Archive for August, 2011

Its nearly time for Treefest! By Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Well, the events team here at Westonbirt are almost certainly too busy to do any more blogs in the run up to Treefest, but the marketing team have just had a chance to go out on site and see everything taking shape ready for this weekend’s event – and it is looking fabulous!

Helter-skelter!

Helter-skelter!

Our first port of call was the helter-skelter, sadly not yet open, but looking suitably Victorian in its brightly painted livery. I get a feeling this is going to be a popular introduction to the festival.

The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak

We then wended our way through some more of the festival set up, towards the Royal Oak Marquee, where live music from some of the best acts in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire will be on offer along with day time workshops in art, craft and poetry. The big surprise was, well, just how BIG this marquee is. We’re really grateful to Danco Marquee Hire for their support in helping us to make this a fitting venue for all that is on offer there. They’ve also created a light and airy bar area in the entrance to the marquee, and I hear tell that some excellent local ale and cider will be on offer! There was rather a dark sky over the marquee when we were out there, but you can see all the festive banners and flags that are starting to go up across the site, along with Julie’s now famous 1000 metres of bunting!

Wood Sales team

Wood Sales team

Throughout the rest of the site, stall holders are setting up shop, and there is a real sense of community. Our very own Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum Wood Sales team seem ready to start Treefest already – not long to go now people!

Wonderful carved creation!

Wonderful carved creation!

There were some very interesting arrivals to site as we took our whistle-stop tour, including this fabulous carved creature. Definitely one to look out for during Treefest, what an amazing piece.

Working Woodlands

Working Woodlands

We then made our way across to the Working Woodlands area, where our friends from the coppice restoration project here at Westonbirt were also setting up shop, with timber framed buildings emerging and beautiful benches being unloaded.

By this time tomorrow the festival will be in full swing. I for one can’t wait!

1000 metres of bunting? must be Treefest! By Julie McKellar, Events Coordinator

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

It’s very exciting here now and starting to feel really like a festival.

Danco Marquees have been here working very hard all weekend and yesterday, and we already have 27 small marquees, plus the big indoor and food hall up. But the really exciting marquee is the music one, it’s huge, in blue and white stripes.

The Treefest music marquee

The Treefest music marquee

The stage is due in on Wednesday, then Holmes Music Shop in Swindon is coming in on Thursday to deliver the drum kit that they’ve loaned us for Treefest. The lights and sound system are due to be installed later this week, and Jon and Ells from The 4014 Project will be here from Thursday preparing the music marquee.

Most of the caterers are in, they will be selling baguettes, burgers and new this year is the carvery. Andy from the Tree Team and the caterer have an interesting job this morning; they are going to be skinning the wild boar and the venison ready for the weekend. The Victorian-style Helter Skelter is due in this afternoon, that’s going to look great and I bet it will be a great view of the festival from the top.

Catering ready to roll at Treefest

Catering ready to roll at Treefest

There’s an endless list of things left to do and get delivered, like bins, toilets, showers for the camping, though Special Event Parking (SEP) are working hard preparing the campsite ground. Although the field has been mowed, SEP are busy mowing each row, and it’s a BIG field.

Later on in the week we will be putting up the festival flags and we have lots of them this year, then we have 1,000 metres of bunting, yes that’s right, 1,000 metres.

On Thursday the exhibitors will be arriving to put up the rest of the marquees and settle into their campsite.

Martin, one of the caterers, will start cooking the hog roast, wild boar and venison from 3am every morning from Friday, not much sleep for him then! He is also running a local real ale and local cider bar in the music marquee: that will go down really well.

So by Friday morning, when you all arrive for Treefest, everything will be ready and very colourful.

Is autumn coming early? By Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Are autumn colours at Westonbirt appearing earlier than normal? That’s the question prompted by stories in last weekend’s media about the effects a drier spring has had on trees.

On a walk around Westonbirt for BBC Points West, Arboretum Director Simon Toomer and Tree Team Superintendent Mark Ballard explained that whilst there do appear to be a few tentative signs of the famous reds and oranges of autumn, the best is still to come. They explained to presenter Sabet Choudhury that there can be several reasons for these early autumn signs.

The first is of course the weather. A long dry period in spring led to dry soils, which caused stress in some trees. This can have a delayed effect with trees starting to change colour a few weeks earlier than normal (essentially they are winding down for the year a bit earlier as the chlorophyll in the leaves begins to break down). Some beautiful examples of this can be seen in Acer Glade at the moment, where a few of the Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are showing a mixture of lush green on the underside of the tree and salmon red/ orange on the top of the canopy.

Acer Glade on 22 August

Acer Glade on 22 August

Another reason is tree pests and disease. One particular case people are becoming more aware of is the horse chestnut leaf miner moth (Cameraria ohridella).

Horse chestnut leaf miner moth

Horse chestnut leaf miner moth

The moth caterpillars burrow into the leaves, which become covered with brown patches. In severe cases, the effect can cause the whole canopy to appear as if it has taken an early autumnal turn. The insect arrived in the UK (London) in 2002 and reached Westonbirt Arboretum about four years ago.

Horse chestnut affected by the leaf miner moth

Horse chestnut affected by the leaf miner moth

There are a few examples around Westonbirt, but as this is a relatively new tree pest, scientists are still undecided as to how damaging it will be for trees’ long-term health.

The third reason for unusual leaf colour is that the leaves of some maples are in fact bred to produce colour all year round. These varieties can look particularly spectacular in spring and can be found across the Old Arboretum and into Silk Wood.

On the whole though, most trees are still in their full summer leaf-coats and will wait until shortening day lengths tell them that winter is on the way. Then the real botanical fireworks will begin. As the nights get colder and the first frosts appear, the autumn colour at Westonbirt will accelerate and explode onto the scene in full force.

You can follow the autumn seasonal trail from the start of September. This year’s trail uses Japanese haiku poetry on each stop that has been written by our Friends and visitors to celebrate our most famous season – just pick up your map from admissions on your visit.

Our Autumn Colour Watch blog begins on 1 October and we hope this will be another exciting tool for tracking the colour changes throughout the arboretum.

Treefest: our new-look festival, by Simon Toomer, Director

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I hope you enjoy our new-look festival this year. Treefest is the latest incarnation of an event the Forestry Commission has been running at Westonbirt for many years. The aim has always been to appeal to everyone interested in trees and their uses and this year’s event is more diverse than ever. Features such as medieval longbow archery, live music and camping will give Treefest a fresh new feel while the traditional focus of woodworking and crafts remains as strong as ever.
green woodworking_Rob Cousins
This year, we also have an exciting opportunity to celebrate the UN International Year of Forests. How we all use wood and other forest products in our everyday lives can have a major influence on the wellbeing of the world’s trees and forest ecosystems and here at Westonbirt we want to help people understand that relationship. Throughout the weekend, the Great Oak Hall will become an interactive learning centre where children and adults alike can learn while having fun.
Treefest Childrens learning activities_FC picture library (1)
After 17 years as our main event partner, the charity Tree Aid has decided the time has come to go its separate way and we wish them well in their important work in Africa. The big tree carving that has proved a popular part of previous years’ events will continue at Treefest, on a smaller scale but with the same incredible skill and talent.

Many thanks for your continuing support for Westonbirt, The National Arboretum.

I’ll never look at a dry stone wall in the same way again, by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Friday, August 12th, 2011
Chipping away

Chipping away

Phew! I’ve just got back to my desk after a morning’s dry stone walling – or an attempt at it. Having grown up in the Cotswolds, these walls are a familiar feature in the landscape, so when staff were given the opportunity to take part in a half day workshop with skilled craftsperson Kath Wright at the helm, I jumped at the chance.

Kath works creating walls in the Cotswolds, but also teaches on a regular basis, amongst other things, preparing people for exams and taking her knowledge into prisons – where she says the skill really captures the imagination of the young people that she meets as they can see that there might be a job in it for them one day.

The wall is being built as part of a scheme to create a traditional ha-ha boundary on the Downs. This in turn will one day run into the welcome building that is planned as part of the Westonbirt Project. Although the foundations and structural part of the wall were built in conventional materials, Sophie Nash from the Project team is now in the process of organising weekend workshops and volunteer staff days to create a façade in Cotswold stone to match the other ha-has on the estate.

Cotswold stone

Cotswold stone

After donning our steel-toed Wellingtons and goggles, we set about getting to grips with the big heap of stone in front of us. You can see in the first photo that I am chipping away rather inexpertly, but I think to be honest this part of the day is to get you feeling comfortable with the stone. I had a bit of practice trying to get a ‘camber’ on the face of the stone, so that when it is placed on the wall it tilts at an angle and doesn’t collect water. I also had a go at knocking some corners off and trying to straighten up a few edges. Kath of course did some excellent demonstrations knocking things into shape with the deft touch of 25 years experience!

Next up was getting down next to the wall – a ha-ha has a ditch on one side, so it’s a case of clambering down with stones in tow (actually I think some of the larger ones had me in tow!) – and laying some stones. Once you lay a big stone, you need to wedge it into position with a small stone so that it doesn’t move about. You then find another stone that fits snugly alongside, and wedge that into place as well. Once you’ve done a whole row in this fashion (not so easy when you’ve got a load of first-time wallers working on small sections next to each other!) you need to fill in the area behind with even more small stones. If we were creating a normal wall rather than a ha-ha of course, we’d be building two skins and infilling the centre.

Luckily Kath was on hand throughout. Her skill for knowing what sort of stone should go where, when to put in a narrow stone to ‘tie’ the wall together, which side actually is the face and which stones will fit next to which was remarkable.

Section of dry stone wall

Section of dry stone wall

Needless to say we didn’t finish the ha-ha. We’ve had a good few workshops and a couple of staff days now and we’re getting there bit by bit. I was pleased with today – I wouldn’t say I learnt a new skill as obviously that takes years. But it was a pleasure to work with this material alongside someone with such knowledge and get an insight into their world of work. It is also great to think that a tiny bit of Westonbirt’s new ha-ha was created by me and some of my colleagues. And no, I’ll never look at those familiar old Cotswold stone walls in the same way again…