Winter Bird Watching

It’s not easy to keep your students’ attention up when teaching and harder still to inspire interest and passion in a subject: Fraser Rush is very good at both.

On the 20th and 21st of November we followed his two day course on bird ID: despite the fact that we were working from pictures of birds it could not have been more interesting. Fraser had planned a bird ringing session, sadly, it was far too windy to make it happen but, because we had woken up far earlier than usual for it, we saw a pretty spectacular dawn so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort on our part.

There’s enough bird knowledge to fill a lifetime, let alone two days. Fraser jokingly promised he would teach us all of it and then actually gave us the tools we need to get better at bird ID on our own.

After learning what‘s most important when trying to identify birds, we practiced our new skills by looking at pictures, sketching the bird (with mixed results) and after a short time, the bird would ‘fly off’ (i.e. Fraser would move to the next slide) after which we would then try to identify it based on our drawings.

Some of the things I’ve learnt during the course:

  1. Shape before colour: birds are classified based on their shape so that should be the first thing to look at when trying to identify them.
  2. “Cute” is a perfectly valid adjective to describe a bird.
  3. Drawing a bird in 10 seconds is really, really hard.

It can feel discouraging, realizing how much we still don’t know and how difficult it is to learn sometimes but having someone direct our eyes, telling us what features we should be looking for and what isn’t as important as we thought (shape BEFORE colour) made a huge difference. And ultimately, we realised it’s more important to have fun with it and be passionate than to remember absolutely everything on the first try. Birds are so varied, some majestic, some cute, some downright ugly, that there’s a lot to be passionate about.                                                                                        © birdlife.org

We’ve had various occasions to go birdwatching since the course and it’s been good to see that, even when we don’t know what bird we’re looking at, we’ve had more confidence in how to find out. Just now, as I’m writing this post, we’ve noticed a woodpecker outside the window and we’ve all run to see exactly what kind of woodpecker it was (Great Spotted, if anyone’s curious).

It’s interesting to see how things you’d never even registered before beyond “oh, look! A bird!” suddenly have a name and are impossible to ignore.

For a chance to go bird ringing in Portugal with Fraser and the Ponza team visit http://www.ambios.net/working4wildlife-2020-co-funded-erasmus/

Our foray into the hidden kingdom of fungi with expert Dr. Christian Taylor

Dr. Christian Taylor came to Lower Sharpham Farm to find a bunch of hopeless students that would have probably picked a good looking/cute but poisonous and deadly mushroom for dinner. We had everything to discover from the kingdom of fungi, since the knowledge of mushrooms has sadly not been passed on from our ancestors, as would have been in the past

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First of all we had the opportunity to look at some mushroom models to get familiar with the characteristics. We appreciated that he introduced the Amanita family at the beginning, which is a mushroom group that we know to avoid now, as 14 out of 15 of them are toxic and some even deadly. Fortunately, there are enough mushrooms out there that are not only harmless / edible but also delicious. To be honest, we found that at first all of us were especially interested in this workshop because of this. If not delicious, they probably have medicinal properties. For instance, you can use some mushrooms as a tea that will boost your immune system. Dr. Taylor even mentioned that they are currently being used for cancer research and used by some as a supplement for their chemotherapy (Reishi). If you want to learn more, you can find the book “How mushrooms can change the world” written by Paul Stamets.

One thing we learned for sure is that no mushroom is boring. This can already be seen by their names, which can be quite funny (King Arthurs cake, Candle snuff). They also come in weird shapes and sizes, ranging from coral reef style, cabbage, ears and rugby balls (congratulations South Africa!).

Here are some crazy facts….They are most likely the first organisms on earth. Did you know that fungi were used in the past to transport fires (Fomes fomentarius)? Or did you know that there are ascomycetic fungi that shoot spores into the stratosphere and can spread into new continents even including Antarctica? Also, fungi don’t have a defined life cycle, so they could live forever if they continuously and successfully reproduce.

Fungi spend most of their life cycle invisible to the human eye. The stage we are most familiar with, the fruiting body, may only last a couple of weeks or even days. Prior to that, the mycelium could have been growing underground for up to 50 years.

The largest organism in the world is the world is the Honey fungus, one specimen in the US recorded to have spanned over an area of around 30 kilometres underground. It acts as a natural selector, killing off only the weakest or oldest trees in the forest (so they are practically our forest managers). Not only is its name sweet, but it also has a nice fragrant smell, that will guide you to pick the most pleasant Honey fungus.

Pertaining to the farm’s core values of farming with a low damaging impact on the local ecosystem, our short mushroom walk showed, that the range of species found were a good indicator that this is working. This was widely possible due to the enlightened forest management technique of leaving deadwood in-situ.

After our walk we came home with a basket full of edible and hopefully mouth-watering mushrooms. Interesting things we found include some puffballs and wood ears. If you want to want to do your own mushroom and foraging walk, you can find many recipes and tips in “Wild Food – A complete guide for foragers” by Roger Phillips. Maybe there is some wild treasures to you closer than you think – they might be where you least expect them.

Here are some things that we learned that might be interesting for you:

  • Pick only half of the mushrooms you see when you collect mushrooms – be aware of your ecological impact and that mushrooms need time to regenerate
  • Never eat a mushroom that is still in the button phase, because it is difficult to identify them properly
  • Don’t cut the mushroom off with a knife as even looking down at the base is helpful for the identification
  • Don’t wash edible mushrooms (they suck up water like a sponge). Brushing insects and soil off will be enough
  • Leaving dead wood upright has more benefits for the ecosystem than if laid down
  • Be aware that the white parts of toxic mushrooms like the fly aminata (Amanita muscaria) can fall off due to rain – always check all the characteristics twice
  • It is best to carry back the mushrooms in a rigid container (no plastic bag)

Without a doubt, Dr. Taylors evident passion for the kingdom of fungi was passed on to us all. It is clear now, that part of our future work in biological conservation will include keeping the precious and vital fungi kingdom intact.

Watch out…spooky creatures all around!

Halloween has come around (although the shelves in the supermarkets try to tell us it is Christmas already) and soon witches, ghosts and vampires will be populating our planet for this one night of the year. Spiderwebs and bats will be decorating the….. but wait, what is that? Rewind…. Bats… are seen by people as these scary, bloodsucking creatures that haunt you in the night…..? Yet during my traineeship with Ambios in Devon I got to experience quite a different side to these actually unique and super interesting creatures!

Did you know that bats are the only mammals that can fly? And not only that, whilst you have probably heard of their ability to use echolocation to navigate, did you know that each species of bat has their own unique call that distinguishes them from all other bats?

During my Traineeship with Ambios I got to choose my very own project to work on and decided to look at the bats on the farm a little closer. I got handed a bat detector and off I went! Walking through the dark forest and along the river at night, I got super excited every time the detector started to make noises! At the beginning, I was baffled as to this foreign language in which the detector was speaking to me (and honestly, some bat calls do sound like alien communication on a detector, just check out these Horseshoe bats having a chat here! ) But with time and practise I got better at telling which sound belonged to which bat and at the end I was even able to decipher the weird signs that bat sounds paint when you put their calls onto your computer screen:

Here you can see Soprano Pipistrelles, whose calls at about 55 kHz look a bit like hockey sticks. Those calls are used for navigation and hunting, while those up and down lines at lower frequencies are actually so-called social calls – bats talking to each other!)

The most exciting part was to find three rare species of bats on the farm (Lesser and Greater Horseshoe-bats as well as Barbastelles)! Yet, this was also the hardest part: having to face how it is not the bats that are the monstrous creatures of the night they are often portrayed as, but how it is actually us humans who are at least partly responsible for declining bat numbers across certain species. Development causes loss of feeding habitats, affects roosts and flight lines, and a lack of insects to feed on have caused bat numbers to decrease.

But, there is a lot we can do to help these little cute creatures:

We were building bat boxes on the farm, and whether you build them yourself or buy them, these can be hung up almost anywhere to give bats a new home 😊  If you want to get active and go on some bat walks with a detector yourself, that’s not a problem at all either as for example the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project are welcoming volunteers to help with their yearly bat survey, as well as other bat groups across the UK offering lots of opportunities to get involved.

Personally, I will certainly not have had my last encounter with these fascinating creatures and am really thankful that through Ambios I got the chance to venture into their intriguing world for the first time and learn so much about their lives and ways.

Be a volunteer, an extraordinary experience

I’m finally in England. On the way to Lower Sharpham Farm, in Devon. Ready to spend my next 5 weeks surrounded by sheep, cows and hens. But on the bus I don’t feel very well, stress starts to rise and a question persists in my head : how will it go ?

I arrived at the farm and met all the other volunteers and trainees, we come from different countries and we are all different but we share the love of nature. Everyone starts to get to know each other and my stress starts going down. Indeed, the place looks amazing and the people with whom I’m going to share my days are lovely.

The days follow one another but none are alike. Every day is full so we are far from bored. We build some shelves in the barn with Jack, we plant seeds in the garden, we welcome a school to introduce them to the farm, we harvest the fruits and vegetables,… In addition to that we have some tasks spread over the week for everyone : go out and get in the hens, take care of the goats (who are adorable!), clean the eggs to sell, water the garden,… Some days we follow some classes with Mike, our “teacher”.

The subjects are varied : grassland survey, endangered species, badgers and bats… And at the end of the day it’s time to enjoy the environment where we are ! Place for canoeing, go for a walk in the forest or in Totnes or just relax in the hammocks listening to the sheep bleat… Dinners between volunteers and trainers are privileged moments during which we laugh a lot and weave links. Then it’s time to go to bed, in the yurt. I share this accommodation with the two other volunteers, it’s our space but we also share it with some nice spiders, slugs and little insects. No one is dangerous and we get used to having them with us.

 

The end of my stay happens faster than I wanted. I don’t want to leave this amazing place. Everything is so exciting here that I can’t imagine going back home just like that, leaving behind me everything I could learn in only few weeks but also all the friendships I have now.

All my fears have been swept from the first day I spent at Sharpham thanks to Jack and Mike that put us at ease and thanks to all the volunteers and trainees, who were always there to share a laugh.

Not to mention the improvement in English, I discovered a lot of new things and I worked with a real goal. There have been lots of new things to learn and try, with Jack, with Mike but also by myself. From the moment I did the requested work I was free to do what I wanted : make a wooden bowl, wooden coasters but also dreams catchers. And a thing that changes a lot compared to the school is that I was often autonomous, which is the best way to learn. It happened to me to make mistakes but it’s like this that we learn!

So if you’re motivated and not afraid to get your hands dirty (because believe me they will be after spending your day in the compost…) don’t hesitate any longer and join the farm to live an incredible experience.

Delphine from France, volunteer during the summer of 2019

Rule Nr. 1: “No false Triggers!” – The art of camera trapping

It feels like Christmas. You had to wait for a long time but then the day is there! Finally, you open the lid, press the buttons and wait for the window popping up on your laptop that indicates that it recognizes the SD card you just entered. The camera trap is a present you make yourself every time you put it up somewhere.

What are you expecting to see? Have you been successful? Have you had the right feeling and seen the important indicators for positioning your trap at the perfect place?

The window opens and it says “1832 elements found”. Must have been a great and well-visited location, but when you open the photos you see: plant, plant, plant, plant in the sun, plant. Something must have gone terribly wrong when choosing the location for the camera and you hear Fraser’s (our teacher doing the camera trapping course) voice in your head repeating “Rule 1: No false triggers!” over and over again.
When it comes to setting up cameras, there are several things to keep in mind: the settings such as trigger time, the angle towards the spot you want to survey, the sun, the vegetation, the object you want to survey, the characteristics of the camera you have. But when you did everything right (and have had a good portion of luck as well) camera traps offer a great opportunity to survey the fauna without harming, annoying or disturbing it in its natural habitat.

Cameras have become a ubiquitous tool in ecology and conservation and are well deployed in different Ambios projects such as work done by the conservation group of the ROC guys as well as badger surveys and more general data gathering on biodiversity.
When it comes to research, one can surely ask: Is camera trapping effective or respectively effective enough to serve as a reliable source for data? Of course, the effectiveness always depends on how the camera traps are used and in which context, but research suggests that they show a significantly higher effectiveness (88%) compared to other tools such as live traps, which in the context of Ambios also have been employed for badger and dormouse monitoring as well (Wearn & Glover-Kapfer 2019).

A big advantage we noticed for the cameras is that they can show us a lot in addition, all sorts of “bycatch” but the project they are based on primarily, as they show us all “living things walking by”: they detect a large number of species from birds over people to mammals. This makes camera traps particularly suitable for broad-spectrum biodiversity surveys. Besides daily visitors as roe deer, foxes and (a lot of) squirrels, we were able to identify rare species on the farm estate such as pole cats and otters with the help of the cameras.

If you are interested in camera trapping, check our Facebook page for updated videos every now and then about our newest shots. You will be surprised what is out there. Stay tuned!

By: Ronja Schuetz

Sources:

Wearn, O. R. and Glover-Kapfer, P. (2019): Snap happy: camera traps are an effective sampling tool when compared with alternative methods. The Royal Society. URL: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.181748.

Teambuilding Week

Ronja, one of our nature conservation trainees from Germany, reflects on her first week here at Lower Sharpham Farm…

Monday, “check-in”-date. You arrive at a farm in the middle of nowhere placed between rolling hills, forests, ferns and sheep. You enter the bunkhouse and there it is: your team for the next 3 months, 11 girls aged 19-34. Unknown faces looking at you and you are thinking (maybe even with a little nervous voice, quiet but apparent in the back of your head): “Well, let the fun begin!”

But how do you manage to build a team of 11 very different girls, of different ages, from 5 different nationalities, different languages and different educational backgrounds? The Ambios team does not hesitate and just throws you and your colleagues into multiple tasks and you have no other choice than to grow together and synchronize (to some extent). On one day you are given the challenge to lower a very lightweight stick horizontally to the ground with everybody having just one finger on it, another you are asked to manage a “treasure hunt” with 6 creative, logical and geographical tasks. But this blogpost is about teamwork, so lets switch from a “you”-perspective to the “us/we”-perspective our team is acquiring step by step. And that’s exactly the key.

Every girl in our group has their strengths in different areas ranging from in-depth species knowledge to spatial thinking, great cooking skills, leadership skills and many more: everything a team needs is inside us, we just have to find and channel it.  We discovered we can find a place for everyone of us in our team but to do that we have to listen to each other.

A great approach to a good teamwork environment is Claxtons “4-Rs of Learning Power” uniting Resilience (being ready, willing and able to look onto learning), Resourcefulness (being ready, willing and able to learn in different ways), Reflectiveness (being ready, willing and able to become more strategic in learning) and Reciprocity (being ready, willing and able to learn alone and with others). After having learnt about the theory behind it, it is our aim to remember these traits and integrate them more into our behavior in the group and to become more familiar with them. Sometimes it is necessary to stop, think, remember and adapt the own mindset in the purpose of the group.

As we also see in our group, there will always be someone who is more quiet, someone throwing random funny comments into every conversation, someone who will take the lead, someone who may even appear a bit bossy in the beginning (and I think everyone of us could name at least one person perfectly fitting to these descriptions here) but it is not about accusations and we should not perceive that as negative traits, it might be the way a person has learnt to communicate their wishes and thoughts until this point. Everyone of us will discover characteristics and habits within themselves they might not have expected and also not noticed before, positive as well as negative. But this should not lead to hesitation. Now it is our task to find these and also the hidden characteristics, activate, remodel and use them in a productive way to be able to achieve the team effort. Growing together means challenging each other and challenging ourselves also in the topics we might not be too self-confident in but, as a team, we have the possibility to learn a lot from each other and make use of the (personal) resources we already have in and among us.

This learning process we were allowed to start here at Lower Sharpham Farm is a long learning process we all have to go through, and a process that probably will or better said should never come to an end.

Grassland survey on Lower Sharpham Farm

As summer moved across the country, it was time to conduct the grassland survey on the meadows of Lower Sharpham Farm.

In 2011, there was a first study which aimed to record the different plant species which could be found in the fields. Ten quadrats of 1 sqm were investigated in every field to compile a list with all the detected plant species, also in reference to the use of the fields. Five years ago, Ambios started to farm some meadows less intensively. One year ago some of the cattle were replaced by the Belted Galloways a breed that are better for grazing and extensive farming.

A few weeks ago it was our turn to do the grassland survey again to find out in what way the species richness has changed. Because of this, the trainees of Lower Sharpham Farm got a two-day course in plant identification. In the beginning it was quite hard to see the little differences between the plants and to remember the names. On the second day it still seemed impossible to recognise any plants at all.

After a one-week-long break we went into the field again to finally conduct the survey and this time it worked a lot better than the week before. We revised the plants and their names before we started working on the quadrats in groups. This was a good approach, because we were able to identify the plants independently as well as to learn from each other’s knowledge. The reliability of the gathered data could be ensured by checking the quadrats with Mike, our instructor. In the end, probably all of us are now able to identify at least ten plant species on the meadows of Lower Sharpham Farm.

Meadow buttercup

Additionally, a structural measurement of the grass of some meadows was conducted. So, on a line of twenty-meter length every twenty centimetres the maximum height as well as the average height of the grass was measured. The average height means the height at which the grass is very dense. This could be measured by letting a disc fall along a ruler and noting where it is stopped by the grass.

Measuring the grassland structure

Having gathered all the data, they must be edited to be comparable. The results will be summarised in graphs and maps showing the structure of the grassland and changes in the species richness.

Blog post by Magdalena Koschmieder

3 DAYS WITH LITTLE BUDDING FARMERS

From the 18th to the 20th of July 2019, Lower Sharpham Farm welcomed a cohort of pupils from five to eight years old from Dartington CofE primary school. Coming with their teachers and parents to discover the farm, they got the opportunity to participate into a wide range of activities around nature for the morning. Some of the activities included sculpture, sewing, drawing but also catching butterflies in a field, or working with sheep’s wool. That sounds pretty cool right? But how did we make it possible?

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

First, let’s talk about team preparation. An important task was to set all the activities up before the kids got there and organize ourselves to ensure they had a great time in a safe environment. To do so, Lower Sharpham Farm’s Knights of the Round Table got to meet in their outdoor office: the grass space in front of the bunkhouse. This happened on a a sunny Wednesday afternoon, when the time came to discuss plans, propose ideas, think about the constraints, the alternatives in case of rain, and the safety rules. Moreover, we practiced and got familiar with the activities we were about to carry out with the children. Aware of the different spaces available at the farm, we chose the most convenient places to welcome thirty children each morning, and have all the resources we need to hand. Four areas were dedicated to different activities : the Barn, the Earth Ship at the garden, Middle River Field, and the top of Badger Field. Then we split into three groups and finally started to set up the different places for the activities.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

The day started at 10 am. From afar, we hear the children approaching. Naturally they are later than we expected, as toilet breaks, roll calls and drink breaks take their time. The tension is growing, but it is a good stress, the one before they get here. We are ready. The first day, everyone meets at the garden. It is funny to see how the teachers found different techniques to get the children’s attention, and it works.

*singing*

« Are you listening ?

– Yes we’re listening ! »

Then they eat ! Snack time is important to keep kids energy levels up. Finally we get started, but of course we are later than we had planned for. A quick meeting and the decision is made to keep the 3 activities rolling simultanously but for each child to only do 2. Jack introduces the farm and the schedule of the day before we present ourselves to the kids. Then the children are split in three groups (the river, the field and the forest group) who will switch around after fourty five minutes of activity, so that they all have the chance to practice 2 of the 3 activities :

  • The activity in the garden consists of making little cloth pouches with white cloth, rope, string threads and pigments from flowers and leaves picked up in the garden and that we hammer on the white tissue. Even though this activity is noisy, it mobilizes creativity, precision and it lets off steam ! After that, they use their little pouche to put some blackcurrants they picked from the garden. They dont last long, and are soon eaten !
  • Next stop is at the Barn, where they could make a necklace with wool that they felt into ball shape. Here the volunteers in charge, explained to them the importance of wool and how we use it at the farm. Sheep are in the barn for added effect and raise enquiry and connection amongst the kids. In the barn we also have a nature make workshop where they create sculptures with branches, leaves, and wood. They make amazing sheep, dragonflies or more abstract arts…
  • In the field, they sweep nets through the long grass and draw the insects they catch on paper. Still creative but also physical activity. They find beautiful butterflies, bees, or bugs.

As we are a big team of trainees and volunteers there is lots of help at each of the stations, and so they run pretty smoothly. We all have to learn the activity too, and then do it with the kids, sot they all take time. But by the end we are experts. Finally, the pupils eat their lunch at twelve am. After lunch, they could play some fun farm games we set at the Badger field, like splat the rat and coconut shy. In addition, we have a nature portraits workshop inspired by the famous italian pinter Arcimboldo. With the flowers and leaves we didn’t bash, or stick, they could fill in a face or a butterfly and color their drawing as they wish.

In a nutshell, the Lower Sharpham Farm’s Knights of the Round Table and the little budding farmers had a really good time. These three mornings were intense and quite exhausting. But at the end of the day, it was also rewarding and pleasant for both the children and the trainees and volunteers. The team got to develop new skills. Pedagogy is key, especially for nature conservation. Lower Sharpham Farm plans to organize more of these events in the future. The feedback from the teachers and the children was very positive so we hope to do more and maybe refine the theoretical background behind each activity for the next time. In fact one of the current group of trainees will take this on as her project over the next 6 weeks, developing the offer, the risk assessments and to create a training resource for future students. People are like nature, it is a cycle, we get what we give. So we should all remember how precious our environment is, from the young to old. It relies on us to make this type of event possible by protecting biodiversity.

Bird Nest Box Survey

Bird Nest Box Survey at Lower Sharpham Farm

At Sharpham farm, surveying biodiversity is one of the core activities of the traineeship program that runs throughout the year. The Bird Nest Box Survey is conducted from March to July, and involves the check-up of the 67 nest boxes on a weekly basis during that period.

These boxes have been made with a specific size in order to fit the nesting characteristics of small passerine birds such as the Great tit, the Blue tit and the Nuthatch. These birds are common around the farm and quite easy to recognize, the long-term prospect is then to diversify the boxes shape and welcome a wider range of bird species.

Conducting such a survey is ideal to witness the development of the nests and then of the hatchlings until they become mature enough to fledge off the nest. It also allows us to have a clearer picture of the behaviour of the adults while they are taking care of their chicks or while they are alerted by our presence near their nest.

It is truly a pleasure to open a box and discover how it has evolved from one week to another. It is in fact a great chance to be able to get into bird’s hidden nesting life, which truly contrasts with the show they usually offer to us by their singings and flying feats.

The nesting period is particularly important for them, as they put so much effort for the well-being of their offspring. We learnt that it is a crucial period for them to ensure their progeny, that’s why we always spend only few seconds to do our check up to avoid scaring them out of their nest.

During the months of March and mid-April we observed the building of the nests with the birds coming and going in the boxes, while carrying moss and fur in their beak. It was a very exciting moment to discover the growing number of nest that will be occupied for the next weeks.

Starting from Late-April, eggs appeared in more and more nests and the adults started their covering duty. From then, we had to be especially precautious since the birds began to be much more alert to any activity occurring around their nest. It was truly amazing to observe such tiny sized-eggs which are no bigger than the tip of our fingers, as many of us hadn’t have the opportunity to observe them so closely before.

The month of May coincided with the first emergence of hatchlings. I personally think it was the most interesting part of the survey, since we were able to observe their growth and how they acquire their beautiful plumage.

By early June, the young are leaving the nests and will start their new life after the precious care of their parents. We will be looking forward to welcome them for the next surveys, this time as parents!

Here you can see the evolution of a Blue Tit nest from late April to early June:

late April, how many eggs in there ?

early May, a nice surprise !

Mid-May, still blind and naked

Late-May, with their feathers growing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life with animals on the farm

We look after them, we form bonds with them, we exercise with them, we laugh and cry with them….

We have all developed a relationship with the farm’s animals. The iconic animals for our group are without doubt the goats, which have been growing up so fast since we welcomed them while they were babies. Some of us even made wonderful T-shirts to pay tribute to them during the first week of the trainees’ arrival and we have even made up a song about them. Life is good in the countryside! It is truly rewarding to see them playing around and getting more independent, progressively shifting their diet to grass, shrubs or branches after 3 months of bottle feeding them by hand. They have also started to grow horns which make them less of babies by now, even though we still see them as such. They also test each others strength and play by head butting each other and climbing out of their enclosure. We still have a thought for the two babies which couldn’t make it due to sickness, and are happy to spend time with the four remaining.

Holly is Jack and Kate’s dog and she has been spending much time with us. She’s a lovely dog that everyone enjoys since she is especially relaxed, wise and smart but also playful. Sunbathing is one of her favourite activities, and since her fur is pitch black she can become a heater very fast. That’s how in exchange of some cuddles you can then get your hands warm thanks to her. She takes her job very seriously as a learning assistance dog as she is often around when the trainees have classes, kids are playing around, or when the ROC guys are doing their job.

Ruth has been giving a lot of attention and love for the rabbit by letting him regularly run around in the small field next to the barn whilst she does yoga, allowing them both to stay fit and healthy. Josselyn, one of the trainees who is in love with every kind of cute things, has adopted the guinea pigs. The method used to take them out involves using a pipe and catching them inside, which can be kind of tricky. Josselyn said it is also funny because when you release them it feels like the pipe is shooting guinea pigs bullets on the ground.

The lambing season has been and gone, the ewes and their lambs are now grazing back in the fields peacefully after a busy month. The lambs are starting to get more playful, running around and jumping. They are discovering their environment with curiosity, and are getting more comfortable with our presence. Julia has been observing their behaviour and found out that their favourite place is the big chunk of manure at the top of the field, on which they can enjoy the warmth of the soil while sunbathing. Whenever they feel hungry, there is no rest for their mum as they will poke them until they get up and get their milk. Not to mention the chaotic communication that they make when people are crossing the field, feeling like the end of the school day with parents and kids running around trying to find each other.

The hens also have had attention from us, Chiara and Josselyn are involved in a permaculture project suggesting that kiwi fruit would grow in their field, allowing them to have places to stay perched while having a more diverse food source. Thanks to that, we can also harvest fruits for our own consumption, meaning that it’s beneficial for both sides.

The ducks are next to the garden and often looking like soldiers while they wander around their field in a line. They grate us with a cheerful “quack-quack” as soon as they hear the gate opening every morning. They also enjoy a lot bathing in their water container. They usually keep attention to our work in the garden, probably thinking of the juicy slugs they would find there. We are going to start letting them get used to walk in the garden as it is very beneficial for its maintenance since they eat all kind of tiny animals that could harm the crops.

Finally, the cows are another important part of the livestock, being a symbolic animal amongst farmland and participating in the extensive grazing policy applied here. The farm has a small herd of Belted Galloways which help the goal of enhancing the biodiversity. They are also very resilient to hard conditions and their small size reduces the negative impact of stamping that they have on the soil.

See our wonderful new short documentary ‘Toms story’ – about cows & community. http://www.ambios.net/our-farm/

Although they are not part of the livestock, pheasants behave like pets at the farm since they are always around, eating the corn and nuts supposed to feed the passerines. The squirrels are also frequent guests of the bird feeders and have always found new methods to get to the food despite us trying hard to come up with new ideas to keep them away.

As you can see, the farm is full of life!

Lambing on the farm

We have been welcoming newcomers to Lower Sharpham Farm these past couple of weeks, and everyone has been incredibly excited about it. I do not mean our new spring cohort of trainees, who are a truly lovely addition to our team, but our new baby lambs!

It has been a unique and truly memorable experience to witness a lamb birth with our own eyes. For most of us, it is the first time we have ever seen this incredible life event.  There is no doubt that the lambs’ birth was the icing on the cake of the new trainees’ first week here at Sharpham Farm.

There was a huge element of excitement as we realised that the ewe had begun contracting and then seeing the water bag come out.  Everyone became slightly more apprehensive and more focused on what was going on. Finally the lamb emerged and there was big relief and happiness. The ewe licked the lamb to dry it off and to begin the bonding process. We couldn’t believe it when after just a few minutes, the new-born was standing on all four legs and was beginning to look for milk. After a while the placenta emerged which the ewe ate, and the lamb also began to suckle. The lamb and her mum were moved into a pen, allowing them to bond and be safe. It was a great opportunity to share the same feelings at the same time together, allowing us as a group to form our own bonds.

All the lambs that have been born so far have been healthy, and they are starting to become more and more energetic as the days go by. The ewes are also doing well and have been excellent mums to their new-borns. We are all happy to welcome fresh new babies, since the baby goats have been growing so fast and are getting more independent.

Written by Daniel Chantrel-Valat, one of our long term volunteers

Reconnecting with our natural surroundings

At Sharpham, the arrival of spring coincides with the appearance of a prolific plant whose leaves and flowers are particularly fragrant and reminiscent of garlic. This plant, commonly named Wild Garlic or Ramsons, grows abundantly in the undergrowth of old woodland throughout the country and is particularly appreciated by people living at Lower Sharpham Farm.

The surroundings of the farm are particularly prolific in wild garlic, that’s how we came up with the idea of preparing recipes based on the subtle garlic taste it provides, such as pesto sauce. We created a blend that apparently is not so common with the normal wild garlic pesto recipes, but we didn’t want to spend too much money (on nuts/seeds). Also some people are vegan, so we didn’t include the cheese.

Thus we created a very simple but delicious blend of wild garlic, tinned tomatoes, olive oil and seasoning. E voila!

Creating this allowed us to make use of our environment’s potential in terms of food availability and is linked to the zero waste goal that we are developing as part of the farm’s environmental policy.

By filling old glass jars with homemade wild garlic pesto sauce in place of basil, we can then do without the pesto we would have bought in shops. Growing basil is also very resource hungry growing in either huge polytunnels or in hot country’s with lots of food miles.

We discovered that we can also use the leaves, buds and flowers to add flavour to your salads, or other meals that usually taste well with garlic. We did find that the leaves’ taste starts to depreciate as soon as the plant starts flowing, so found it best to harvest it in early Spring. Flowers are already starting to appear by early April here at the farm. 

Cooking with wild garlic is an example amongst many others that are pretty easy to implement into our daily life, and which allows us to progressively reconnected with our natural surroundings.

It is however important not to mistake wild garlic with other similar species which are toxic, so as part of our learning journey we researched which plants not to confuse it with, something we’d recommend everyone to do.

We hope you enjoy the wild garlic too!

 

 Written by Daniel Chantrel-Valat, one of our long term volunteers