Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Honey Bees Are Here!

A few months ago when we were in the depths of winter I suddenly realised Andrew has some bee keeping books. ‘Are we getting bees I asked?' And the reply came back ‘YES!' Anyhow, by Christmas I was instructed that a good present would be a bee hive and the kit that goes with it. Such items were purchased and although I knew we had ordered some honey bees, it was still a bit of a surprise when we received the email to say they were coming this week!
Ash Blossom - great bee food!

Well I don’t know why I was so apprehensive as thankfully it all went very smoothly! The bees arrived in a buzzing green cardboard box, which we left  for 24 hours so they could acclimatize to their new home. Our bees came up from Gloucestershire and this box of bees is a family  or nuc of bees with a queen, comb and other bees at different life cycles including worker bees, larvae and eggs ( or It was a tense moment as Andrew opened the door to let them out, but gradually they calmly emerged and it was great to see they were happy to explore their new home. They were bringing pollen back within 30 minuates!

Andrew all suited up to let the bees out
The next day Andrew moved them to the bee hive after using a bit of smoke to keep them calm, again this went really smoothly and the bees seemed to have settled really well, and at the moment I think they are collecting the local tree pollen. Our large Ash has just started to blossom, which was perfect timing for the bees. We are also feeding them with special sugar (like cake icing sugar) to give them a head start whilst flowers start to bloom in spring. Bee keeping can be viewed as complicated but like anything if you break it down you gain an understanding. We are now looking forward to the honey which should be ready for harvest around September.  
Bees getting some extra food in their new home
So why have we decided to have bees?

In the UK we have at least 1500 species of insects pollinations our plants, which in turn plays a huge role in the success  of our crops and wildlife or as may say now our biodiversity. These insects include bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, hoverflies, wasps, flies, beetle, butterflies and moths. Last year there was quiet a lot of media coverage about how we need to look after our insects as they have been in decide in recent year. Even the government (DEFRA) with the Wildlife Trust has launched a strategy called the ‘National Pollinators Strategy’. The plan is to encourage people to grow more flowering plant species, keep more wild areas, cut grass less, keep areas for hibernating insects and think about whether you need to use chemical on our farm and in our gardens.

Our bee hive made of polystyrene, giving extra warmth in winter
We are working hard to do all of the above at Ellers and by having honey bees we are adding an addition insect population to the local area, which we hope will have a positive effect for all.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

We all became landscape architects overnight!

We have been talking about our wildlife pond for over six months now, so now we are finally building the pond we are suddenly starting to have to make decisions.  

Two big diggers!
From Tuesday we had two big diggers going and by the end of Wednesday we had broken into the beck that had been hidden below ground by a concrete culvert. 

Found concrete culvert

As we all stood around looking at the hole we had dug now filling up with water we could not help but compare it to a square silage pit!

Looking a bit too square

So on Thursday we all became landscape architects overnight! Straight lines became wavy, shallow areas for reeds were made and hard lines became softened and less steep.

With a bit more work on Friday morning we all agreed we had got it back to looking like a wildlife pond. What a great week and the glorious weather meant all this work was able to be done in one week! 

Diggers finish!

Diggers finished, water settling nicely after the work
Again well done team Gardner-Raby! (

All of this work was complete via a planning application and also we needed Flood Defence Consent from Cumbria County Council.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Digger has arrived!

Yes we have a VERY BIG digger and have started the pond and NO we are NOT open cast mining!
So we were not expecting to start the pond so soon, but our contractor Chris Raby ( had some free time and on Good Friday he made a start and we cannot believe the difference two days later. 

The piles of soil need to be moved at least three times so the area of excavation looks huge at the moment, but over the next few days it should take shape and hopefully by the end of the week we will have something that resembles the new pond.

Andrew, Ray and I (sometimes!) have also been working on the artificial Sand martin and kingfisher nesting bank, which is also starting to take shape! Here are some pictures of the work so far, two days of big digger and four days of labouring. Well done Team Gardner-Raby!

Summer 2014. Just a pasture field.

3 April 2015 and the big digger started! We had already made a small scrap pond in
2014 as we needed to repair an old stone drain, so we were already starting with a
rough outline of a pond.

4 April 2015. Getting on well and the Sand Martin wall is taking shape.

6 April 2015. Sand Martin wall getting bigger!

Making the Sand martin entrance holes, which need to be 39mm wide.


Monday, April 6, 2015

If you build it, they will come!

If you build it, he will come’ is one of my favourite quotes from the eighties film Field of Dreams.

Wildlife especially birds and bats are the opportunists and entrepreneurs of the natural world and if you make a space for nature it makes every effort to use it. We already have some great wildlife at Ellers including Kingfisher (which I still have not seen!), Dippers, Little Grebes, Goosanders, Little egrets and we also know there are Barn owls and Otters in the area.

Barn owl box made of recycled plastic and some simple bat roosting boxes

There are two projects we are doing to encourage wildlife to become resident at Ellers. The first is to simply put up bird and bat boxes along the river trees and we have gone for a mix of normal bird and bat boxes and also some duck boxes and one barn owl box. Hopefully this will provide plenty of new opportunity for birds and bats.

Duck box, but could also be used by other birds such as Little owls

The second project is making a wildlife pond, which we thankfully gained planning permission for a few weeks ago. We know Sand martins are in the area so we are planning to add an artificial Sand martin and Kingfisher nesting bank and in addition have a pond dipping platform for our local school to use.

If you build it, they will come – well we shall see! Hopefully the birds and bats are already checking out the boxes and now we just need to build the pond!
My artist impression of the proposed pond!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Planting Trees, Managing Hedges and starting an Orchard!

This  is our first winter at Ellers and we have managed to plant just over 60 native trees along the river and around our boundary, laid one of our boundary hedges, planted up the hedge gaps and started our orchard.

We left our tree planting a little late so we could not get hold of any local Damson for this year’s planting, but we now have a eating apple, pear and cherry to start the orchard and Andrew has made some great tree guards to protect them from nibbling sheep!

Why Plant tree, hedges and orchards?
We live in a managed countryside, not a wilderness and sometimes I think many people forget this. Trees are such an important landscape feature, but if we do not replant them we will lose the character of our countryside. In areas adjacent to rivers and in arable areas trees can play a key role in preventing soil erosion and in addition, they provide a great habitat for a wealth of wildlife. Orchards have been noted for some time as being in decline and 2007 traditional orchards were listed by the government as a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (

Andrew's Orchard Tree Guards

Funding for tree planting – England Woodland Grant Scheme, soon to be the New Environmental Land Management Scheme and the Woodland Trust often give free trees to community groups.

Fencing Rivers….What's that all that about then?

As people drive past Ellers I can hear their voices in my head, why have they fenced the river off? They have spoilt the view of the river, that fence will never last don’t they know the river floods!

It’s true the first major job we have done is to fence off over 300 metres of river. Well of course there is the common sense reason for this, we need to fence our boundary to keep livestock in, but there are some subtle and to the untrained eye hidden and more overwhelming conservation gains.

Cattle wandering in the river are an idyllic scene but then again large animals such as cattle can cause damage to rivers and their banks if left unmanaged. Farmers often removed their livestock in winter to prevent pouching to fields but if you have cattle in a river environment even in the summer you are going to get some form of damage.

Damaged caused by livestock
In our case the River Bela is one of the best places in South Cumbria for spawning trout and salmon. Over the years past cattle grazing has resulted in the river banks becoming eroded, the river bed has become compacted in places and not to mention the pollution that livestock muck can cause a river. We also have some fantastic mature Alder trees on the river bank. These lovely trees have nearly been nibbled so much that if it had continued it would mean they would most certainly have had a shorter life.  

So the fence at the moment may not look pretty and yes a big flood may come and take it all away but we hope that by doing this we have halted soil erosion and in time the river will naturally build up its bank again, we are preventing river pollution, protecting fish spawning grounds and giving our Alders a new lease of life so they can truly become veteran trees.

If you would like help fencing off your river, stream or beck you may be able to get funding via your local Rivers Trust, Environment Agency or through an agri-environment Scheme (Environmental Stewardship/New Environmental Land Management Scheme).

One  of our great Alder trees

Our fencing was part funded from grant funding found by South Cumbria Rivers Trust (  or    in partnership with Milnthorpe Angling Association.