Becoming a Pioneer!

We all accumulate skills in our lives; some seemed to be hard won others we felt we were born to do. It is true that we carry on learning for the whole of our lives and this is healthy and a key to our survival. Some 20 years ago I left higher education with an environmental degree within a few years I had left the city life and was learning to live on a smallholding (housing cooperative) with two small children. What I found was a distinct lack of key practical skills which I had to catch up with fast.

shavinghorses 002The academic life had been a great opportunity but to truly apply and put into action the environmental education of the problems and potential solutions I needed practical skills. Over the years we got these skills by finding people to teach us, teaching ourselves from books and practising until you get things right. But that was hard. From living on a housing coop and working with people coming out of the city life we realised many young people are looking for a way out,  to pioneer a way back on to the land but they need a clear path that gives some confidence that it will be sustainable for them personally, economically and environmentally. That is why finding places and actions to link up with like minded people on the pioneering trail is a good place to start.

Re-skilling ourselves for taking those stepping stones out of the city starts with learning key practical rural skills. Hedgelaying and coppicing are two of them.

Hedgelaying is a key rural skill because it is still respected by farmers and in demand. Well laid hedges provide a stock-proof fence, a significant windbreak which contributes to the welfare of stock and a woodland corridor for birds, plants and small mammals. While learning and practising hedgelaying you gain a whole range of knowledge and skills about trees, plants, tool use, tool care and field scale farming.

Coppicing is a very efficient way of managing woodland to provide fire wood and charcoal as well as materials suitable for a whole range of products which are 100% biodegradable: small poles for building structures, hurdles, thatching spars, hedge stakes and binders, frame baskets, plant supports,  turned stools, chairs, pegs, handles and  the list is endless! But if you want to get into any of these crafts you need the basic materials and this is where coppicing comes into the picture. The wildlife and plant value are also enhanced by letting in more light and allowing new growth on the woodland floor. Coppicing Is one of those simple ways humans can live in harmony with trees, plants and animals. No need to travel to far off places to experience a sustainable system of forestry it is all under our noses. But the first step is learning the skills and knowledge.

After being introduced to this craft you will be able to identify the main coppice species, understand how the coppice cycle works, practice cutting techniques with traditional axes and billhooks and setting up a cord for fire wood. You will also learn the importance of the coppice cycle and how it locks up Carbon from the atmosphere.

Picture 084The Rural Skills Trust is delivering Hedgelaying and Coppice Practice courses this Oct and November in West Wales. The Rural Skills Trust exists to train people in the skills that can encourage and sustain a useful rural economy and livelihoods. We have skills in teaching beginners and those with more experience. We are promoting rural skills to build our community and tackle climate change.

Hedgelaying Course dates

Oct 6th-9th and Oct 13th-16th

Also Saturdays

Oct 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th

Cost £120

Coppice Practice Course dates

November 3rd- 5th and November 24th-26th

Cost £90

For more info please email or phone Jules Wagstaff Mob 07964530436

Email deassart@btinternet.com      Website http://www.ruralskillstrust.org

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Smallholders, We Need Your help!

It is a delight to see a newly laid hedge ready for the new growth to spring up from the ground. It is an unmistakable pattern in the landscape. But it is not just the beauty but the benefits it gives to the whole farming environment.

hedgebillA maintained laid hedge is stock proof as one farmer said ‘what the sheep sees through they go through’ another trait of an animal prone to misadventure. The black thorn is the best for this, although it takes a little longer to establish it can be left longer between laying and can even be restored easily if neglected. The windbreak hedges provide is invaluable for stock and crops, it is worth having especially with the winter storms we have been experiencing. The laid hedge also creates shade and shelter for stock. The natural woodland corridor is extended through the farmland along the hedges; this is a habitat for flowers, insects, birds and other wildlife. Many of the insects being controls for aphids and other pests. The standard trees present in the hedges can be maintained to provide a sustainable source of firewood and timber.

The loss of hedgerows is a sorry tale but neglect has been almost as bad an enemy as hedgerow removal.

The convenience and economics of flail cutting has meant that many hedgerows have been given an annual cut and not allowed to grow up, thicken and develop. Frequent and heavy trimming result in hedgerows being reduced to an intermittent line of shrubs, bare at the bottom and the so-called birds nest on top. However if hedges are looked after  properly, maintenance costs are not high. It is the restoration of neglected hedges and bringing them back into a proper cycle of maintenance that is more expensive.

Let’s start by asking ourselves what we can do about it?

In fact if we want more laid hedges we need more hedge layers. As small landowners even if we lay or renovate a small proportion of our hedges each year we are doing something to buck the trend or if we pay a local farm worker we are supporting our local economy and employment.

This Autumn the Rural Skills Trust is offering Hedgelaying courses on a local small farm in Newcastle Emlyn. Why not come along to learn with other local people with an accomplished teacher. Which will give you the confidence to tackle your own hedge.

The Rural Skills Trust has been set up to train people in the skills that can encourage and sustain a useful rural economy and livelihoods. We are promoting rural skills to build our community and tackle climate change. We are based in West Wales

Hedgelaying Course dates

Oct 6th-9th and Oct 13th-16th

Saturdays   Oct 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th

Cost £120

We will also be running Coppice Practice courses in November; this is an introductory 3 day course on a Newcastle Emlyn smallholding.

Coppice Practice Course dates

November 3rd-5th and November 24th-26th

Cost £90

For more info please email or phone Jules Wagstaff Mob 07964530436

Email deassart@btinternet.com  Website http://www.ruralskillstrust.org