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A Week on the Estate: Copper Beech, Barn Owls & Wartime Agriculture

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So foul and fair a week we have not seen!  Winter is on the wane but it seems determined to show us its full repertoire as it goes. We’ve had rain, sleet, snow and gorgeous days of blue skies and mild temperatures. Last weekend was so clement that some youngsters from our Lincoln Red herd, which generally over-winters at Keal Yard until March or April, enjoyed a day-trip to the fresh green pastures in front of the Hall.

lincoln red cattle

Last weekend, Paul Barnes and Andy Bonnet planted a new copper beech (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) at Calceby Manor, replacing a tree that had reached the end of its life and begun to decay. This sapling will be protected by a TPO (Tree Preservation Order) and should grace our landscape for generations to come.  A cultivated form of the common beech, a mature copper beech is a spectacular sight, capable of growing to more than 40m in height and sporting a wide canopy of purple-red leaves. The tree’s size and longevity makes it a haven for a wide variety of birds, insects, small mammals, fungi, lichens and mosses; all of which is good news for local biodiversity.

copper beech at calceby manor

Estate Photographer Damian Furlong came across another healthy indicator of biodiversity. One winter’s evening on Wesley Walk, a barn owl (Tyto alba) put on a fine display for Damian’s video camera, quartering a wide pasture to seek out mice and voles or perhaps to establish the lie of the land before dark.

In the latter half of the 20th century, barn owl numbers shrank due to the increased use of pesticides and changes in land use and architecture in rural areas. As an evolutionary gambit, the barn owl’s feathers have traded waterproofing for soundproofing, making the bird an effective stealth predator but leaving it at high risk of starvation in persistently wet winter weather.

Unlike the tawny owl, which exploits dense woodland to ambush its prey, the barn owl favours open pastures such as ours. Triangulating its prey with uncanny accuracy using its acute, offset hearing, the barn owl makes a silent approach, then in its final stoop uses its bright white underside to startle its prey into paralysis.  Damian’s sighting of a healthy, hunting barn owl in winter is a good sign for the species and our wider biodiversity. Hopefully, we’ll see plenty of new residents for our barn-owl boxes this year.

barn owl

Finally, we were delighted to publish the fourth instalment of ‘Our Days’ this week, courtesy of Eileen Burrell. Eileen was born in smoky, industrial Sheffield shortly before her parents returned to work on the family farm at Brinkhill.

Eileen has vivid memories of the glow of the armaments works in Sheffield, and the drive to mechanise agriculture in Lincolnshire to help us survive the Battle of the Atlantic. Post-war, she recalls mechanisation of a different kind; her dad bought an electric pump for the organ at St Leonard’s so he could play whenever the mood took him, without relying on the young lad who preferred reading the News of the World to pumping the organ.


* Copper beech image in masthead courtesy of Susanne Nilsson via Flickr CC. 


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