Hedging our bets - investing in nature

Hedgerows are important because they provide vital corridors for our wildlife. Many species rely on hedgerows for shelter and food. Protecting our hedgerows and strategically laying more of them will directly benefit the preservation of wildlife in Purbeck.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who attended the Planet Purbeck hedge laying training in January. By all accounts it was a real success, so thank you, everyone, for your enthusiasm and commitment.

In particular, we'd like to thank Dave and James from Planet Purbeck for their planning and coordination of the event. Also, thank you to Collette (from Langton Planet Action and Planet Purbeck) for supplying delicious lemon and poppy seed cake (with eggs from a neighbour, and seeds from her allotment!).

Thanks to the allotment association for the use of the compost toilet (which has been rated as 'rather posh'), and to Chris and Sue Spilling for helping with equipment and supplies which were incredibly valuable. What a fantastic team effort, and an inspiring coming-together of great people and skills! 

Thank you to all the local artists who donated work and for everyone who placed bids at our fundraising auction during the 2021 Planet Purbeck Festival. The funds raised at the auction have gone directly into this project.

Lastly, a huge thanks to Ali Tuckey from Durlston Country Park, Aemelia and Andy from National Trust for so generously sharing their time and talent, we are so lucky that they offered us this opportunity and hope to build on the skills and knowledge they have imparted. 

So, what next? Join us at our next hedge-planting volunteer session on the 19th and 20th Feb in Corfe. And look forward to more hedge-laying opportunities when the season starts again this autumn! 

View the full gallery of pictures from the hedge-laying training here >

SARAH BROOKES

SARAH BROOKES 

Nurse and Community Organiser


Every community needs someone like Sarah. She trained as a psychiatric nurse, but her energies seem to buoy up so many different projects in Purbeck; from organising local responses to COVID to fund-raising for the charity ‘Will Does’. She even fits in an early morning dip. I caught up with her in one of her favourite Purbeck places, King George’s Playing Field in Swanage, where she sometimes meets with fellow dog-walker and retired Swanage lighthouse attendant,  Michael O’Sullivan.  

Sarah has travelled all over the world, but it was when starting a family, that she and her husband realised they wanted to live somewhere with a real sense of community and with good values. She remembered visiting Swanage on the steam train during a family holiday and the penny dropped.  ‘Everything I wanted for my kids is here,’ she says.

Sarah believes that if you show willingness and are prepared to muck in, you’ll go far.  She says she’s always tried to teach her children that you don’t have to be qualified, or skilled in some special way, to offer help. By throwing yourself into something, you might discover a capability you never knew you had. 

The night before we met, Sarah had organised a board games night at Herston.  It included a couple of people who were new to the area, and who went away feeling warmly welcomed in. Last year, she helped make and distribute 1000 face masks to vulnerable people and to care homes. The Will Does charity is very close to her heart. It was set up to honour a friend of her son’s, Will, who died a few years ago. From the over sixties to the under sixteens, Sarah has the verve and charm to help make a difference Her social intelligence and sense of fun is contagious – in a good way!!

Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

WILLIAM SPICER

WILLIAM SPICER   

THE VETERANS’ FORGE


Walking into Will Spicer’s barn-sized forge is a revelation. His tools and techniques are not just a blast from the past, they’re a testament to how to build a future. Will arrived in Purbeck after a family tragedy and suffering from anxiety. He has re-built his confidence through blacksmithing, and teaching these skills to others, by setting up the Veterans’ Forge, a community interest company.  Will recycles metal: copper boilers, tank tracks, bolts and gun barrels, and turns them into attractive flowers, benches, and memorial plaques. Making things, he tells me, is therapeutic; taking a straight piece of metal and bending it to become something else, is uplifting. He also believes the beautiful landscape has been part of his recovery; that the rolling Purbeck hills are good for the soul.  

Will works with other charities, and with people with disabilities, and has adapted the forge so that everyone can feel comfortable there. Under his patient supervision, people from all walks of life  - not just army veterans - can find joy in creating things. Blacksmithing is an art, he tells me.  Just as a musician might learn different chords on a guitar, or a painter practices a variety of brush strokes, a blacksmith has to master various disciplines of metal-working, including reading the different colour hues of hot metal. It can’t be rushed. Everyone learns at their own speed.  Will has created a calm space for others to realise their own potential.  Thoughtful, and wise, Will is just one of the many people who make Purbeck such a special place to live. 

Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

SAM KERWOOD

SAM KERWOOD   

HEAD OF SCIENCE, FOOD, and NUTRITION at THE SWANAGE SCHOOL  


During her first teaching job, Sam accompanied an A-level biology field trip to Purbeck. When the minibus stopped at a viewpoint, Sam remembers thinking: ‘I am going to live here one day!’ Now, she is not just teaching students about the natural world she loves so much, she is actively shaping the Purbeck community. 

For a biology teacher, Purbeck is the dream place. It’s amazing, she says, but, like most of us, young people grow up thinking their home area is the ‘norm’. As Sam helps connect students to the many remarkable and special places in this small corner of Britain, she is re-kindling an excitement and pride in the area.

Within the curriculum, Sam realised she didn’t need to draw on examples from the other side of the planet. Life lessons lie right under her students’ feet. Purbeck contains so many different habitats; world-famous geological formations; unique heathlands; Britain’s rarest reptiles; marine mammals; nesting puffins; and the possibility of Ospreys nesting in Poole harbour. Sam has taken school groups to the Dynamic Dunescapes project, and her students have designed signage for the new grazing regimes on Studland heath.  Older students are skilling themselves up about next year’s beaver reintroduction project at Studland and passing on their insights to younger children. 

She already sees her pupils taking greater interest and care in what happens to the local environment, and many students are interested in jobs in environmental management and conservation.

Sam believes that the best learning happens at the human scale and that taking care of ourselves, both body and mind, allows us to better care for the environment and the people around us. On the Swanage School grounds, she’s started an allotment and helps manage a forest school area – a small but important sanctuary for students who are feeling the inevitable pressures of life.

Sam’s commitment, and her community ethos, are helping connect students more deeply to the world on their doorstep. 


Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

Intensive Agriculture and Biodiversity at Wild Woodbury


Guest Post by Seb Haggett, Wilder Dorset Community Ranger at Dorset Wildlife Trust

Britain is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. As our use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and other synthetics have increased, so has the sterility of the land.


We are seeing a huge decrease in biodiversity, the mass extinction of species and the collapse of whole ecosystems. Since the advent of these chemicals, we have taken two mutually beneficial things – grazing animals and fertilising fields – and separated them to make two massive, industrial-scale problems in separate
places.

If we look back just a couple of generations, we can see how much things have changed.
Gone are the times where we could have flocks of finches feeding on cover crops over winter, where Curlew could safely nest in the countryside and where there weren't 1,000,000’s of introduced game birds decimating the land. We now take multiple crops a year, churning up any nests and mammals along the way, and pump the land full of chemicals which then pollute our waterways and oceans.

So where did it all go wrong? Why are we treating nature as a collection of resources for short-term benefit?
Is it solely the farmers fault? Not necessarily. It is a much more nuanced and ethically complicated problem. I believe that much of the world no longer considers our relationship with the environment a significant part of the larger biophysiological picture of human health. There has been so much constriction, numbing, and diversion in our capacity to feel love for the natural world that our emotional lives are being harmed. We need a much wider proportion of people to have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life on earth, and value biodiversity, in order to change societal systems on a fundamental level.

So, what can we do? We need to change the beliefs that have been built into us over the past 100 years and help others to do the same.
I’ve recently started working at Wild Woodbury, a community rewilding site in Bere Regis, and can’t wait to see how it changes over the coming years. When I first walked around the 170ha of land, the main thing that struck me was the awful state of the soil. Some of the fields were very compacted from years of cattle grazing, some had suffered from severe topsoil runoff due to the planting of maize and many were devoid of any diversity whatsoever. However, even after a few weeks, changes started to happen. The fact that these fields hadn’t been ploughed for the first time in many years gave them an opportunity. An opportunity for ‘agricultural weeds’, or bare-ground specialists as they should be called, to sprout and start providing a seed source for birds, for mammals to start digging and begin the aeration of the soil, and for invertebrates to move back in.

For me, when thinking about the restoration of landscapes, you must begin with the health of the soil.
Bare ground specialists e.g., Common Field Speedwell, Chickweed, Scarlett Pimpernel, can quickly establish when given the chance, and protect and restore soil that has been left exposed by human-caused disturbance. Of course, this will also happen where natural disturbance takes place too, but due to the lack of wild large herbivores and rootlers, it does not happen as much as it should. In addition to bare ground specialists, we can expect nitrogen and phosphorus-loving plants to quickly become widespread, feasting on the high levels of synthetically added chemicals in the ground. These plants, which include nettles, thistles, ragwort and docks, have wrongly got a terrible reputation for being a nuisance in the countryside and are often sprayed or chopped down at the first sight of them. Ironically, this is possibly the worst thing to do for the people who don’t want them seen, as the plants themselves will be fixing the nitrates and phosphates into their structure, therefore removing them from the soil and making the conditions less suitable for them to grow the following year.

These plants are also incredibly important for wildlife.
Ragwort, for instance, has 168 insect species that either partially or fully depend on it (35 fully, 83 significantly, 50 parasitic on the insects that depend on it). At Wild Woodbury, we are seeing these first stages of succession across the site. Bare ground specialists are starting to establish themselves over several fields and nature is starting to return. Flocks of Skylark and Yellowhammer have been building in the fields where seed is available, Snipe and Woodcock (pictured above) are foraging at night, and Wood Mice have been excavating masses of holes. These mice in particular have been a surprise, due to both their number and the mass of material they have been extracting. Usually, these small rodents would be ploughed up, but we have seen them thrive on the bare ground in a few fields, and they are also spreading across the whole 170ha of Wild Woodbury.

So, what can we expect for the site?
For me, in years to come, it will have evolved into a dynamic mosaic of bare ground, scrubland and mature woodland. Old breed cattle, horses and pigs would have been introduced, keeping it a forever changing landscape where a large diversity of species are thriving. It will provide a green space where people have the chance to get into nature, where they can learn, and where they can enjoy seeing the wildlife around them. Most of all, I see it providing enthusiasm and hope to others, so everyone can see a way to help reverse the ecological and environmental emergencies we are in and encourage more people to do the same for our nature and wildlife.

If you wish to know more about the Wild Woodbury site, or contact me for any other reason, please feel free to email me at shaggett@dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk

Visit Dorset Wildlife Trust >

L-R Seb Haggett, Grass snake & Canary-shouldered Thorn - both species have been spotted at Wild Woodbury.

RACHEL FOOKS

RACHEL FOOKS   

POTTER & ENVIRONMENTALIST  


Rachel spent her childhood in Corfe, but after years living away, she knew she needed to get back to Purbeck. Its open space, countryside and sea make her feel part of not just a community, but of a place. It’s massive, she says, in terms of how important it is to her. Nature gives her a solid sense of belonging.  Every moment outside is a chance to watch, observe and become more attentive. She never feels separate from the landscape but connected to it. Caring for the world around her is the same as looking after herself, her family, and her friends. 

Rachel comes from a family of makers; sewing, knitting, and fixing come naturally to her.  So, when her children were born, she gave up her career as a graphic designer and turned to pottery. Pottery and clay have a rich heritage in Purbeck; some clay workings go back to the Bronze Age. Recently, she’s been collecting hand-dug clay from different holes in the ground.  It could be from a neighbour’s garden, or from an excavation dug by a local utility company. Each handful has a different quality and, when fired, produces its own rich colour range. She’s experimenting with glazes from seaweed and wood ash. It’s turning out to be a productive journey deep into Purbeck’s geology and history. The area is clearly an inspiration.

At Furzebrook, Rachel has set up a community studio to provide space for other artists. It’s as if she’s established a mini-ecosystem, where people can create in a calm, supportive environment. Three years ago, she became the youngest councillor on Corfe Parish Council. When something is missing in the community, she says, she always asks what she can do to help fill the gap.  After all, this is a woman who can turn holes in the ground into works of art.


Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

PHIL SAMWAYS

PHIL SAMWAYS 

FARMER


Phil has one of the best ‘views from the office’ of anyone; he and his wife Pauline farm the land around Seacombe Valley, between Acton and Worth. As we walk into a field of his cows, they moo as if to say hello to Phil. Even Jeffrey, the bull, comes over to see what’s going on. Just another summer’s day on top of the Purbeck Hills, but Phil is looking at the landscape through the eyes of someone who knows about the quality of grass, flowers, and herbs, and how it makes his cows happy and healthy. I am touched, quite literally, by a sweet heifer who seems intent on licking my jacket and rucksack. She’s so gentle, I can’t complain. Phil is such a thoughtful, intelligent man and I’m not surprised his cows are so well-behaved.

Behind the pub in Langton, which Phil’s family ran for generations, his gran kept some pigs and chickens – a time when smallholdings were more common around here.  Phil was given his first sow to look after when he was just 11 and he’s been looking after animals pretty much ever since. The challenges are becoming ever greater: the relative price of food goes down, but the costs of farming are going up, and the weather is increasingly unpredictable. However, Phil tells me, the Purbeck hills produce resilient livestock and buyers at the market know that a Purbeck cow will be a good one.  Phil’s pigs also have formed within Purbeck. All his pork is sold locally, and he jokes that going out for a meal often means eating his own food! 

For the last 8 years, Phil has been managing the land according to a Higher-Level Stewardship programme. It’s all about grazing the cows in a wildlife-sensitive manner, so they create a mosaic of different grass lengths. Some wildflowers need shorter grass in spring; some butterflies need taller, tussocky grass to complete their lifecycle. Every year is different, so Phil must adapt the grazing accordingly.  As a result, cowslips, pyramidal orchids, spider orchids, early gentians, skipper butterflies, and a huge variety of birds flourish here. The cows’ hooves ruck up the soil in places – a bit of light ‘poaching’ it’s called – which creates places for seeds to germinate and for insects to burrow. Phil has found the changes interesting.  As he gets older, he says, he appreciates the flowers and butterflies more.  But we can’t eat butterflies, he laughs. Farmers need to make a living too. Finding the right balance isn’t easy. Conversations about it can be complicated because so few of us now have any link to a farm or a food producer. When he was young, Phil tells me, it was quite normal for local people to volunteer help with hay-making, say. But he thinks change is in the air: people are becoming more interested in how our food is grown.  


Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

NEIL READ

NEIL READ   

DRY STONE WALLER 


Neil Read is scanning a pile of old stones. He’s repairing a dry-stone wall above Herston; one that’s really showing its age. Gnarled ivy roots have undermined its structure. It’s sagging and bulging as if it’s lost its muscle tone. Metre by metre, Neil is giving it a face-lift. Where he works, the wall is in pieces, but he treats each stone as if it’s part of an elaborate 3-D jigsaw. 

It takes a particular mind to be able to fit it all back together again. He tells me: You get a memory for the stones as you take the wall apart, and an instinct for which stone you need next. Sometimes it just flows, he says, and the pieces just come together perfectly. Now and then, Neil can’t find the best fit: ‘stone blind’, he calls it. A cup of tea and a break usually provide a flash of inspiration, and the problem is solved. It seems more like creating a poem in stone than a jigsaw. 

It’s easy to take dry-stone walls for granted. They’ve marked out fields in Purbeck for centuries and they blend beautifully into the landscape. No mortar is required. The stones’ natural weight, together with through-stones, or ‘ties’, keep the wall stable. Their elegance is in the fit: the stones seem to lie at ease - in harmony - with each other and make the wall somehow stronger than the sum of its parts. 

Neil learned his craft on the job. He fees easy doing it, he says. He likes independence; once he’s into his rhythm, he is completely absorbed. Neil wonders whether most people don’t think much about the walls until they see him working. They seem surprised, he says.  Usually, they admire his work and want to know more.  It’s as if they’ve made a sudden connection between the wall and the sedimentary limestone layers beneath their feet. This is the ultimate sustainable fencing; the raw material comes from nearby, and they are built to last. Well-constructed and maintained dry-stone walls can last for a hundred plus years. 

Over time, nooks and cracks in the wall become sanctuaries for small mammals and insects or a perch for a skylark.  Eventually, ground movements, livestock sheltering from the wind, creeping ivy, and the weather itself, wears it down.  In one sense, nothing has changed; all the parts are still there waiting to be built back up again. There’s something timeless about a dry-stone wall. 


Interviewed by Sue Western - Jan 2022
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.

Stitch It, Don't Ditch it

Stitch It, Don't Ditch it

At Sandy Hill Studios


During the Planet Purbeck Festival, Jane Colquhoun and her friends organised a mending session at Sandy Hill Studios; it was a gentle way to sit for a while, stitch and find out about sustainability in the fashion and textile industry.

Jane explained: “We’re trying to open up a sort of awareness about the fashion and textile industry and how polluting it is and how fast fashion is responsible for a lot of destruction of the planet”.  It’s not just about mending clothes but a chance to get together and think about how we wash things and sustain the life of the clothes we already have. In short; how to buy less.

The group creates beautiful darns on clothes that don't hide the fact they’ve been repaired, “it’s a way of owning your clothes” Jane says, like the scars of our skin, the darns on our clothes tall a story and remind us of our past. It’s easy to see that it’s not just about the end product either “I find it incredibly hard to be slow and to be mindful of what I'm doing. I think stitching this is a good way into that. You're in the now and you become present which is part of mindfulness, and you can't do it quickly, you can't rush to the end of it. You can only do it in its own time.”

It’s was a privilege to be around this group of friends and watch them reclaim this lost activity; once commonplace in the past, it actually enabled the planet to be more sustainable and It’s clearly better for their well-being too.

You can find more information about Jane’s work at http://janecolquhoun.com

With thanks to Sandy Hill Studios


Interviewed by Sue Western - Sept 2021

MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN

MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN

RETIRED LIGHTHOUSE ATTENDANT   


Michael was about to start a career in the merchant navy when he saw a job advert.  ‘Would you like to be a lighthouse keeper?’ it asked. Michael liked the sea and enjoyed the idea of giving service, but he wasn’t sure whether he’d cope with the isolation of the job.  He took up his first post at the lighthouse on Orford Ness and, he says, the following 45 years flashed past.  In 1991, after spells on some of the most remote, rockiest light stations around our shores, he became the attendant at Anvil Point in Swanage.  He and his wife, Doris, lived at the lighthouse but loved that Swanage was so close.  When at Whitby, in the northeast, by comparison, he had to cross three farms just to get to a metalled road.  

Before lighthouses were automated, offshore attendants had to spend 8 weeks on and four weeks off. Everyone was taught how to cook and how to bake bread, he says. There was no such thing as a frozen meal back then. In his early days, Michael would move regularly from one lighthouse to another to relieve the permanent keepers. It helps build up experience because no two stations are the same, he says. Eventually, he was stationed for longer periods.  Some, like Royal Sovereign off Eastbourne, were modern and comfortable; others, such as Eddystone, were tight for space, with a circuit of bunk beds, each curved to fit inside the tower.  On the so-called ‘rock’ stations, there would be three attendants.  You soon learn how to get on with other people in such isolation, he says. It’s not always rosy, and it’s strange, but you get used to it.

When Michael fully retired, he and Doris decided to stay in Swanage, because they liked it so much.  Doris had her own job and was well-known in the town.  Sadly, she passed away in 2004.  

When I ask Michael about memories of his time looking out to sea, he recalls seeing pods of dolphins and porpoises and then tells me a Razorbill once bit him on the nose. Michael had been trying to rescue the bird; it was lying halfway down the cliff, its feathers clogged with oil. He held the razorbill out in front of him, as he climbed back up, but did not realise how far it could stretch its neck. A Razorbill is well named: it took a lump out of Michael’s nose. Despite this, Michael carried it to the top of the cliff, but the bird was unfortunately in too bad a state to survive. Michael was more than touched by the experience. It seems to be entirely in keeping with his kind and generous nature. 


Interviewed by Sue Western - DEC 2021
Part of the Why we love Purbeck series, local Residents tell us what Purbeck means to them.