Dave’s Log 07.08.17

Since the inception of the Park proper, in 1878, there has always been a keeper that lives onsite in a purpose-built home.

After the departure of Jim a few weeks ago, an election was held amongst the keepers as to whom should have the honour of taking up residence in Hurle’s Lodge.

So named after one of the Park’s first benefactors, very little is known about Mr. Hurle other than he was involved in founding a Gentleman’s Club at some point in the 17th Century. Claiming the vast acreage of land for himself, his club and their ancestors, Mr. Hurle was adamant that the land remain as close to it’s natural state as possible.

The purpose of building Hurle’s Lodge was to guarantee that at least one man remain on the property at all times. At the time Hurle had purchased the land for, what was then, a small fortune. He piled thousands into the Park, ensuring that the Lodge stay in good repair and that there was enough keepers employed so that it was never without an occupant.

Hurle’s Lodge has remained largely unchanged since it was built back in 1890. Taking a handful of fallen trees from the surrounding forests, timber makes up a large part of the construction with light grey slate and granite providing solidity and insulation. Unfortunately, the Lodge is lacking somewhat in modern amenities. A singular phone line is the only point of communication, with no phone signal or internet access, it truly is a lonely place to live.

Each year, every year, since the Park’s inception a grand sum of money has been transferred to the Park’s fund. This money used to be able cover the Park maintenance, the staff’s wages and the upkeep of the lodge. However, over the course of the last thirty years or so, more preference has been given over to the former, rather than latter. As a result, although the Lodge remains structurally sound, certain features and fixings have fallen into disrepair.

The kitchen, once a marvel of Victorian design, has been blackened with neglect and the New World cooker problems, which started out as merely a nuisance, have now deteriorated to the point where only a single gas hob functions. With no television, radio or other means of entertainment – life in the Lodge has started to seem like more of a sentence than a privilege.

Initially, a rota system was put in place. One of Mr. Hurle’s rules, one that remains to this day, was that only one man could occupy the Lodge at any one time. He could not bring his family with him, as the forest was deemed to be no place to raise children – so the Lodge was occupied by single men; usually bachelors or widows. Over time, these became the only types of men that would apply for the role of keeper.

Although the role of Resident Keeper is still seen as an honour (reflected in a significant increase of pay) Mr. Hurle requested that an election system be put in place to guarantee that only the most respected of keepers gain the position, therefore eradicating any possibility of envy. The idea was that the man who was elected would have the favour of the entire keeping staff and would also be more likely to receive the support of his fellow men.

With Hurle Lodge once more vacant (the 5th time in the space of 2 years), the votes have once more been cast. Jim was a good man, but it would appear that the role of Resident Keeper requires one to be more than simply ‘good’.

I’ll soon find out if I have the qualities require to remain in Hurle’s Lodge or if it will prove to be the end of my own keeping career.

Dave’s Log 24.07.17

Summer has well and truly come to Wood Bridge and there’s never been a better time to visit.

We just about made it!

Despite a rather punishing Winter, Spring found it’s way through to our little Park here and with it came life. As I’ve mentioned before, the badger population has returned in full strength, a sure sign that the ecological state of the Park is in good health.

It’s always a pleasure to sit and go through the reams of tapes that we have recorded from the Badger sets. The little ones have grown up so much since their births last August and soon they’ll be venturing out to make their own homes in another part of the Forest.

Future visitors to the Park will be pleased to hear that work on the outdoor swimming pool has now been completed. The mixed-material construction has been tucked away in the South-West corner of the Park and has been designed with the aim of appearing a part of the forest’s natural landscaping. As the Park is privately funded and operated, we’ve been given free reign over how it’s been put together and the keepers here are so pleased with how it’s worked out.

For the sake of safety we are only going to be opening the pool when a trained lifeguard can be present. Thankfully we made the wise decision of installing an aquamatic pool cover to ensure that access to the pool is completely impossible when there isn’t a supervisor on the scene. With the help of our designers, we were able to design a solid-state cover system which mimics the look of the forest floor, so there’s no unsightly tarpaulin in sight.

Readers of this blog are no doubt curious as to find out if we ever got to the bottom of the mysterious sounds and odd appearances of fires that we were plagued with during last year’s hot summer. Unfortunately, despite a combined effort from all of the keepers here, we’ve come no closer to discovering what the source of these blazes was. Despite plenty of clues, including strange models made out of wicker and odd markings on trees, the keepers were puzzled as to who was causing all of this mischief.

The investigation was made even more difficult when we lost a man from our team. Jim, a capable and reliable keeper of over fifteen years, unfortunately had to resign from his post in the midst of last Winter. The Winter months can often be very tough on our keepers and even the most experienced of us are susceptible to the tricks that the forest can play on your mind.

In truth, we were all aware that perhaps Jim was working too hard. The mysterious blazes and tree carvings had perhaps affected him more than any of us and, rather than take an even share of the workload, we allowed Jim to essentially work himself to the bone, searching for clues within the depths of the forest.

Now he’s taken an early retirement, we hope Jim can find the rest that he so desperately needed.

Jim’s Log 20.11.16

The winter months have suddenly fallen upon us!

It feels like only moments ago, when the forest was in full bloom and the rivers were flowing with sweet, warm water.

winter-forest

Many of my fellow keepers cherish summer. It’s a time when we can enjoy the long warm days at work and still have time to enjoy the sunlight in the evening. However, I’m happy enough during the colder months. Unlike my colleagues at the forestry commission, I don’t mind waking up in the dark.

In the early hours of the morning, even the animals and birds stay eerily silent. The only sounds you can hear are your own footsteps, crunching through the crisp, cold leaves.

Thankfully, the cold weather has driven out the spate of unsociable activity that the forest was plagued with during the summer months. Unlicensed tree felling has all but ceased now – this is good news for the trees and it also makes our job as park keepers much easier. Instead of constantly hunting down mischievous thieves, we can now focus on protecting and caring for the wildlife that lives within our forest.

forest-3

This is good news all round – especially for our badger population, which is dealing well with the winter months, but has need for improved shelter. The soft nature of the loam and shallow depths of the roots of our younger trees often means that the average badger finds it difficult digging his sett.

We’re hoping to combat this in the coming months with the help of some friends in the timber packing cases (http://www.timberpackingcases.com/) industry. Their experience in the field of building custom timber units will hopefully aid us in preparing some pre-made setts for the indigenous badger population.

Using their knowledge of wood integration and complex plank arrangement, we are hoping to construct pre-fabricated setts. These will be the average size of a normal sett, but will be reinforced with additional timber, to ensure that there is no chance of a cave-in. Once these have been constructed, we are planning on burying them in populated areas and filling them with the soft loam, that our local badgers are used to.

badgers-5

Work will begin on designing and fabricating the setts in the coming weeks, ready for the winter months.

Lastly, the problems with the small fires, that were cropping up around the forest during July and August, have subsided. This is a great relief to us rangers, who were honestly baffled with their appearance. Often we would feel like we were closing in on the culprits, only to find a smouldering piles of twigs and bones – and the smell of cooked meat.

bliar-witchFor a long time we were sure that we were dealing with a group of individuals, perhaps living inside the forest, but now it appears that the fires have ceased.

In their place, rangers are beginning to report strange wooden sculptures hanging from tree branches. Once more, we’re baffled by the appearances of these vaguely creepy items – but as long as the forest is safe, we’re happy.

 

Jim’s Log 18.08.16

percy-1Summer is a wonderful time of year in Wood Bridge, the leaves in the tree are as green as you’d like and the forests are filled with the sounds of birdsong. With winter a distant memory in the mind, there’s never been a better time of year to be a park keeper!

However, with lovely weather comes an increase in visitors to this special corner of the world. Us rangers love seeing the forest being used by people, its so big that it never feels crowded and its always a nice surprise to bump into sightseers. With increased footfall, however, comes a higher risk of misuse.

Its come to our attention that there’s been some unlicensed felling taking place. Cutting trees down in Wood Bridge is illegal, there’s legislation in place to fine offenders heavily but we have to be around to catch them in the act. With that in mind, if anyone sees evidence of this kind of activity then please don’t hesitate to call us; our phone numbers are posted all round the park.

badgerIn better news, our badger population is on the up and they’re starting to look a lot healthier. The winter/spring months can often be tough on our furry friends and we were worried that numbers were dwindling. However, our badger cove cams have lifted our spirits – there are four separate mothers with healthy looking cubs!

As long as the coves stay well protected by our conservation fences, these cubs should have the best advantages in life. There’s plenty of water, food and light for them to get accustomed to the forest floor. In a few months time they’ll be venturing out amongst the undergrowth and getting to grips with their survival techniques and we can’t wait to see them flourish!

natural poolMeanwhile, we’re continuing our plans to create an outdoor swimming pool in one of our stargazing clearings. After reaching out to trade suppliers Paramount Pools, we’re close to reaching a finished design on our semi-natural swimming pool.

The folks at Paramount have been really helpful in talking us through the pros and cons of an industry that we’re really not familiar with. There’s just so many things to consider; skimmers, covers, filters, pumps. The list goes on and on. The aim is to create a decent sized pool which has as small of an impact on the environment as possible, building should begin in the next month!

forestLastly, there’s been some promising signs of regeneration in the South side of the Park after a few small fires were discovered two weeks ago. At this time of year the undergrowth can be extremly dry, even the smallest of fires can quickly spread and cause real damage to our Park. Trees, as well as the land-based mammals of the forest, are particularly vulnerable and we shall all have to work together to protect them.

The source of the blazes are still a mystery so, until we know what’s causing them, we’ll be increasing patrols in the next fortnight to ensure that no more fires are lit. Please remember that BBQs and fire-pits are strictly forbidden in the park grounds, why not enjoy a simple picnic instead!

Jim – Wood Bridge Park Ranger