June’s Young Ranger activity involved visiting two contrasting farms. As agriculture is such an important part of the Mendips it is good to find out how different farms work.
We all met up at Fernhill Farm, a location familiar to the young rangers as it was where last year’s soggy camp was held!
This first part of our day was spent with Andy and Jen learning about the sheep farmer’s year. The Farm has two breeds of sheep; the large Texel and the small, hardy Shetlands. They still use traditional shepherding practises and sell the wool. Jen also runs wool workshops, dying her own wool and teaching people wool crafts. With Silvia’s help everyone got to make a woven cushion to take away and Andy then demonstrated shearing. Apparently the world record holder can shear a sheep in 39.31 seconds! Some of the young rangers even got to have a go although we didn’t manage to beat the record!
After lunch, a quick dash to the bus to avoid the rain and a piece of birthday cake it was off to our next destination, Box Bush Farm to meet Nick.
Box Bush Farm is one of the farms producing milk that goes directly to Lye Cross Farm where it is turned into cheese – if you have eaten Cheddar or Red Leicester from Sainsburys, it would have been made at Lye Cross. Box Bush Farm has 300 cows and they each produce on average 20 litres of milk per day, that’s over 7000 litres per cow each year! Nick took us on a tour of the farm to see each stage in the milking process. We even got to go into the milking parlour and attach the milking machines onto the cows. We then watched the milk speed up the pipes, through the filters and past the cooling apparatus ready to be collected by the tankers to be turned into cheese. As part of our tour, we saw the young calves and expectant mothers; we learned how to make silage and even talked about some emotive countryside issues.
Seeing both contrasting farms was a great experience and we all learned a lot about the differing practices.
May’s Young Ranger activity involved a trip to the Quantock Hills AONB. Young Rangers made the trek to the Northern end of the Quantocks, to Kilve Pill where they were met by Quantock Ranger Tim Russell, who was their guide for the day.
Kilve Pill is steeped in history; the ‘pill’ being an old harbour, where smugglers would have brought their bounty ashore and an old brick oil retort, built in the 1920s to extract oil from the shale found in the cliffs. The beach itself is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with the cliffs layered with limestone and shale which is embedded with fossils.
Our day started with a fossil hunt along Somerset’s Jurassic Coast, with Tim explaining about the local geology and the unique landscape. When these limestone rocks were being formed, around 200 million years ago, the land mass was in a tropical sea – a little different from our blustery day! The further along the beach we wandered, the more fossils we saw, with ammonites being spotted up in the cliffs, being exposed for the first time in hundreds of millions of years!
Along the walk we stopped to look at interesting finds; layers and layers of ammonites that must have died on mass – whether during a seasonal event such as a mass spawning or climatic changes such as drought; and an exciting (but unconfirmed) find of a fossilised leaf. We also learned about the ‘golden spike’ a globally recognised point in the rocks that marks a change in geological time.
After lunch, there was a short walk back along the cliff tops to the ranger truck to collect black bags and litter pickers for a litter pick along the beach. The beach was quite clean, but the Young Rangers worked hard and found an assortment of items that had been left behind.
Although it was breezy, the sun shone and the Young Rangers had an ice cream before jumping back in the minibus and heading up to the hill tops to Wilmot’s Pool. Our insight into the history of the area continued with a look at a Bronze Age burial mound next to the pool. It was great to see a contrast to the coast; to talk about the differing habitats and to spot some Quantock ponies grazing nearby.
All too soon, it was time to head home but a good time was had by all – thanks Tim for being a great guide!