee of Exxon Mobil’ – which I thought was very restrained in the circumstances!

As someone else said recently, ‘If our warnings about Climate Change are correct, it’s going to be the most pointless I-told-you-so in the short history of mankind’. Good point.

17 Jan 2007    Spent all this morning at the Overview and Strategy Committee meeting of Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), trying to persuade them (with the help of Whitby Hoteliers Association, Whitby & District Tourism Association, Whitby Civic Society, the Captain Cook Museum, Whitby Mayor, Whitby Town Councillors, etc, etc) NOT to lease out two thirds of Whitby Tourist Information Centre (TIC) for 10, 20 or 30 years to anyone prepared to turn it into a cafe and pay c£20,000 a year rent to bail SBC out of an embarrassing little financial shortfall.

Whitby TIC gets 500,000 visitors (all eager for local information) in through its doors every year and the most creative, imaginative and useful idea that SBC can come up with is to get somebody else to sell them a cup of coffee! Anybody else would be expanding and investing in its TIC – not reducing it and giving it away for the next 10, 20 or 30 years…

16 Jan 2007    Almost a full day’s hedging with SA today and another 6 yards completed. This included extracting a big, rotten stump about 10 feet high, 2 feet diameter and composed almost entirely of rotten wood held together with a massive corset of Ivy. Pushing it over and cutting the Ivy roots was easy enough, but dragging it up the drive and out of the way required the use of a visiting 4×4. And very useful it was, too. But not in city centres nor suburbia.

The first Snowdrops are open in Groves Dyke orchard (still few enough to step over them as we carry yet more lop and top to the bonfire site/s) and the Daffodil shoots on the lawn are almost 6 inches high. The solo Blackbird has been silent for the last couple of mornings as Spring seems a bit less certain.

Today was the calm before the storm, with widespread Gale, Severe Gale and even Storm Force 10 winds expected across England and Wales on Wednesday night and Thursday. Batten down your hatches, folks!

15 Jan 2007    The weather is still good, if a few degrees cooler than of late. More washing on the line (it doesn’t take long to dry in this wind!), more duvets to the dry cleaners, more tidying-up the garden and more carrying wood to the new cord. Very satisfying.

14 Jan 2007    A fine, dry, sunny morning, ideal for a 15-minute bird count of the feeding station just outside my conservatory: Blue Tit 5, Long Tailed Tit 5, Great Tit 4, Marsh Tit 2, Chaffinch 1, Coal Tit 1, Robin 1. Bank Vole 1. (⅛ cloud cover, Force 5 South Westerly, 12 – 1215 hours).

Pottered about in Bank orchard, removing a few brambles from Wasp Nest Corner, adding to the bonfire heap there and siding-up the nearby hedge in anticipation… This was the very first bit of hedge laying that I did here, just after we moved in. That was ‘way back in 1988 and now, nearly 20 years later, it has thicken-up enough to do it again, but properly this time, not just pegging down the few wispy little bits of Hawthorn that were available then!

11 Jan 2007    It must have been very windy last night, as it takes a lot to waken me up at 5am! Windy enough to blow over the dust bins and recycling containers at the back of Groves Dyke and windy enough to blow the strip of foam rubber insulation off the standpipe to the outside tap! Snapped off branches up to 1 inch butt diameter were scattered along the length of Woodlands Drive and it was raining too hard to even attempt to walk around the wood. My rain gauge now shows ¾ of an inch so far this month, ½ an inch up since yesterday.

Still wet and windy when SA arrived, so we swithered in the conservatory over coffee, wondering if we would or if we wouldn’t get outside today. Before too long the rain stopped and the hedging started. By mid afternoon we had completed a good 3 yards, including a big multi-stemmed Hazel, a big multi-stemmed Hawthorn and quite a lot of slip sliding on the muddy slope above the ditch.

10 Jan 2007    Calm! No wind! How very odd! The latest washing is drying on the line and the sun shone while another couple of rooms in Groves Dyke were sprung cleaned. Later we chased the ball and sawed some firelogs, before driving to Grosmont for a very pleasant walk through the woods.

9 Jan 2007    Mild, wild, wet and windy again this morning (11°C!). The male Sparrowhawk looped around and around the feeders but still failed to catch his breakfast. Continued the Massive Spring Cleaning of Groves Dyke by finishing an entire bedroom this morning, before the improving weather let me out to saw and stack some more cordwood.

On lunchtime BBC Radio 4 I listened to the Secretary of State for the DTI defending wind farms for electricity generation again, even though they are so unreliable:

1. No power at all is generated in any flat calm, long lasting, high pressure system that covers the whole of the UK (eg the cold week just before Christmas 2006);

2. No power at all is generated in gale force winds, when the sails are automatically furled or declutched from the turbine to prevent damaging it (eg this past 10 days);

3. Little power is generated when the wind is gusting and irregular, as the turbines are optimised for a steady, constant wind flow (eg this past 10 days);

4. Constructing the turbines and their lofty support pillars uses up vast amounts of energy, as does the construction of the access roads across the ‘unspoilt’ uplands, as does the vast underground foundations filled with thousands of tons of concrete – all of which produce more carbon dioxide in their construction than the turbine will ever save in its 20 year lifespan;

5. Excavating vast volumes of peat (itself a fossil fuel) for the foundations and the access roads lets oxygen in and the peat starts to decompose, thus releasing far more carbon dioxide than the turbine will ever save;

6. Spoiling the last unspoilt areas of the countryside with short term, inefficient wind farms will discourage more tourism than it will ever create local and long term engineering jobs;

7. Putting the wind farms in the far North West (the most windy area of the UK) and then transporting that electricity via vast new super pylons and power lines which march across the whole country (and the National Parks) to the far South East (the most populated area of the UK) is a very silly idea, especially when the energy losses in transmission are as much as 50%;

8. Nobody yet knows just how many eagles, buzzards and harriers (or gulls, ducks and geese for offshore wind farms) are diced and sliced by the revolving blades, nor even how many of these so called ‘protected’ species are disturbed and displaced by the construction and production stages;

9. Offshore wind farms have to be connected to the National Grid by big bits of electric string buried in deep submarine trenches stretching for miles across the sea bed. The two new and absolutely enormous wind turbines 1 mile off Blyth harbour, capable of producing more than all 10 of the older turbines on the harbour wall itself, have produced absolutely no electricity at all for nearly a year – because somebody thought it would be cheaper to lay the cable on the sea bed (instead of under it) and it has since chaffed through and snapped!

Apart from all that, it’s not a bad idea…

A far better idea would be to stop producing more and more electricity so that we can all go on wasting over a third of it! How about we just reduce our consumption a little bit each, by fitting lined curtains (as good as double glazing), low energy light bulbs, proper insulation, installing solar hot water systems (it saves c50% at Groves Dyke) and / or domestic wind turbines (instead of relying on the big electricity generating companies, which want to sell us as much leccy as possible, to ‘try’ to convince us that we ought to buy less from them) and how about getting a clear message from the government in the form of zero VAT on all domestic insulation and energy saving equipment? How about all new buildings started in 2010 must create 10% of their own energy needs, by good design, orientation, insulation and micro-generation? Then 11% by 2011, 12% by 2012, etc until we reach the Zero Carbon buildings which government recently proposed? Rocket science this is not.

Nuclear power? Oh no! Please don’t get me started on that daft idea…

8 Jan 2007    Flag dug for victory in the bonfire heap while I sawed yesterday’s saplings into cordwood and added them to the ever growing new cord. Sunny, dry and windy this morning, turning to grey, wet and very windy this afternoon. Oh dear, that means back to tidying the study again…

7 Jan 2007    Mild and windy this morning while I was cutting a couple of very nice Hazel sticks for seasoning, then cloudier this afternoon as I removed a couple of Sycamore saplings from Bank Orchard hedge, before turning wet and windy by late afternoon.

5 Jan 2007    Dull, damp and windy again today, so off for to Whitby Pool for a swim, followed by a trip to recycle all the plastic accumulated over Christmas. Then I forced myself into the study to clear out a whole drawer of the filing cabinet (more recycling!) and a whole top cupboard as well, so that I could  tidy away the decorations and all the other bits and bobs which seem to have accumulated. No, its not complete, but I can now see a bit more of the study itself!

4 Jan 2007    Dull, wet and windy yesterday, dry, fine and sunny again today. The sun rose above Ugglebarnby at ten to nine this morning, just as I was walking to the top of the wood. The house and lower wood were still in shadow as I began my walk, but when I got to the top it was in full and glorious sunshine. This alternating pattern of good day / bad day weather just keeps on going. Luckily, we do seem to plan our hedging for the good days.

Today we laid a full 7 yards, much more successfully than before. We had nice obliging Hawthorn stems, well spaced out with room to work between them, and then a big multi-stemmed Hazel to prepare for next time. Very satisfying work, but now we need a calm day with imminent rain, so that we dare light the 3 big bonfire piles of all the lop and top we’ve trimmed from the overgrown, straggly and long neglected hedge. Judging by the thickness of the stems, it’s probably been 50 years or more since this hedge was last cut. Then there will be all the thicker stems to carry to the woodshed for cutting and stacking as firewood, for the winter of 2008/9.

As we worked my neighbour got out his mower and cut the lawns around his house. Yes, mowing the lawn on the 4th January – completely unheard of! The grass has been growing almost continuously throughout the ‘winter’ and there has been less rain than usual, so the mower wheels left the ground  undamaged. Amazing! I suppose I ought to cut my lawns, too…

2 Jan 2007    More hedge laying today with SA in lovely dry, mild and almost sunny weather. We seemed to spend the entire day working hard but making very little progress. By late afternoon we had pollarded 1 Hazel next to the gatepost, laid 4 big Hawthorn pleachers (1 of them successfully, the other 3 were too brittle and eventually snapped!), prepared 2 more stems for laying and tidied the site. The actual length of hedge laid today was probably just over a yard, but it was a real pig of a yard! We should make good progress in future, as there is such a long, empty gap to the next layable stem. After that it all gets a bit overcrowded, so we will be able to pick and choose the easy stems to lay. Thank goodness.

1 January 2007    Happy New Year Everyone (various gods willing, of course). More gales last night, with Edinburgh and most other northern cities forced to cancel their midnight celebrations due to the gales and wet weather. Sadly, it wasn’t quite wet or windy enough in Sleights and several groups of revellers insisted on upsetting my poor dog with their IEDs (Imported Explosive Devices). The Rescue Remedy I had been given helped a little, thank goodness.

This morning was fine, dry, sunny and only slightly windy, ideal for sawing the various cuttings and thinnings in the woodyard into cordwood and starting to build my ‘new’ cord. Species so far include young Ash, Sycamore and windblown Apple from the orchard, Cherry and Oak branches pruned from the young trees in the wood, and bits of Hazel, Hawthorn and Sycamore from the current hedge laying.

The Solo Dawn Chorus from the Blackbird resumed today, with occasional contributions from a Wren.