November - Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...
Autumn has always been regarded as a magical time, and nowhere more than in woodland areas, where the sights, smells and sounds of the forest inform the senses that the year is once more drawing to a close.
Bright reds and striking yellows engage the senses, conkers are collected by eager children, and adults stroll reflectively through a spectrum of colours, pausing occasionally to enjoy the crisp air of the new season. It’s the season when most of us wish we could still identify trees as readily as we once did - remember their names, leaves, their distinctive barks and seeds - and wish that we’d paid more attention when we were young and the woods were our familiar playgrounds.
At Chirk Castle, we are fortunate to have a team of Rangers with immense expertise, who sustain and manage the estate - from small seedling to towering tree - showcasing both the trees and the wildlife which depends on them.
At this time of the year, one of the regular tasks is to remove the piles of fallen leaves. These days, with the help of their trusty ‘Tornado’ blower, it’s a matter of a few hours a week for the team to catch up with this seemingly unending job. However, back in the early 1980’s when our Head Ranger started at Chirk, October was the time when he’d be given a rake and a barrow, and told to clear the area from the top of the hairpin bend at the castle – right down to Middle Lodge, by the cattle grid on the exit route! No one expected to see him doing anything else until late January... these days, although assisted by modern devices, other tasks still have to be completed.
2017 has been an outstanding year for acorns, and here is another facet of the work of our Estate Rangers: each Autumn sees our Rangers collecting masses of acorns, as part of an ongoing oak tree planting programme, and the procedure followed after collecting these seedlings is even more painstaking.
By hand, all the acorns are immersed in water, to see if they float – if they do, they are rejected, in favour of heavier, healthier specimens. These ‘chosen’ acorns are then put into black bags and kept dry over the winter to germinate, and then individually planted out in seed beds, care being taken to protect the seedlings from mice! Meticulously tended, they are ultimately planted out on the estate – you may not have been aware that Chirk Castle has one of the biggest tree planting programmes in the National Trust... it all starts from little acorns, and dedicated handling.
As the leaves fall, the trees also display their need for pruning, another autumn task for the Ranger team which can last from September to early Spring. Yet further time is spent on the maintenance of fencing on and around the Estate – this job cannot be left to one season to complete, but has to be ongoing, if the stock is to be safe.
So... far from the idyll suggested in the poet’s reflective mood, the autumn season brings yet another huge series of tasks for the Estate Team to complete. Thanks for everything you do!