Archive for February, 2014

Stormy weather…

Monday, February 17th, 2014

By Mark Ballard, Curator.

As I write, we continue to be at the mercy of the all too familiar wet & windy weather, it has already been a long winter.  A question we are often asked during spells such as this, is whether we have suffered much in the way of damage to the botanical collection.  We are fortunate to be able to report that we have been largely unaffected by the strong winds to date, which combined with extremely wet ground conditions can be potentially problematic to our trees.

We regularly inspect all our specimen trees & shrubs, especially following adverse weather, to record information & ensure that we can safely open to the public.  So far we have had around two dozen larger trees either up-rooted, blown over, or with branches that have snapped.  Thankfully none of them represent a significant loss, & we will make sure any gaps are filled in due course with new plantings.  We like to think that a well maintained arboretum will suffer much less damage, but the truth is as we seen in the past there is also a huge amount of luck involved in these things.

Two trees that you may very well know have suffered some indirect damage, these are the pair of Full Moon Maples (Acer japonicum) on Holford Ride, tree numbers 08-0032 & 08-0307.  The maples are on the north side of the ride & protrude almost to the midway point of this important vista.  They always colour a very bright red in early autumn each year, which attracts lots of interest from leaf-peepers & keen photographers.  A Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) lost one of its main leading branches on the opposite side of the ride, which was large enough to smash into both of the maples.  We have already begun the clear-up operation & with some formative pruning the good news is that the maples will not have to be felled, although they will be slightly slimmer!

The wet ground conditions do represent a significant challenge to our Tree Team & volunteers, as it does hamper efforts to undertake the ongoing maintenance & development of the arboretum that is so essential to its wellbeing.  However, wet weather clothing & plenty of cake appears to be keeping their spirits up!

The culprit – the view across Holford Ride towards the Full Moon maple following the recent stormy weather.


The Tree Team moved quickly to make safe the damage and the next job will be to clear way the cut branches.

 Clearing the damage

Some very slick and sensitive formative pruning should mean that most people will not even notice.


A Tree Team felling operation on the edge of Silk Wood, where sadly 15 Leyland Cypress were uprooted.

 Felling operation.

Where does all this rain water end up, well first it settles at the bottom of the valley . . .


. . . before gushing into a temporary ‘Lake Westonbirt’ on neighbouring farmland.


All in a day’s work…

Monday, February 17th, 2014

By Mark Ballard, Curator.

No two days are the same for me at Westonbirt, & I have to say that the great variety of my role is something that I do enjoy.  On the 14th February 2014, yes Valentine’s Day, I was asked to attend a seminar at nearby Highgrove as one of the facilitators, the event was entitled ‘The Future of Learning and Development in the English Woodland Sector’.

It was impressive to see lots of influential people were there from across the woodland & forestry industries, his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was also in attendance.  Firstly, we heard some very interesting presentations on the subject of England’s Working Woodlands, including ‘An Historic Overview’ from Oliver Rackham OBE, the well known academic; ‘The Present Situation’ from Graham Taylor, who is the Managing Director of Pryor & Rickett Silviculture; & ‘Future Opportunities’ from Dr Peter Bonfield OBE, who is the Chief Executive of the BRE Group.

We then heard about Coppice Apprenticeships from Rebecca Oaks of the National Coppice Federation, as well as stories from some amazing young people that have successfully entered the profession through The Woodland Heritage ‘Woodland to Workshop’ course, The Prince’s Trust ‘Get Into Woodlands’ programme & Forestry Apprenticeships.  His Royal Highness also presented the Prince of Wales Award to Nina Williams from the South Downs National Park Authority, who is working hard to promote all sorts of woodland skills opportunities as a career choice.

After lunch there was a workshop whereby each table held discussions answering pre-set questions based on the theme of the day, when we were all asked specifically what more our individual organisations can do to promote learning & skills development in the woodland & forestry sectors.  A great deal of knowledgeable debate followed & lots of valuable ideas were put forward, it is now the job of colleagues at the Forestry Commission England national office based in Bristol to collate these suggestions & importantly work out the next steps.

On a personal note, I found the seminar to be very informative.  It was particularly reassuring to know that our woodland management & coppice restoration in Silk Wood is following best practice & also pleasing to hear that Westonbirt is held in such high regard.

Exhibit prototyping

Monday, February 10th, 2014

By Susanna Byers, Interpretation Support Officer.

With the opening of the Welcome Building coming up seemingly faster than ever, the team is working hard to put together all the content needed for each exhibit that will be in the brand new interpretation room. With 11 exhibits, each with intricate, content rich information, it’s no mean feat!

The past few months have been object collecting, photo collating, archive searching, text writing, audio editing, filming, storyboarding and design development: all to produce a fantastic new interpretation space for you to discover more about Westonbirt and the wider world of trees.

The most recent development has been to ‘user-test’ two of the digital interactive exhibits. One of these is a touchscreen, used to navigate the Westonbirt map. However, it’s a map with a difference: each grid square that makes up the map is full of photos. We have turned it into a map mosaic, on which people can use photos of the site to discover information about different parts of the arboretum. For example, navigate to Acer Glade to see photos of and information on Acer Glade!

The map mosaic as a prototype: improvements underway now!

The other exhibit which we was tested is entitled: What Would You Do? It’s an opinion exhibit designed to provoke discussion on what elements need to be considered when making certain decisions about how to manage the collection.

Outside Studios discusses ‘What Would You Do?’ with a visitor.

Over two days, visitors, members, volunteers, and staff not involved in the project were able to have a play with these exhibits and offer their feedback. Our main aim was to test how user-friendly these two exhibits are, and we found that although there are indeed areas to improve on, the concepts were generally well received! Phew!

So, onwards and upwards: the designs are taken ‘back to the lab’, and discussions on how we can improve them are going ahead. Meanwhile…back to my storyboarding…

A project update by Rich Bullock, Site Manager at Speller Metcalfe

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Since our start on site at the end of July 2013 when we were just laying the foundations, you can really begin to imagine how the Visitor’s Centre will look once complete.

We last updated you in November last year, and since then those who have been to visit Westonbirt will have seen that the structural element of the roof is now complete.

Welcome Building Welcome Building

BCB roofing were responsible for installing the insulation and roof membrane, which was followed by the cedar shingle tiles that are now visible. It will take a little while for these to weather into a greyish tone, which will also be the same for the cedar cladding that will be making up the external walls – the result will blend beautifully into the landscape.

Internally, the Rockwool insulation in the main walls has now been installed which was followed by the flooring. To insulate the floor, first the membrane was binded to the concrete floor slab by torching it on. Further Rockwool insulation was then laid along with the underfloor heating pipes and you can see from these pictures that the floor is now being screeded.

Welcome Building

The underfloor heating which was installed by Priddy Engineering is heated by an air source heat pump which sits in the wall. These pumps absorb heat from the air outside (even in temperatures as low as -15 degrees!) and turn it into fluid, which is then passed through pipes under the floor to heat it. Although the air source heat pump needs electricity to run, it is heating the building naturally as it only needs the air from outside to heat the floor.

The next step for us will be to get the timber frame windows and doors into place, which will be completed by our sub-contractor, Topworks.

Up to around 80% of the electrics have already been installed by Ilec Electrical, which completed before the underfloor heating went in. This ran alongside the first phase of mechanical which was again installed by Priddy Engineering, and we will be looking to complete both of these elements soon.

Over the next month we will also be closing in the internal walls and plaster boarding them as required, as well as installing the internal ceiling finishes – so the internals will almost be complete. We are also laying pennant stone and tile floors which come directly from the Forest of Dean and starting to clad the outside of the building.

So I’d better get back…. lots to do!