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After a half term break, workparties came back with force on Monday. A gang of our volunteers, Harry, Brian and John, returned to Mike’s Wood to finish making a human and wildlife way through the middle wall, and what a grand job they have made of it.

Images below: before (l) and after (r) the work

Meanwhile, it was also all go on the Helm.  As a trial, we sourced 50 young juniper plants from our colleagues at the RSPB at Haweswater and planted them on the higher ground away from the cows and ponies. This was a trial to see if they will grow and in doing so give us some more diversity of species, and different food sources for wildlife. Gill who was with us asked, what was good about juniper? “Gin and for use in cooking” came back the replies, but that is not all. Here are a few more interesting things about juniper:

  • The highest-known juniper forest occurs at an altitude of 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) in southeastern Tibet and the north Himalayas creating one of the highest tree lines on earth (Wikipedia).
  • Juniper has long been used as a diuretic, to help reduce arthritis and for diabetes, as an antiseptic as well as for the treatment of gastrointestinal and autoimmune disorders.
  • Other uses of juniper include brandy, beers, tea fade from young twigs. Juniper berry sauce is often a popular flavouring choice for game. It can also be used for
  • fence posts and firewood, furniture, and for traditional cladding in northern Europe.

Image below: the juniper plants ready to go

Incidentally, going back to the gin, gin is a shortening of the Dutch name for juniper, jenever…. Time will tell if we will ever get enough berries to create some Helm gin!!

After that we moved on to do some gorse and bramble control.  We have a lot of gorse which is good for wildlife, can provide a shelter for young trees to grow and gives a mass of flowers for pollinators.  But, it can become overdominant as it spreads, and can become a fire risk, especially with increasingly dry winters.  We worked hard clearing two fire breaks up the hill. 

There is still a lot of work to be done to take out some of the older gorse, so that over time we get more diversity in age.  Interestingly, gorse has also been used in alternative medicine, helping treat coughs, colds, sore throats, consumption (tuberculosis), asthma, heartburn, hiccups, jaundice, heart problems, dermatitis, ringworm, swellings, and as a general tonic.

Image above: Planting the juniper out, and below: Planted young juniper

You can join us for some more woodland and walling work at Mike’s Wood on 20th March.