Have a look below to see what we’ve been up to, or sign up to our newsletter to get a quarterly bulletin.
GREEN ISLAND AT WRAXALL YARD
16th May 2023
Green Island Holiday Trust is a charity providing supported holidays for disabled people in Dorset. In 2023, they are hosting four holidays at Wraxall Yard.
Our new partnership with Green Island feels like a match made in heaven. Meeting the guests and volunteers on their first holiday in early May felt like the realisation of all our hopes for what Wraxall Yard could offer.
Four guests with a range of different needs came to stay with a dedicated team of volunteers and filled site with laughter and music, interspersed with bat watching, pony petting and lamb cuddling.
Green Island are holding four holidays at Wraxall Yard this year, and we hope many more in years to come.
WRAXALL YARD AWARD SUCCESS FOR CLEMENTINE BLAKEMORE
4th April 2023
Clementine Blakemore, the architect of Wraxall Yard, has won the AJ Retrofit Award in the Hotel, Retail and Leisure category, and was highly commended by the RIBA MacEwen Award.
The Architects' Journal Retrofit awards "recognise and celebrate the design expertise behind the vital renewal and repurposing of existing buildings." We are so thrilled that Clementine's brilliance and exceptional hard work has been recognised by this award. The judges called it a "wonderfully inclusive rural retrofit" and commended Clem's approach: "A light, unfussy intervention that pushes the passive measures as much as possible – and it looks beautiful." You can find the award announcement on the Architects' Journal website here, and read about the winners in other categories.
Clem was also highly commended by the RIBA MacEwen Award, which recognises architecture for the common good. The commendation celebrated the project's application of the social model of disability: "It promises equal access for all in a serene, restorative setting, and has been crafted with a level of care that touched and impressed the MacEwen Award judges." The commendation also noted the sensitivity and skill of Clem's designs, preserving the agricultural character of the buildings, while "accommodations for disability are invisibly present throughout." You can read the full piece here.
We couldn't be more pleased to have Clem's extraordinary work recognised by these two awards, and are endlessly impressed by her ability to express the principles of reuse and inclusivity through beautiful design. Congratulations Clem, and also to the other designers recognised this year.
WRAXALL YARD SHORTLISTED FOR THE MACEWEN AWARD 2023
12th January 2023
Wraxall Yard has been shortlisted for the MacEwen Award 2023. This award celebrates architecture for the common good, and 12 projects are nominated for their consideration of environmental, social and economic issues.
Wraxall Yard is shortlisted for the ground-up integration of accessibility features and invisible design choices showing that beautiful environments can be inclusive and enjoyed by everyone. Please see their article on Wraxall Yard here.
Please also read the shortlist announcement here and learn about the other incredible projects that have been shortlisted. Congratulations to everyone!
HEDGELAYING WITH VOLUNTEERS
8th June 2022
Every year, between October and March, we lay hedges. Hedges have incredible habitat value, providing food and shelter for mammals, birds and insects, and act as crucial network of corridors for commuting wildlife. Hedge laying is a process that rejuvenates tired old hedges into a thick weave of woody stems and lush new growth.
To achieve this, each upright stem is cut near the base, bent over, and woven together with the rest. In this restored state, the hedge is not only stock proof but also perfect habit for nesting birds and small mammals. It helps connect habitats and provides flowers and fruits for bees and birds.
This year, the farm enlisted the help of volunteers from a small local social enterprise. Everyone was given training and support and quickly became proficient using traditional tools to partake in an age-old practice. The process is deeply satisfying, and I’m pleased to say that everyone seemed to catch the bug! Together we laid six hundred metres of neglected hedgerow.
It was a great opportunity for people to get out into the fields and to feel more a part of the countryside. In June we are having a walk up to the hedge to see it in full bloom followed by a barbeque to say thank you to everyone who helped turn a scraggly flailed hedge into a work of art.
WOOD PASTURE CREATION
5th August, 2021
Earlier this year, we created a new woodland pasture in Wraxall. As part of our wider drive to transition to a regenerative agriculture system on the farm the project involved planting around 800 trees. This will help to restore soils, water cycles, and biodiversity, and reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses.
Woodland pasture refers to areas that have substantial tree cover, but at lower densities than standard woodland, and retain herb pasture, rather than woodland flora, as the ground cover. Grazing animals can be farmed on the site, while reaping the rewards of tree planting for the environment. In fact, more grass can be produced in these systems compared to conventional fields with few trees, since the trees protect the grass from extreme weather and slightly raise the temperature of the local microclimate, thereby extending the grass-growing season.
The sheep also benefit from the additional shelter provided by the trees and from having more woody vegetation to eat. Some studies have shown that sheep grazing in these silvopasture systems have lower parasite burdens, because they spend more time browsing in the trees, so take in fewer worms. Also tannins, which are more abundant in tree matter than grass, have anti-parasitic properties. We'll be studying the worm burdens of sheep grazing in this area compared to other fields on the farm, as well as with records from previous years, to understand the effects.
The new project will also have benefits for soil health, water pollution and run-off, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. The deep root structures of trees enrich the soil by supporting a diverse mycorrhizal network and associated microorganisms, and adding organic matter to the soil through foliage. Healthier soils are less prone to erosion, and can store more water. The field in question floods frequently due to run-off from farms and roads uphill from us, and this flows through the field and into a stream. Tree planting in this area should allow the field to capture more of this flood water, depollute it, and release it slower into the stream, thereby reducing flood risk and water pollution. Trees also offer many benefits to biodiversity (did you know a single Oak tree can support 280 different insect species!), and for this project we're interested in wildlife associated with marginal habitats. This refers to the edges of habitats, where one transitions into another - in this case, grassland and woodland. Many wildlife species rely on marginal habitats, for instance where their food source is out in the grassland, but their nests need sheltered woodland. We're going to be studying harvest mice numbers as part of this project, by searching for their abandoned summer nests in the winter, to see whether we've boosted their numbers.
Finally, we're hoping to support some older trees that are already on site. We are lucky enough to have several mature Oak trees in the area already, which are extremely popular with the sheep for shelter from both hot sun and heavy rain. This can damage the trees through root compaction, so we're hoping that by offering the sheep more opportunities for shelter, the pressure will be reduced on these trees and they can enjoy their old age in peace!
WILD BEES AT WRAXALL YARD
11th June, 2021
The amazing Matt Somerville visited today to install a log hive and teach us all about honeybees. Matt is on a mission to rewild honeybees, and ensure the future of these important pollinators.
Matt is on a mission to rewild honeybees. Most bees in the UK are considered ‘semi-domesticated’ since beekeeping has been so widely practiced for such a long time. Matt explained how conventional beekeeping doesn’t always support the healthiest bee populations, because some practices employed to achieve high yields of honey can be detrimental to bee health.
Matt has pioneered wild bee hives, that allow bees to run the colony according to their own priorities and instincts, resulting in much healthier hives. He makes the hives out of hollowed out logs (ours is larch), and they are smothered in a substance called propolis, which has a variety of uses for the bees including insulation and protection from pathogens. He also put some honeycomb in the hive, to make it even more attractive to local bees looking for a new home.
While we were preparing and installing the hive, we quickly noticed scout bees investigating the honeycomb, and by the time we were finished we had a dozen buzzing around us. Although we unfortunately missed the big event, by the following afternoon, a colony had swarmed and moved in to the hive. Bees are crucial actors in ecosystems, and we’re thrilled to have a wild colony at Wraxall Yard, hopefully promoting the success of the silvopasture project, as well as all the wildflowers in the area.
We’ll be installing another hive in the orchard at Wraxall Yard next year and can’t wait to share our newfound obsession with you! In the meantime, please check out Matt Somerville on instagram @_beekindhives_.
COLLABORATION WITH ANOTHER COUNTRY
3rd June, 2021
Our design philosophy is centred around the idea that we all have an equal right to enjoy beautiful surroundings. Interior spaces catering for disabled people can be ugly and institutional. We are creating elegant, beautiful interiors to provide a calm and peaceful environment for everyone.
Another Country are designers and makers of contemporary wood furniture, drawing on the traditions of Scandinavian, Japanese, Shaker and English Country style.
Another Country’s design heritage is firmly rooted in Dorset (see their Hardy collection), and on discussing our project with them there was an immediate affinity, with a shared design philosophy and a mutual ambition to put this to social good. We really admire their commitment to sustainable practices, environmental responsibility, and their championing of traditional craftsmanship.
We are truly delighted to be collaborating with Another Country to furnish Wraxall Yard. We recommend visiting their website and reading more about their exciting work.
AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER
24th January, 2021
We’ve known for a while that there are Otters living in the stream at Wraxall: we’ve spotted them on our trail cameras, and found spraint and feeding remains. We never dreamed that we’d get to actually meet any of them!
Todd and his dad Andrew were out walking in the woods along the stream today and happened upon an Otter cub alone near the riverbank. We immediately phoned the Wild Otter Trust and were told that sometimes cubs get separated from their mothers and can be ok for a while by themselves. He suggested that we go back and check it before dark but rang back shortly afterwards as it was starting to snow again and said that if it was still there, we should catch it because he was worried about it being out all night alone in bad weather.
So, I went out with a cardboard box and some towels, and it was very easy to find it because the little cub was screaming the woods down. It was so much smaller than I was expecting, with a furious little face, crawling in circles and clearly distressed. I was really worried about trying to catch it and getting it wrong and hurting the cub, but it was actually very easy. It didn’t run away, just wriggled a lot and tried to bite me. Once it was safely in the box, the cub was very quiet and still.
We had the Otter at home for a couple of hours, and put the box in a cool, quiet room so as not to cause the cub any extra stress. We heard some squeaky, bubbly noises from time to time, but the little Otter was an easy-going house guest overall. A volunteer with the Trust turned up to collect him and take him to his new home with an amazing man called Dave who cares for cubs and rehabilitates them for re-release as adults. It was wonderful to meet not only the cub but also the Wild Otter Trust volunteers who are so dedicated to protecting these amazing creatures. We had a very funny half-hour actually, because he had brought a cat box to transport the cub in, but neither of us could figure out how to assemble it, let alone in the dark, while social distancing and also whispering so as not to disturb the Otter. We got there in the end, and I wished the little cub good luck and farewell.
Dave very kindly got in touch the next day to say that the Otter had eaten a lot of fish and kept him up all night, which is apparently a very good sign! However, he also warned that cubs of that age can shut down without warning, so there’s a little way to go before it’ll be out of the woods. Hopefully, I’ll have a cheerful update to share soon!
WILDLIFE MITIGATION AT WRAXALL YARD
20th September, 2020
Ecological and environmental concerns have been front and centre in every aspect of development, and this includes mitigation for the birds and bats we’re lucky enough to have on the site. I am currently carrying out daily breeding bird surveys before work starts each day, and Alison, our ecological consultant has been ensuring the bats come to no harm.
We’ve had a great year for Swallows, with three nests so far fledging successfully, and another couple incubating their eggs at the moment. We’ve also had Wrens, Robins, House Sparrows, Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds and Pied Wagtails nesting in the buildings, and many more, including Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Song Thrushes in the neighbouring woodland.
We’re carefully phasing the removal of the roofs in order to ensure consistency of habitat for the bats who hunt in the buildings at night. We’ve not found any maternity colonies living in the buildings, and so works are able to continue according to our mitigation license. Although we don’t know where they’re roosting, we’re fortunate to be visited by Soprano and Common Pipistrelles, Brown Long-eared bats, Serotines and some myotis species.
The next news post will detail all the work we’re doing to enhance the site and surroundings for bats to hunt, roost and breed.