Flanders Moss NNR
Over the past few weeks we have been revisiting the same site for an ongoing fencing project.
On the west side of Flanders is a lovely meadow that is home to a very rare plant – the lesser butterfly orchid. It is a plant of amber status, meaning it is considered vulnerable, and is one species of Plantlife’s ‘Back from the Brink’ project, as it has disappeared from over half its former range in the past 50 years.
Sheep graze this part of the reserve to keep dominant species at bay, but we can’t very well let them munch up this orchid too! So, we need to keep the sheep off this particular patch at certain times of the year. How to keep sheep out? With a fence, of course! Unfortunately, the fence in question currently isn’t doing such a good job at this. With large gaps, completely toppled posts at each end, and a whole load of old and wobbly posts in the middle, it was time to get to work before the orchids began to grow.
We started off a few weeks ago by replacing the completely toppled posts at one end of the fence line, as well as some of the wobbly and rotten ones in the middle, by attaching the old fencing (still in good nick, if a little trampled) to new ones. We kept the old posts in the ground though, as they make a lovely home for deadwood-loving invertebrates, act as a handy perch for predators, and also as a fantastic sunning bed for our rarest moths! The other end of the fence required a complete do-over. The wire was rusted and broken in multiple places, old posts had completely rotten due to how wet the ground has become…it was just too far gone to touch up and fix. So, we set to some serious work!
The first things that need sorting are the strainer posts. These are the large, round posts that provide the foundations for a fence. About 3 metres tall and with a weight to match, we had to dig ourselves two very deep holes, burying the strainers almost halfway into the ground. A combination of metal spike to create the initial depth, a spade to widen the gap, and a ‘post hole digger’ (fencing tools were not the most imaginatively named…) to scoop out all the muddy goop.
Now, I can’t tell you how I know this. But you want to make sure that your hole is actually wide enough for the strainer once its supporting beams have been nailed on. These beams keep the post from twisting around once it’s in the ground, but if you can’t get the strainer post in all the way and then need to spend over an hour leveraging it back out again…well, let’s just say we learned a lot that day.
As well as the support beams nailed directly onto the underground section of the strainers, they benefit from support posts called ‘struts’. Once the wire is added and fixed into place, these struts provide a counter-balance to the tension placed on the posts, ensuring everything stays in place for years – even decades! A small slot is chiselled out of the strainer, and a spare fence post cut to shape and dug into the ground.
Next up, the guide wires – fencing wire that runs along the top, middle and bottom from strainer to strainer, and which help you to figure out exactly where to place the fence posts. These are how all fences end up as straight as they do! Once the wires are attached and tensioned, it’s time to add the fence posts!
A commercial team might opt for a heavy duty post rammer (yes, this is the technical term) but we do things the old fashioned way here on Flanders – a good old whack with a very heavy hammer. Fencing day is absolutely arm day! To ensure they get bashed into perfect position, Steve has also created the aptly named ‘post holder’ – which keeps the post angled the way we want it, as well as providing a ‘forgiveness range’ for the odd occasion when we inevitably miss the post. Hey, these things take practice!
The posts really help pull everything into shape – a vision of the final product! All that was left to add was the grid and barbed wire which are (carefully!) tensioned up with some pretty funky tools that mildly resemble some sort of medieval torture stretching device. It all needs to be tight enough that it keeps it’s sheep-proof shape, but not so tight that it risks snapping or deforming the posts. Once that’s done, they’re stapled into place on every post, We re-used the original barbed wire (complete with sheep wool for that worn, rustic aesthetic) and blocked off the old gate gap with wooden rails. – et voilà! After several days of work, we have a fully functioning fence once more!
After several days of brute force and ignorance, we have created something that I’m pretty darn proud of! Fencing might in theory be a simple task, but we all know that if anything can go wrong then it will. So going from having never done any sort of fence work before, to repairing and re-creating an entire fence line, felt super satisfying! I’ve gained a whole host of new skills and useful knowledge from one of the best in the business over the past few weeks, which is what these placements are all about!
Even if I do now find myself critiquing random fences in my spare time…