The months of lockdown have been dreary through the short winter days, with only our periodic visits to Roachside Cottage to check the heating boiler and the water pumps in the wellhouse.
Now that there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, we've been able to justify spending a bit more time there, since we have been overwintering 220 tiny trees which we bought in the autumn. These have to be "in the ground" by the time their winter dormancy ends towards the end of March.
We have around 875 square metres of garden at Roachside which is immensely long and very narrow. It used to be a vegetable garden which sustained the family who lived here in previous centuries, but it became overgrown with brambles and bracken 40 plus years ago and has become a bit of a fire hazard along the edge of the open moorland.
After the great fires of 2018, we took the decision to try to transform the land into a coppice woodland, planted with native upland species and that's the task we've been toiling over this last couple of weeks.
My friend Phil and I have been hacking down the undergrowth and digging out the bramble roots while our resident arboricultural expert Jane has been carefully planting the little "whips" to create what we hope will be a legacy of wildlife-supporting berry trees and bushes.
I expect it will come to maturity sometime after I've turned up my toes, but it's a good feeling to be doing a little bit of something positive - especially after the last 12 months.
For those who have an interest in tree planting, we bought our upland tree planting mixture from The Woodland Trust and they include;
Downy Birch, Holly, Elder, Goat Willow, Hawthorne, Blackthorn, Hazel, Dog Rose and Rowan - with a few self-set Silver Birch and Oak scavenged from my own garden at home.
Of course, since the fires of 2018, everyone who loves The Roaches has been super-sensitive to the sight of or smell of smoke - to the extent that the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service had two calls about our incinerator!!