The Summer term is usually the busiest and most rewarding; students can literally see the fruits of their labour all around them. But at the moment, certain areas of Outdoor Work (ODW) remind me of a post-apocalyptic movie. People have gone, tools have been left, a shoven leaning against a wall is slowly being choked by bindweed as it makes its way up the shaft. Yet despite the eerie silence and our missing workforce, plants still grow and animals still need tending…
Every year we time the lambing of our Jacob sheep to start at the beginning of the Summer term. This year at the black barn, we got 26 lambs from 15 ewes. Across the yard, our two sows, Bessie and Little Pig, were busy giving birth to 22 piglets between them. The barnyard was buzzing with new life and a welcome distraction for passers-by on their daily lockdown walk.
We currently have around 90 sheep on the farm. They are all at different stages of life and require a lot of hands-on work. Social distancing and farming don’t really go well together and it is at times like this that the term ‘Bedales bubble’ has been very appropriate. Without the help of students, regular jobs like weighing, treating, foot trimming, shearing and moving sheep have been a challenge. But my ‘ODW bubble’ of Kirsten, Marcella, Oscar Kingsley-Pallant, Josh Baty and my family has worked wonders!
By Marcella Craven, Outdoor Work Technician and Beekeeper
Beekeepers all over the country watch their hives intently at this time of year.
All the long winter we have fed our bees with fondant, checked that the hives haven’t blown over (at Bedales we weighted our roofs down with slabs during the severe winds and we still had one fly off)! We treated the hives for disease. We also worried that pests might have got into the hives, silently wrecking the comb, eating stores or consuming bees! Woodpeckers, badgers, mice, wasps and worse of all, man-made poisons, insecticides and sprays all present a serious risk to the hives.
This year the weather has not been good for bees. Wet, mild weather makes hives damp. Bees can’t fly to make cleansing flights, and the colony can chill easily. Global warming is changing our seasons and this causes a difference to the forage available, and the weather which a bee needs to be able to venture out and retrieve it. I have observed that life for a colony is complex and often mirrors our human problems.
Outdoor Work is unique in its ability to displace us from the normality of walled classrooms. It enables everyone, regardless of age, to become acquainted with the work that our hands can miraculously create.
On Saturday I, along with seven other keen blacksmiths (who are either learning blacksmithing as part of their Outdoor Work BAC, have chosen blacksmithing as an enrichment or regularly attend blacksmithing club with our visiting resident blacksmith, Lucille from Little Duck Forge), diverged from the routine of morning lessons and attended Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’. A forge-in is the term given to a group of blacksmiths working collaboratively on a project – and in our case, we spent the day making a decorative panel for a new wooden archway to be built at the entrance to Outdoor Work near Steephurst.
On Saturday night at the Small Shepherd’s Club AGM, Kirsten Houser and I were the proud recipients of the McLellan Lambing Trophy (pictured above with Etty and Sasha). The trophy is awarded to the flock with the highest lambing percentage. Although we came second in 2018, in 2019 we were finally victorious!
Here in Outdoor Work, we have a long tradition of keeping sheep. We mostly have Jacobs, a breed prized for their piebald fleece and magnificent curly horns. Not only do they have a distinctive look, they are easy to handle and produce delicious meat. Because of the variation in their fleece, the wool is highly sought after by knitters and weavers.
We also have three smiley-faced South Down ewes. This is a local breed that has grazed the South Downs for centuries and is historically one of the most important British sheep breeds. Keeping them company are two Herdwicks, a breed native to the Lake District. We mostly keep them just because they look so awesome!
On Monday evening, we were very lucky to have Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, visit Bedales to give a fascinating talk. Patrick spoke of his life as a dairy farmer in West Wales and his early work with the Soil Association, before talking about the aim of the Sustainable Food Trust, the patron of which is the Prince of Wales.
The Sustainable Food Trust works to “accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems that nourish the health of both people and planet”. They work with government organisations and individuals to audit and fight for more sustainable food and farming systems. Their latest project is a collaboration with Richard Dunne called The Harmony Project, which seeks to apply the principles of nature and interconnectedness with education.
Patrick wanted to highlight the complicated nature of every choice we make – the hidden cost of food. He spoke of the benefits of grass-fed beef and lamb, both for our health and for our environment. He also spoke of sheep farmers in Wales who are now building huge chicken sheds where there would have once been grassland, as consumers mistakenly believe buying chicken is better for the environment than lamb. Those chickens are fed a concentration of soya and grain shipped in from all around the world and live short, miserable lives in giant sheds. We as consumers are completely unaware of the implications of our food choices – the ‘plant based’ food trend as pernicious as the one consumers think they need to avoid, with large multinational companies making huge sums of money from our desire to eat more sustainably.
By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work, and Feline Charpentier, Teacher of Outdoor Work
From September 2020, students in 6.1 will be able to choose a new Outdoor Work (ODW) course as one of their sixth form options. ‘Living with the Land’ is a two-year course which will equip students with the practical skills to live lightly off the land, enabling them to look at the wider context for the issues surrounding the environment and our impact upon it. Living with the land around us means having a greater awareness of our environment, living with the seasons, trying to reduce our footprint and applying our new-found knowledge to other aspects of our lives and the community.
It is a natural progression from all aspects covered in the ODW BAC, however it goes into far greater depth and includes significant self-directed work, including a portfolio and a ‘major’ project in the final year. There is currently no clear pathway for a student wishing to take a more practical course at sixth form in environmental subjects. The closest comparable courses are Countryside Management, Food Skills, Sustainability or the planned Natural History GCSE. No courses combine traditional building, cooking and craft skills with aspects of ecology, sustainability and community.
Now the end of term is only four weeks away, Christmas is very nearly upon us. As ever, we have been busy creating a whole range of homemade products to help your celebrations go with a bang.
Last Friday, 6.2 students made 97 Christmas puddings in the Bakehouse, plus a hundred or so mince pies to keep us going on the night. Our traditional fire-pit and singalong enhance the festive mood, in fact we’re sure you’ll be able to taste all the extra goodwill in these very special puddings! They are available now in the shop, so please do call in as soon as you can, as they fly off the shelves.