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Gardening with Hannah Genders

The common touch

Posted on August 17 2008 at 12:12:29 0 comments

The common

Hannah Genders enjoys a taste of country life based on centuries of tradition.

I recently had the privilege of meeting a very special couple who live remotely on the edge of the Wyre Forest, in a little place called Pound Green. I say “special”, as Godfrey and Gwyn Jones are maintaining and enhancing a natural habitat and a way of life that has existed for hundreds of years.

Along with eight of their neighbours, Godfrey and Gwyn are “commoners” – not a derogatory term at all; it simply means that they all have rights over the shared or “common” land outside their homes, and these rights are very interesting.

Godfrey currently runs a herd of sheep over the common to help keep the grass in good condition, but he could, if he wanted to, have a cow, a horse, two goats and up to 100 fowl including geese.

Just imagine how much food you could produce with all that livestock – and that was the idea back in the 1700s. It enabled the poor mining community living on the common to supplement their income and have enough to eat.

Gwyn’s family inherited these rights more than 100 years ago and she told me that, along with grazing for all the animals, the rights also used to also include “estover”.

This was the right to collect dead and fallen wood from the forest for burning and “panage”: this allowed commoners to take pigs into the forest in autumn to eat the acorns; a great way of fattening them before slaughter.

Gwyn can remember visiting her grandfather at Pound Green from a very young age, and completely falling in love with the place. She recalls sitting in the outside loo and hearing the pig snuffling in his sty next door.

Her granddad had plenty of animals to keep him well fed, along with shooting the occasional deer or rabbit; he also collected cherries from his orchard and took them to Kidderminster market to sell. The cherry orchards are still thriving today and seem to do well on the acid soil of the common.

It was always Gwyn and Godfrey’s desire to live here, and now, having been here 20 years, the work of looking after the common and its residents is still very much alive and well.

By keeping and exercising these rights the community have not only helped to preserve a unique way of life but have also ensured the future of the unique habitats found on the common at Pound Green.

The site is now recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for the unique diversity of its flora and fauna. To the north of the site is a mature oak woodland, but it is the heathland in particular that has caused the interest.

Much of the heath had been taken over by scrub and bracken when Godfrey and Gwyn moved in, but within a 10-year management programme Godfrey and his team have cleared nearly half the area and are putting it back to a mixture of acid grassland and heather.

The acid grassland is rare now in the UK and, as the name suggests, is made up of all our native grasses that thrive on an acid soil. It includes one of my favourites – Fescue – and there were numerous types to look at with Godfrey when we toured the common. The colours are really breath-taking in the summer months.

Along with the grasses, heathers will thrive in these conditions and thousands have been replanted all across the area, from both seeds and cuttings. With their long flowering period they provide vital nectar for our bee and butterfly population.

Many of the heathers have been re-established in the wood ant hills that are dotted all across the Wyre Forest and are also seen in abundance on Pound Green – in fact Gwyn owns a field that is covered in them; it’s quite remarkable to see and looks almost like a lunar landscape!

While we are all aware that these special habitats are disappearing and need protecting and maintaining, what I found particularly special on the day of my visit was the wonderful sense of community.

Imagine popping out of your front door into a shared landscape, possibly with half a dozen sheep in tow, to chat with your neighbours who are doing exactly the same.

Godfrey and Gwyn are giving us a picture of the past, but I would love to think that this model for a sustainable way of life could be the future for more of us.

* Godfrey and Gwyn are keen to put together a voluntary group to help them with this interesting work. If you would like to be part of a work party at Pound Green, do drop me a line care of The Village.

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