10th June: Join us on a visit to High Ash Farm WITH Chris Skinner!

Chris has kindly offered to speak to us on 10th June, 2.30 pm at his fabulous farm at Caistor St Edmund. High Ash Farm has been managed with biodiversity in mind for many years.

The visit:
Chris will show us the various wildlife habitats and high pollen and nectar plantings he has created on the farm, as well as discussing the Natural England/Defra Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and how this has benefited the whole farm and greatly increased his profits. He is keen to show other farmers how creating large scale wildlife habitats can greatly increase a farm’s profitability – so anyone who has farmer friends who might be interested, encourage them to come!

We will park and gather in the car park of the Roman Town car park at Caistor St Edmund at 2.30pm. The walk will take approx 2 hours.

The Roman Town historic site car park is on the left-hand side of the road heading north from Stoke Holy Cross. Here is the webpage for the Roman/Iceni site including a map:

A little about High Ash Farm:
High Ash Farm has over 100 acres sown to both annual and perennial pollen and nectar mixes, in addition to many acres sown to overwintering bird mixes, miles of rides sown to specialist grasshopper mixes, woodland sown to special woodland wildflower mixes and many wildlife ponds. There are also many acres of arable crops such as barley. All arable fields have conservation field margins sown to annual and perennial wildflower mixes. Most of the farm is managed under the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

Chris has had many wildlife surveys done, one of which showed there to be between 50-60 million bumblebees on the farm!! Another recent survey last autumn showed several rare wasps are to be found – all are on the BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) list of rare and endangered species. Rose has seen loads of mason bees nesting in holes made in the walls of the farm buildings.

In addition to huge amounts of butterflies and other pollinators there are many birds including skylarks, linnets, barn owls, turtle doves and 10 pairs of nesting little owls. There are also many mammals including roe deer and badgers. The farm has two heritage sites – the Roman/Iceni town of Venta Icenorum and a Saxon site.

Every Monday at 18:00 you can listen to Chris Skinner on Radio Norfolk.  The show has been very successful and has won a Sony Radio Academy Award and even featured on Radio 4’s Pick of the Week and Pick of the Year.

If you are interested in joining us on this visit  please meet us at the farm just before 2.30 on the 10th June. If you are able to share transport that would be great, please co-ordinate yourselves via the Sustainable Bungay Google Group.

See you there!

Hulver Farm benefits from the power of the Wind

In May, just before our screening of In Transition 2.0, Paul Watkin invited people to Hulver Farm, St Michael South Elmham to see his 5kw wind turbine, which has been up and running since February. Clutching a sheaf of graphs and  tables he explained enthusiastically how wind power has cut his fuel bill substantially over the last three months. And apart from building a shed to house new circuitry (mostly out of salvaged materials) he hasn’t had to pay a penny!

How is that possible? Well, the government-guaranteed feed-in-tariff (FIT) allows the Norfolk installer, Windcrop Ltd, to finance projects in a similar way to the better-known solar-PV technology. Farmers benefit from all the free electricity they can use from the turbine, and excess is fed into the grid at the premium (FIT) rate.

Planning and feasibility requirements would prevent most people from doing this – wide open space with good wind potential is needed. But thanks to the parish council chair’s casting vote at the planning meeting, Paul should be joined by other nearby farmers in benefitting financially from this inspiring shift to renewable energy in Bungay’s hinterland. And of course we all benefit from the increased  resilience of local energy supply and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Bungay Garden Centre goes Bee-Friendly!

This week, Bungay Community Bees (BCB) launched their “Get Your Garden Buzzing” garden centre project, at Bungay’s own Three Willows Garden Centre.

It has taken a couple of years from my comment “how do we help people know which plants are bee friendly?” for this project to become reality. It could not have happened without the knowledge and effort of Rose (BCB) and Gaz (Three Willows Garden Centre) in particular. So, thanks guys!

By looking for yellow bee-friendly plant labels, customers can now easily find a wide range of bee-friendly plants to grow in their gardens to provide year-round nectar and pollen for our endangered bees and other pollinating insects. The garden centre also has a year-round ‘bee-friendly’ plant display, incorporating a “Get Your Garden Buzzing” wall panel, with top tips on Creating a Bee Friendly Garden. Leaflets with the same information will shortly be available at the checkout and we are currently working on transferring it to the website as well.

As Rose said: “Over 2/3rds of our bees and pollinating insects are in decline. In an arable area like this, there’s no longer wildflower or habitat diversity on most of our farms – and so declining populations of honeybees, native bees and pollinating insects are turning to our gardens in order to find the year-round food, water and habitats necessary for nesting and hibernating.

We can help them at this time by planting drifts of pollen and nectar-rich plants in sunny places in our gardens, allowing a few wildflowers to grow in sunny corners, mowing our lawns less often to allow lawn-weeds to flower, putting up bug hotels, making habitat piles from logs, twigs and leaves and avoiding use of neonicotinoid pesticides.”

Liz Watts from Three Willows Garden Centre commented on how happy they are to be the first garden centre to join the “Get Your Garden Buzzing” project. As she said, it’s important to encourage people to grow bee-friendly plants throughout the year. To their pleasure the garden centre has already received praise and appreciation for their ‘bee-friendly’ display and comprehensive bee-friendly labeling system.

The “Get Your Garden Buzzing” project, offers garden centres ‘bee-friendly’ plant stickers, posters, leaflets, laminated lists of all bee-friendly garden plants and an all-weather, large “Create a Bee-Friendly Garden” exterior wall display panel. BCB hopes to encourage garden centres, plant nurseries and gardeners throughout East Anglia to get on board with this project, to help prevent the decline of our native bees and pollinating insects.

In 2009 Bungay Community Bees formed in response to the worldwide decline of honey bees and other pollinating insects. Our aims are to work together to increase the number of honey bees locally, to support bees in our environment and to share our enthusiasm for and knowledge about bees and pollinators.

For further information on the “Get Your Garden Buzzing” project contact Gemma Parker 0754 0724395; for information on Bungay Community Bees contact Elinor McDowall 01986 948154, 07791 495012, bees@sustainablebungay.com, or visit our webpages: http://www.sustainablebungay.com/bungay-community-bees-2/

Bursting with Bees


Finally! It was just warm enough (on a day when I wasn’t working) to have a peek inside the hive. Four of us gathered to see what we could see. I’m coming around to the idea of, or perhaps rather gaining confidence in, opening the hive less often.

However, although the bees have seemed quite happy when observing them at the entrance and there has been a veritable roar of buzzing from inside whenever I’ve been to say hello I wanted to check inside to get a better idea of stores, brood and disease.

A warm March gave rise to a quick increase in bee numbers, but following that a month or more of mostly cold and wet weather has trapped them inside the hive. So, although it may look as though there is lots of yummy forage out there for them they haven’t been able to access it. I have had to feed sugar syrup several times and even so there is very little in the way of stores in the hive. But they aren’t starving and I shall continue to feed them.

These bees are housed on a ‘brood and a half’, in a National Hive, so the Queen has access to a normal sized brood box and also a half depth one (usually for storing honey). They have filled these two boxes nearly full of brood and have started on another for food stores. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many bees in one place before.

There was no sign of disease, so now we need to decide whether to attempt an artificial swarm (a way of splitting the colony that hopefully means they don’t swarm naturally) or not. If they can build their stores up I’m sure they’ll swarm as the weather improves. Normally I would be happy for healthy bees to swarm, but we could do with replenishing our hives and these seem to be particularly resilient bees. So, as uncomfortable as I am with it we may attempt such a procedure.

I am particularly attached to these bees, even though they are rather feisty, even though I have had to run for it before now and even though I have had a swollen, red, itchy leg for three days (full length bee suit definitely on the cards) due to their great defensive capabilities. I’m happy, content, to see them thriving in these difficult conditions.


Hedgerow Medicine – a review of this month's Plants for Life event

The upper room at Bungay Library was packed with almost 40 people last Sunday for this month’s Plants for Life talk on Hedgerow Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.  Julie is a practising medical herbalist and Matthew an editor and writer and their book, Hedgerow Medicine, is a treasure store of herbal remedies and recipes you can make at home from wild plants you gather yourself.

The talk took the form of a demonstration and discussion of the different ways of preparing wild plants for medicines, including syrups, ointments, teas, tinctures and floral waters. The first plant was Forget-Me-Not and we looked at the freshly-picked flowers under magnifying glasses so we could see closer to the beauty of these cheerful blue plants. I’d been wondering about forget-me-not’s medicinal qualities (it is not in common use nowadays), because of the profusion of them in the plant medicine bed in the library garden this year. And now here they were introducing the session. The forget-me-not syrup Julie and Matthew passed around to taste was specifically for dry coughs.

They moved gently and unhurriedly through a range of hedgerow herbs, talking about the styptic qualities of yarrow (some of the men present decided we would try it on shaving cuts), the historical uses of St. John’s Wort as a protective plant and  how ribwort plantain can assist with certain allergies.

We also learnt how dandelion can nourish the liver, help with old coughs and even cheer you up. And you can make tasty fritters from the flower heads. We got to taste a ten year old dandelion syrup, which was absolutely delicious. Vintage! And I learned a new word: amphoteric. Applied to herbs such as dandelion, this means that in the body it normalises the function of a system or an organ.

Julie and Matthew work with simples primarily, making tinctures and syrups and teas from one particular plant. For tea this afternoon, they had brought along some ground ivy or alehoof. This clears the sinuses as once it clarified beer. Charlotte found a pot to make the tea – which was astonishingly green.

After tea we looked at some live plants and were invited to guess what they were. One had leaves that recalled spinach, but not quite, and no one guessed it was mandrake, that oldest of medicine plants, steeped in folklore, and related to deadly nightshade and tomatoes. In the old days the story went that if you pulled it up by its roots (which resemble the human body), it screamed and someone would die. So when people wanted it for medicine they would tie their dog to it and the poor dog would have to bear the consequences.

The other plant was Epimedium, a member of the berberis family, also called Horny Goat Weed and used as an aphrodisiac. I thought that was great as long as it didn’t actually turn you into a goat!

Out of all that herbal wealth and floral richness the  piece de resistance must have been the elderflower water. I can’t begin to find an adequate description for the amazing scent of this home-distilled floral water. If anyone else can and they were there please write it in the comments. ‘Wow!’ will have to do for now.

The talk was so relaxed and absorbing it didn’t feel as if a lot was happening, or as if two hours had suddenly gone by. It was only when I was jotting down notes at home later that I realised just how much ground Julie and Matthew had covered in the afternoon and how much knowledge they had shared.

Afterwards I showed Julie and Matthew the library garden and the plant medicine bed and they loved it. It made me feel very proud of Sustainable Bungay and what we’ve brought into being here.

So warm thanks once again to Julie and Matthew for such an engaging Plants for Life session and for answering everyone’s questions.

To order Hedgerow Medicine or other books by Julie-Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, or to find out more about Julie’s practice as a medical herbalist, visit their  website www.hedgerowmedicine.co.uk. They also run practical herbal classes and are based in Norfolk, about a 40 minute drive from Bungay.

Plant Swap in the Library Courtyard

This almost incessantly cold spring has hampered efforts to germinate seeds for my own allotment and garden, and scuppered attempts to raise seedlings for this event – trays of seeded compost remained stubbornly barren on my garage windowsill. Would this effect be widespread and create a shortage of plants to swap? Would the forecast cloud & chill spoil what is usually such a joyous, shared celebration of the season?

So, relieved to report I think it was the best one yet: lots of SB helpers of course, a steady flow of old & new faces, plenty of plants, seeds & stories exchanged with the customary relaxed atmosphere. The rain held off and there was even some sunshine. And the courtyard does look wonderful…


Thanks to Lesley and Richard who worked tirelessly all day, Mark for organising a key to arrive on the morning of the event and get me out of an embarrassing hole, Gemma for cakes and Elinor for images.



Hedgerow Medecine with Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, Sunday 13th May, 3pm at Bungay Library

On Sunday May 13th at 3pm at Bungay Library, for our fifth Plants for Life event, we welcome Norfolk-based herbalist Julie Bruton-Seal and her husband Matthew Seal, to speak about Hedgerow Medicine.

Julie and Matthew are the co-authors of Hedgerow Medicine (2008), the book on foraging for medicine plants and making herbal remedies at home.

Friendly, modern and accessible to total beginners and experienced plant people alike, this book should be a part of everyone’s medicine cabinet! The excellent follow-up, Kitchen Medecine, was published in 2010.

So come along and meet the authors! We look forward to seeing you there.

Sustainable Bungay’s Plants for Life events are free to attend and donations are happily received.

For all information contact Mark Watson on 01502 722419 or email markintransition@hotmail.co.uk