|Sheep grazing on frosty grass in front of The Orangery|
Some things are primarily cosmetic but, nevertheless, can have a beneficial effect on some species. Cutting trackside grass, for example, gives some flowering plants a chance to thrive when they otherwise might not; cutting and removing vegetation from grassland might encourage waxcaps – fungi lovers of unimproved soils – or help maintain a traditional meadow flora. Making flat bits out of molehills, though, can surely only be rated as superficially beautifying.
The task wasn’t a first for the Wednesday Conservation Volunteers but, thinking about it, someone must have been flattening molehills in the groomed parts of Gibside unbeknownst to us. Perhaps lawnmowers do the deed, but that only accounts for the grass-growing season. And a molehill can be a sizable obstacle even for a mechanised grass cutter. One cluster of about fifteen on The Avenue produced soil enough to fill a wheelbarrow a dozen times, and a dozen times an extraordinarily heavy wheelbarrow had to be wheeled a hundred and fifty yards to dump the very fine soil - that’s a little over two miles. Granted it was empty on half the journeys, but still two miles – and then there was all that shovelling. Maybe all this exercise is intended to help conserve the ageing Wednesday Volunteers; it might even be superficially beautifying.
It’s been more than two months since we last produced a contribution to the Gibside Blog, months that have been a slow journey from autumn into winter. Mild weather encouraged trackside flowers to make another appearance, let loose mini-swarms of unidentifiable insects, and delivered a prolonged leaf-fall. But, with a substantial drop in the temperature, at last the seemingly endless raking of leaves on The Avenue has ended.
Undeterred by the arrival of cold weather, Ruth and John - defectors from the Wednesday Team - have happily stood with feet in icy water completing the building of a bridge over the stream above the Hollow Walk with a fine stone structure. “Happily stood” is no exaggeration; Ruth and John always look happy, and make light of heavy work. Mind you, the same can be said of the leaf-rakers and barrow-pushers. It’s the best way: no point in making mountains out of molehills.