As part of the Countryside Higher Level Stewardship scheme that the farm currently is committed to, extensive work has been undertaken since 2011 in order to attract a diverse population of bird species.
Within the boundaries of this land, ancient hedgerows and trees that run along Carr Dyke stand as silent witnesses to the agricultural past of three generations and before.
Carr Dyke was and continues to be a natural playground where summers were spent climbing trees, building rafts, dens and exploration.
Within each silent witness, lie memories, stories and emotions.
The trees of Hopyard Farm
Hedgerows have been used in Britain for hundreds of years as a means of marking boundaries, preventing livestock from wandering and protecting crops from wind and storms. Hedgerows are an extremely valuable haven for wildlife, providing food, shelter and hibernation places for many birds and animals as well as a safe place for native trees and plants to flourish.
At Hopyard farm, Hawthorn, Field maple, Oak, Ash, Elderberry, Blackthorn and other species are all to be found growing side by side in the hedgerows. Older and untended hedgerows contain more species of trees and plants and are often homes to mature trees which provide support for ivy and other climbing plants and are therefore even more important for wildlife.
Walking along the river, on both banks you can see some unusually large examples of Ash, Willow, Sycamore and Hawthorn. They all benefit from being close to water, but have grown large mainly through being left undisturbed for many years and not having their roots damaged and disturbed. Hawthorns are nearly always trimmed and cut in hedges, so hardly ever grow very tall. But here, there are some large examples to be seen. Heavy Willow and Ash branches can sometimes break in the wind and lean across the water, but often the roots remain undamaged and if you look carefully, there are plenty of new shoots growing up from fallen trees. In the older trees near the water, you can see dark hollows under the roots, holes left by woodpeckers, crumbling gaps left by dead branches breaking off and cracks made by storms, lightning and frost over many years.
All of these places, with their fallen leaves and branches are attractive to ferns, fungi, birds, insects, spiders and other life. The local badgers, foxes and wood mice all live well from foraging among the leaves and fallen twigs for fruit, seeds, worms, beetles, roots and fungi.
Ash has always been valued for its strength and resilience
As a small boy, I always remember climbing up into a large ash tree on my grandfather’s farm and counting the black buds on the spring shoots while sitting up high and watching the sheep graze below. I have found that Ash can be split into straight lengths easily and can be easily worked when green or dry. I have used it for making handles for garden tools and mallets and for carving into stretchers for making work benches and repairing chairs. It makes very good cooking spoons and carves easily into nicely curved handles. One of my earliest memories of my grandfather was watching him carve a new axe handle from Ash, using a small axe and a knife, using a piece of broken glass to smooth it down.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
This is Britain’s only native species of maple. It can be seen in hedgerows, woodland and scrubland. Large examples are rare and a joy to see in ancient woodland, with a broad spreading canopy and often heavy and twisted main trunk. It is tolerant of air pollution and attracts aphids and their many insect predators; the fruit is eaten by mice and squirrels. It provides a great variety of colour in the autumn, with gold and red leaves visible from a distance.
Like all maple species, it is beautiful wood to carve and it is possible to make almost anything from this wood. Cooking spoons and small baby spoons always turn out well and can be polished to a very smooth and hard finish. A real pleasure to use.
Field Maple (Acer Campestre)
There are oak trees in just about every corner of the world, with over 300 species recorded. In Europe, Oak has been considered sacred by just about every culture that has encountered the tree, but it was held in particular esteem by the Norse and Celts because of its size, longevity, and nutritious acorns. The Oak is one of the sacred Druidic three: 'Oak, Ash & Thorn'. In general, Oak is associated with magic spells for protection, strength, success and stability, healing, fertility, health, money, potency, and good luck.
Oak timber has always been popular for its strength and durability; it has been used for building everything from houses, ships and railway carriages to gates, flooring, fencing and wagon wheels, furniture and children’s toys. The bark can be used to make boxes and baskets, as well as for tanning leather.
Oak (Quercus roubar)
Celtic and Norse mythologies designated Hazel the tree of Immortal Wisdom, giving it a place in many ancient rituals associated with protection, prosperity, divination-dowsing, intelligence and inspiration. Forked sticks are still used to find water or buried treasure. The nuts have always been valued as food and are still grown as a commercial crop in several countries.
The Hazel tree is common across Britain and has always provided shade, protection, house building materials and baskets. In Europe and North America, hazel is commonly used for 'water-witching' - the art of finding water with a forked stick. It grows quickly and provides straight strong shoots that can be harvested easily and put to many uses. Hazel is still used to make sheep hurdles, fencing, bean poles, cordage, and baskets and has always been coppiced for firewood.
To me, Hazel always reminds me of my childhood. We always made bows and arrows from hazel when I was very young. My cousins and I used to watch my uncles making sheep hurdles for the farm by splitting large hazel logs in half and cutting out mortices, then inserting split branches. I have used it recently to make shrink pots, table legs and plant labels for the garden. It is easy to work and dries fairly hard, so it makes nice coat hooks as well. Like many people, I still use hazel poles in the garden as supports for climbing plants.
Hazel (Corylus Avellana)
A very familiar small tree and hedging plant that is widespread in Britain. The flowers are important for bees and other insects and the berries provide winter food for thousands of birds, especially thrushes, redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds. It is slow growing and can live for a long time. Large examples of Hawthorn are not common, since it is usually trimmed down into hedges or windbreaks. But it can reach a height of ten metres and a girth of half a metre.
In ancient times, Hawthorn is associated with protection, love & marriage, health, prosperity, fertility and happiness. The Greeks and Romans saw the hawthorn as symbolic of hope and marriage, but in medieval Europe it became associated with witchcraft and was considered to be unlucky. Hence, there are still superstitions about not bringing hawthorn flowers indoors and having to store the firewood away from the house. The wood though burns very hot and has been valued among the best for heating homes and cooking, since it has no unpleasant smell and produces little smoke.
Along the river, there are a few very large examples of this tree, stretching up to a height of about eight metres. Like Blackthorn, this can be very challenging wood to work with. It is hard and contains beautiful colours, but can only be used when it is freshly cut, since it dries into a very dense material. I have been able to make some very nice small dishes and spoons, carving mallets and small hammers from it. The creamy brown and pink colours are very attractive.
Hawthorn (C. Laevigata), Blackberry Brambles (R. Fruticosus)
There are over 300 species of willow, all of which are fond of growing in wet ground or near water. Willow catkins, which appear in early spring before the leaves, often provide the first food of the year for bees and other insects and can be the first pollen they look for. You will be able to see some impressive large trees near the river. Look out for the fallen branches that bend and split, but then can send up strong, straight new shoots. The wood from Willow has famously been harvested in Nottinghamshire for making cricket bats. It is dense and tight grained and is very strong when it has dried out and seasoned. It has been used for making clogs and baskets for hundreds of years and can be easily grown from freshly cut shoots by planting them in damp ground as cuttings.
I made my first wooden bowls from Willow in 2013. They are light, tough and durable and are still in everyday use now.
A member of the Cherry family, this is a very common small tree that can be seen all over the countryside in the East Midlands. It grows from root suckers, like damson and plum trees. It makes great hedgerows and can form thick and impenetrable barriers. The fruits are well-known and familiar as sloes, used to flavour gin and make jellies. One of the first trees to flower in the spring – the white blossom can be visible along hedgerows and roadsides from a great distance. It has been used in magic as part of protection or influencing spells. Its thorns were used to pierce waxen images.
The wood is of no commercial value, since it is hard to split, grows in a spiral grain and cracks and splits very quickly when cut. It is often used for making walking sticks and can be carved into smaller items. The colours inside the wood are very striking, with pink, cream, black and purple streaks all showing themselves when you cut into a larger piece of the wood. It has very few straight sections, so whatever you make from it will twist, warp and crack... but I have always seen this as a challenge. I have made some spoons from blackthorn and they have held the colours well and not cracked. But it has to be carved quickly, in one pass and not left to oxidise or dry out; otherwise it will twist along the original grain direction.
Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa)
These hornbeam trees are relatively young as they were planted just a few years ago but they are known to each a height of 30 metres and can live for more than 300 years old. One can imagine these species being almost majestic as visitors drive down the lane.
The hornbeam, termed as "ironwood" is the hardest wood of any European trees, the Romans used these hardy strong wood to make their chariots. Now they are commonly used for fuel, charcoal making, flooring, veneer and musical percussive instruments wheels etc.
My family moved to this land in 1956 having been tenant farmers in Calverton near Nottingham. From my grandfather, Henry Poole, the farm passed down to my father Stuart, and his brother, my uncle Ken. Whilst they enjoyed doing all the land work on their big farming machines, I was often left behind cleaning out pig pens and doing the mucky jobs... it was certainly not glamourous work so I took off as soon as I could for what I thought would be something more so.
I left for a career in dance not knowing where it would lead. I trained, managed to find work and had a successful career until when in 2013/14 when my father turned what was a dilapidated old farm building into a beautiful rehearsal and performance space.
By 2014/15 some big decisions needed to be made. Both the birth of my daughter and my father's request for needing more help to run both the farm and The HopBarn gave cause for us all to return back to my roots.
The HopBarn offers something unique. It allows those working in the arts to reconnect to the land and gain a valuable understanding of how our lives or intertwined with nature. For the farm, it provides a dialogue, allowing visitors to understand the farmers commitment to maintaining our natural landscape whilst farming sustainably. A commitment we need to ensure continues into the future.
UNIQUE CREATIONS MADE FROM GREEN WOOD AND RECLAIMED TIMBER
Hand carved items made from cherry, apple, plum, beech, hawthorn, chestnut and rowan have been used for centuries as useful and beautiful things in every home.
Nowadays thousands of tons of wood are left on the ground to rot, chipped for compost, or buried in landfill. I am exploring how I can use my own designs to create useful and sculptural items from found, rescued and donated materials. My insect hotels and bird nesting boxes are made from reclaimed timber, plastics and metal – all donated by friends and neighbours or discarded as rubbish. My bowls, spatulas and spoons are made from green wood. I do not normally use any power tools or machinery, only traditional hand tools – adze, gouges, chisels and a wood carving knife. In my bowls, I adapt Scandinavian designs and try to achieve a balanced, elegant shape that is practical, traditional and well-proportioned.
Over the last eight years or so, I have made over fifty commissioned pieces and enjoy carving wood while it is still green or recently cut. I love making memento pieces from much loved trees that have to be removed or have been brought down by the wind.
There is a story behind everything I make.