March 2018 - Springtime at Chirk
As Spring lambs gambol and Marathon runners gear up to pound the streets of London, some of us turn our thoughts to the beginning of a new year on the Chirk Castle estate. I thought you might find it interesting to see this season through the eyes of our newest Ranger, Keith Griffith, as he begins his first full season at the Castle.
“During the Winter and early Spring we try to check the health of all the trees planted as part of the scheme to recreate the William Emes landscape. This involves going through each field and checking each tree, pruning where necessary, and replacing any young trees which have died.
Since I’ve arrived I’ve undertaken a project to map out each new tree we've planted and each veteran tree, and as such I’ve been taking GPS co-ordinates so we can get this onto the system and create a targeted maintenance approach. This is a great job to do on a lovely Spring day... but it’s not so pleasant in driving snow - as a volunteer and I found out recently!
We are also busy managing the wildflower meadows which are in the process of being established on Top and Middle Lawns. Part of the management requires winter grazing to reduce the vigour of grass growth, and reduce competition for the wildflowers. Normally, this would be done between November and January, but due to the recent wet weather and the logistics involved, we’ve had to delay it this year. We've installed an electric fence on Top Lawn, and we will be introducing some sheep onto that area for a period of 7 – 10 days. This is the first time we’ve done this, and if we are successful, it will take place annually, each winter.
Birds are starting to pair up and look for nesting sites at this time of the year. I’ve already noticed Blue Tits and Great Tits checking out the nesting boxes along the Woodland Walk – they will also be looking for holes in buildings, as I’ve seen Blue Tits going in and out of the wall near the gate posts on Stable Bank. I’m listening out for what I count as one of my favourite ‘sounds of Spring’ – the song of the Chiffchaff. Hearing this small migrant warbler singing means for me that Spring is definitely here. Although some Chiffchaffs ‘overwinter’ in Britain, the majority migrate back to us in March. A walk around the woods at Chirk at this time of year will almost certainly result in you hearing the drumming of the Great Spotted Woodpecker: the distinctive drumming is done to establish territory – individual birds have favourite dead trees to drum on.
At this time of the year I’m also on the lookout for certain flowers which tell me that Spring has arrived – at Chirk, snowdrops are obvious, however the Lesser Celandine, Primrose and Wood Anemone are also early-flowering woodland species. I’ve already spotted Lesser Celandine and Primrose in the grass on the way up Stable Bank, but I haven’t yet seen any Wood Anemone on the estate... it’s an indicator of ancient woodland, and it takes a long time to spread (approximately six feet in six hundred years!) so the only place on the estate I think it might be found is Deershed Woods – I’ll be keeping my eye out there.”
We are greatly indebted to Keith for his informative, personal view of the present season. Despite Chirk Castle being frequently shrouded in rain and mist, I think we can take comfort from Percy Shelley’s reminder...
" If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"