Archive for December, 2011

Moving up the stations, by Sally Day, Database and Records Officer

Monday, December 19th, 2011

The weather at Westonbirt has been formally recorded since 1888 and the fascination with how it affects our trees still endures. Here, Sally Day, the Forestry Commission’s Database and Records Officer for Westonbirt gives a brief history of meteorological measurement at the arboretum.

In 1879 Mr Chapman became head gardener at Westonbirt. He is seated centre in this picture and to his left is ‘Jack’ Mitchell who was his foreman.

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Perhaps it was Mr Chapman who instigated keeping formal weather readings. The records in our archive start in 1888. These early records are lodged with the Gloucestershire Record Office for safe keeping.

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Measurements included rainfall (inches); maximum and minimum temperatures (degrees Fahrenheit) wind direction, barometric pressure and general comments.

Mr Mitchell became curator of the Arboretum in 1927. We have a number of his notebooks which contain comments about the weather and the effect on the plants.

The tradition was continued when the Forestry Commission took over the Arboretum in 1956. In 1976 Westonbirt became a Met Office Climate station. These sites manually record data including temperatures, rainfall, weather, sunshine, wind and cloud on a daily basis and report once a day. There are over 250 of these across the UK.

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Here Tim Trask is measuring rainfall and making notes about wind direction and visibility.

Automatic readings
To the left of Tim is the first semi automatic station. The grey box contains the data logger which recorded temperature, soil temperature and wind speed at 5 minute intervals. It was powered by the solar panel which charged a battery housed in the green box. This system often failed in very cold weather resulting in a loss of data.

To the left of the logger out of the picture is the Stevenson screen.

Stevenson Screen
The Stevenson Screen or thermometer screen is a standard shelter (from rain, snow and high winds, but also leaves and animals) for meteorological instruments, particularly wet and dry bulb thermometers used to record humidity and air temperature.

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It is kept 1.25m/4.1ft (UK standard) above the ground by legs to avoid strong temperature gradients at ground level, has louvred sides to encourage the free passage of air, and is painted white to reflect heat radiation, since what is measured is the temperature of the air in the shade, not of the sunshine.

To allow comparability from screen to screen every aspect of construction and exposure is specified by the World Meteorological Organization. For example, its doors opens towards the pole to minimize disturbance when reading in daylight. Double roof, walls and floor of white-painted wood provide screening, and extensive louvres maintain adequate ventilation on all but the stillest days.

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The yellow tube in the foreground is for measuring the grass temperature. The brass tube on the left of the picture is the rain collector and behind that you can just see a white object. This connects to a thermometer which is suspended underground. It is one of three measuring the temperature at soil depths of 10cm, 30cm and 100cm. The non grassed square is used to assess the state of the ground. E.g. wet, covered in snow, dry, dusty, cracked etc.

One of my first jobs when I started here was to dial into the data logger via a modem. I would then download the data and send it on the Met Office. The manual readings that Tim (and others) took were sent as well. By 2008 the station was in need of replacement and for a while we took all records manually. This task was shared primarily between me and Simon Toomer. It was a nice job on a fine day but not so much fun in stormy weather. Modern technology allowed me to log on to a web site and record this data.

The Met Office was keen to continue the dataset from Westonbirt. Following an agreement between them and the Arboretum they installed a new station. This is now a fully Automatic Weather station – these record data continually but log the data and report occasionally. There are 74 of these in the UK.

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To look at the station is rather simplified. There is a new Stevenson Screen (on the right), but now it is plastic. The datalogger is powered by a small solar unit. If you look very hard you can find the sensor that records the grass temperature. Everything else is under ground. The only initial teething problem we had was due to a critter of some sort moving the grass sensor and chewing through the cable. Sharp eyes in Keepers Cottage spotted a stranger in the weather station a month or so ago. Stewart was here to check over the station and make sure that every thing was working correctly and up to specification.

Now the roles are reversed. The Met Office makes contact with the unit via a mobile phone connection and download the data. They then email it to me once a day. I do need to make sure the grass is cut (particularly round the sensor). This is usually done by a volunteer who works with Penny Jones, the propagator. This was aided recently by the cattle in the adjoining field. They somehow managed to open the gate and enjoy the greener grass on the inside.

On 13 December 2011 we seemed to have had several seasons in a day – sunshine, thunder, cloud, hail, heavy rain, back to sunshine and then thunder again. The next morning I received the data for the 24hrs from 9am on 13 December to 9am on 14 December – the wettest day of the year with 28.3mm of rainfall measured.

All in all it has been a strange year for weather.

Yippee! This year’s boundary restoration works are complete! by Sophie Nash, Project Officer

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The Westonbirt Project is comprised of a number of elements including the restoration of landscape features and improvements to our electricity supply and car parking arrangements. Later stages will focus on new facilities which will improve visitor experiences. This year, Sophie Nash from the project team has been working with contractors to restore Westonbirt’s historic boundaries, thanks to a Higher Level Stewardship grant from Natural England.

Yippee! We have now finished the boundary restoration works for this year. The boundaries around the arboretum form a discreet but vital part of the Grade I Registered Park and Garden and were highlighted in a conservation report a while ago as needing some attention.

We have thousands of metres of walls and railings of different styles that are in need of restoration work and we have now replaced or restored a total of 340 metres in the last few months, comprised of four different styles of boundary.

Section D
Cast iron railings, which form the entrance to the Old Arboretum at Down Gate. The work included complete repair of one of the vertical uprights on a corner which was damaged by a tree, straightening of some of the horizontal bars and re-leading some of the joins.

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Section E
Replacing modern wire and post stock fence to enable us to reinstate a traditional strained wire fence. The existing end posts and change of direction post were repaired and brought back into use.

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Section F
We needed to repair the original iron estate fencing which had been damaged at the base. We straightened the original fence and fixed new extended feet to each of the vertical uprights to give the fence stability. We also removed the modern wooden post and rail fence and replaced it with a galvanized mild steel fence in the same design as the original estate fence. To prevent the cattle from entering the Old Arboretum, we finished the end of the fence with a fan.

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Section C3
This section of boundary was looking a bit untidy and due to it’s prominent position next to the roadside banner we decided to reinstate a traditional dry stone ha-ha and remove the posts and barbed wire required to keep the cattle in the field.

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What are your winter traditions? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

What are your winter traditions?

Westonbirt_Enchanted_Xmas_credit_Rob_Cousins

Every family follows their own traditions in winter. We polled Westonbirt’s staff and here are some they told us about:

Going on a boat trip every Christmas day to watch brave/crazy people swimming in the sea.

A Welsh grandmother who believed receiving Christmas cards with birds on was bad luck and so burnt every robin, partridge and turtle dove card she received.

To celebrate Chinese new year, one family have a special meal together and exchange gifts of money in red envelopes.

Choosing the ugliest Christmas tree in the shop so that it can still fulfill it’s Christmas destiny.

As a Polish element to Christmas dinner, setting an extra place in case someone in need of food and company turns up on the doorstep.

Bringing the whole family to Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas, of course!

What are your family’s winter traditions?

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
Find out about Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas
Visit the forum to share your winter traditions

Why do we have a tree indoors at Christmas time? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Friday, December 9th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why do we have a tree indoors at Christmas time?

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Decorating a tree to celebrate Christmas first started over a thousand years ago. Possibly even as early as 754 AD. Records from 1441 tell us that it was traditional in Estonia for a spruce tree to be decorated and placed in a large shared building. On Christmas eve it was moved into the town square. The towns people would then dance around it and finally set it on fire.

By 1781 people were adding real candles to their Christmas trees and by 1882 the first electric lights were used.

Over the years, artificial trees have been made from dyed feathers, brush bristles, aluminium foil and plastic; but the enduring symbol of an evergreen tree surviving in winter lives on.

Another benefit of real Christmas trees is that they give off a fresh citrus scent.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
Real Christmas trees from Westonbirt’s Plant Centre

Why would you give frankincense or myrrh as a present? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why would you give frankincense or myrrh as a present?

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In the Christian story of the nativity, the wise men give gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the holy family. But what exactly are frankincense and myrrh? And why would they be special presents?

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins from the sap of trees that grow in Africa. Frankincense was used in lots of religious rituals. Burning it repels mosquitoes and so would protect people from malaria and other diseases. Myrrh had medicinal uses as well as religious significance and was just as valuable as gold.

Westonbirt is home to Western Red Cedar, a tree that also has aromatic oils that are very useful to humans.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

How do you roast chestnuts over an open fire? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

How do you roast chestnuts over an open fire?

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Sweet chestnut trees were introduced to Britain by the Romans and the nuts of these trees are roasted and eaten all across Europe, particularly at Christmas time.

Chestnuts would traditionally have been roasted in a long handled pan or a shovel on the embers of an open fire, after being split partly open. If you don’t have a shovel or an open fire you can still try them at home following this recipe:

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
2. Cut a slit or a cross into the shells of the chestnuts to let steam escape (and to stop the chestnut going “bang”)
3. Put them on a baking tray
4. Bake in oven for 15 – 20 minutes, allow to cool a little
5. Peel using your fingers and eat – enjoy!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

How is ivy helpful to wildlife? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

How is ivy helpful to wildlife?

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The Celts in Ireland believed that ivy symbolised determination because of it’s climbing abilities.

Ivy’s flexibility makes it perfect for forming into wreaths which make beautiful winter decorations.

As ivy flowers in autumn it is excellent for wildlife, providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other insects when little else is around.

It’s berries then ripen in late winter and provide food for the blackbirds, fieldfares and thrushes who have already polished off the berries from autumn fruiting trees.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Why do we eat chocolate cake shaped like a log? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Monday, December 5th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why do we eat chocolate cake shaped like a log?

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A Yule log hasn’t always been made out of chocolate. It was a very real, very large log made of hard wood that was burnt originally by Vikings as part of the winter solstice traditions and later on became part of our Christmas customs.

The biggest log a family could find (sometimes almost a whole tree) would be dragged to the house and lit in the hearth using the remnants of wood kept from the previous years Yule log. Burning it was believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil.

When fireplaces became smaller, people started making chocolate cakes in the shape of logs instead so now you can eat a Yule log instead of burning it!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

“Halfway out of the dark”, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

“Halfway out of the dark”
[every planet in the universe celebrates the point from which the sun will shine a little longer each day, Doctor Who, 2010]

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Buddhist, Celtic, Chinese, Christian, Germanic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Persian, Roman and Slavic cultures all have festivals of light that occur in the late autumn and wintertime.

Winter survival is very important to humans because we first evolved in tropical climates. We are not fully adapted physically to winter in the colder climes but have highly complex strategies to keep ourselves alive in this cold, dark season.

Trees also have survival strategies for winter. Many of our trees are deciduous. Deciduous trees drop their leaves in Autumn and grow new ones in the spring. This protects them from being damaged in winter weather and helps the tree to conserve water.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

What’s Christmassy about Holly? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

What’s Christmassy about Holly?

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For thousands of years people across Europe have decorated their homes with evergreen branches of trees in wintertime. Evergreen branches are symbols of survival and everlasting life and are especially important during festivals of the winter solstice.

Pagans believed that holly would protect people from lightning and witches. Some Christians associate spiky holly with Jesus’ crown of thorns. Many Pagan solstice traditions changed over time to become Christmas traditions.

Shiny evergreen leaves like those of holly help to reflect light around a room so definitely make the dark winter days seem brighter!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum