Jane Ostler - Farming & Countryside

I am Jane Ostler and I live on Woolsthorpe Road. My husband and I moved here in 1980. Both of us are Lincolnshire born and bred and rather happy about that. I am from Skegness and my husband is from Boston. I lived at the north end of Skegness but we moved to the south end, near the golf course, the posh part after my mother died. I met Brian when we needed some chaff for the chickens and no-one would volunteer to go and get it because it was such a horrible job. But I knew that Brian was working on the farm where we obtained the chaff, so I said I`d go. But when I got there, the old farmer (who was called Silas) and his wife Win came out and because my father was a local business man as well as doing some farming, she took me inside to have a cup of tea. The old boy who had gone with me on the tractor, he had to bag up the chaff and he was not too pleased about it.

Farming was a different world to me. I was like a towny compared with the Brian`s family. When I first went to stay with Brian at the farm, I got into this feather bed and sank into it. It came right over my head; I was frightened to death! I said that I would get up early in the morning and when I got up they were having their lunch at eleven o`clock. I was always embarrassing Brian by asking the wrong questions. He took me to the Lincolnshire Agricultural Show once, and there was a series of floats on farming going round in the arena, and one had A1 on it. I wanted to know what the A1 had to do with farming. Brian didn`t like to tell me it stood for Artificial Insemination. When I was at college, Brian knew all the animals and things I was learning as he had seen them as he went round on the tractor. Sometimes I felt very stupid.

We got married very young, both of us were in our teens. There was a time when I was a youngster that I got into St Thomas`s Hospital where I was going to do a degree in nursing. But you had to be nineteen in those days so I went to work on my father`s farm meanwhile, met Brian and that was that. End of nursing. We started married life working on farms. We moved to Rutland when Brian got a job on a farm at Stretton, and then to Old Somerby and eventually he worked at Stoke Rochford. We moved here so that we were nearer his work.

I`ve had an interest in Natural History since starting at Kesteven College of Education at Stoke Rochford as a mature student. I went there when my children started school. I am ashamed to say it might have been because I was brought up in the bleak marshy areas of Lincolnshire- but when I started at Stoke I didn`t know a daisy from a daffodil. I wanted to do something which took me outside and the choice was between biology or geography. I was taken on in the Biology Department by Don Wright who more or less said that if I could keep up I could stop in the Biology Department. Otherwise it was the English Department which I was not very keen on. This was the start of a life-long interest. We were very lucky in Don because he believed in field work so we went out and we looked at the real thing. We didn`t do just theory.

My first experience of Woolsthorpe I feel I belong to Woolsthorpe rather than Colsterworth was coming to the old school in School Lane in 1968 for my first teaching practice. I had done uncertificated teaching before so I was not entirely new to the job. Don Wright`s wife was there so perhaps that was the connection for me to do my teaching practice at that school. I remember taking the children on a nature walk. This was in the days when you were allowed to do nature walks and have nature tables, before the National Curriculum. We must have walked past Isaac Newton`s Manor, I don`t recall that, but what I do remember was seeing a kingfisher on the River Witham. The children collected leaves, nuts and seeds and made a nature table when we got back to the classroom.

If I`d only known it, the tenant of the Manor House at that time was Mrs Lee Cave who was to become my head of department at Grantham Girl`s School when I started there. I very much modelled myself on her. She was an extremely good teacher and naturalist. I went to the Manor House a number of times and I can remember sitting in the front room, because they lived in the property in those days. It was very cosy with a bright fire going and the black cat beside it, though the rest of the house was jolly cold. In winter she would have to bring all her clothes out of the closets and hang them downstairs because they got so damp. I went over one day and she said `You must come and look, we`ve found all these bee-orchids that have turned up on a new road coming out of Woolsthorpe`. I`ve got a photograph of my husband and Lee counting all these plants. There were hundreds of them. Subsequently, this patch was made into a Protected Roadside Verge under the Lincolnshire Trust Scheme. I still go and survey it now after all these years. In the course of time, the bee-orchids have diminished there. This is a natural thing as the area matures, but they have turned up on the other side of the road which is at an earlier stage. This was in the early 1970s and was the first time that I did any surveying around here.

The second time, I was asked to go and survey the Glebe Quarry. By now I was a committee member of the Lincs Trust and become very involved with them. The quarry was going to be filled in and there was nothing to be done about it because the site was held under an old planning permission that could not be revoked. This was the old landfill site west of Woolsthorpe. It was a lovely old quarry with water at the bottom , and full of common spotted orchids, and scarce water plants like purple loosestrife and flowering rush. It was full of insect life and oh! it was lovely. So I made a record of it and then it was filled in. In those days we didn`t have the wherewithal to move orchids. In fact even today it is very uncertain that you could move them successfully.

They left a mineral line which ran towards Stainby and when we came to live here in 1980 that is where I headed first of all because I wondered if things had survived there. It was still very good for insects and flowering plants including a toadflax very scarce in Lincolnshire. I walked along there regularly and took notes. I have kept notes since 1968 and I am now on notebook number 67. I have recently written a whole section up for the Rutland Natural History Society Archives. They go back to 1968. I have the notes of a lot of things that have disappeared now.

That mineral line turned out to be extremely interesting. In early 1990, marbled white butterflies turned up there, the only site in Lincolnshire. Within two years the line had been filled in and I didn`t even know that that was going to happen. It was part of the original agreement, when the mining work started in that area that the land, should be returned to agriculture, including this disused mineral line.

As far as the other line goes, the Woolsthorpe line that runs east to west, that was a different matter. There was no planning permission on that. It was found to be very good for two scarce butterflies, the grizzled skipper and the dingy skipper which feed on wild strawberry and a plant we call `eggs and bacon` in Lincolnshire repectively. Surveys were made of this line although I was not involved quite so much as I was working for the Nature Conservatory Council then. That was the day job and it took up a lot of week-ends and evenings anyway. It is rather sad to see how things have developed in the area of this nature trail because it has been very unloved particularly at the eastern end where it has been used as a dump for garden debris and so on. One of the most tragic things that happened was that a motor-bike got on fire and burnt all the ground where these skippers were. It killed the plants and as far as I know the skipper butterflies have not turned up there again. This strip had been one of the best for wildlife and it could be renovated again.

It is still owned by the landfill people and it is leased to the Lincolnshire Trust to manage. People are constantly taking bits of the land to integrate into their gardens and chopping the trees down. I sometimes fall into despair over this trail. The western end is still actively managed by the Trust. My husband and I go and help the local voluntary manager. It is horrifying to think that some of it may be sold and taken into gardens. I don`t think that should happen at all. Spring is coming and all sorts of things are coming up there. People should take the trouble and go and take a look.

When they were proposing the new landfill site, if you remember, they were going to build further westwards. I came home from on our boat to find a report by the developers on the wildlife interest of the area. I was so appalled at how badly it had been done that I went down and surveyed a strip myself and sent it in to the District Council. In order to popularise it a little bit, I wrote a poem, a sort of jingle, for In Touch, the parish newsletter. It may have helped, as they did not fill in one of the areas of clay. So at least one bit of it was saved. Another site for these butterflies was Twyford Forest which is full of all sorts of wonderful things. Twyford wood, of course, has been a great source of interest to me over the years. My notes were used for the Conservation Plan for the forest when they drew it up.

However my interest in natural history has centered very much on the Woolsthorpe area. A number of years ago three of us went out and indentified every single tree in the Woolsthorpe part of the parish. We were astounded how few there were. I learnt all sorts of interesting things such as the planting of apple trees in gardens as a sort of memento. It was done by the Colsterworth Estates and they planted either an apple tree or a pear or both. One of those trees is now wonderful with mistletoe and we have got to see that it remains.

About this time Margaret Winn had written her book about Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, and I added a little chapter on at the end about the natural history that I had found. Now with this new Parish Plan that has been proposed, I am not interested in being on any committees, (having had my fill of them as part of my work), but I am interested in continuing to do a few things with young people. I think we could integrate a parish environmental map in the plan with the help of the youth groups. There are things that will be suitable for young children and older children as well. That will be an excuse to hug a few trees, mark them up and extend it into Colsterworth now. You see we`ve had a big ash tree cut down on this road. They cut down the trees near the new buildings although it was in the plans that they must remain. What happens is that they build near the trees and then concrete round them which, of course, kills the trees. I don`t know why this last one was cut down and quite honestly I am beginning to feel a bit defeated by it all. We really must treasure what we`ve got.

We`ve got quite a lot of youngish trees which are coming into interest now which were planted as part of the agreement with the ironstone works. If people have them in the gardens at least they ought to be aware that they are quite important trees in the village. We have no control of what people do in their gardens, and quite right too. But I think that if people know what`s there, they`ll want to look after them. I was patron of the splendid `Tree For Life` group based at the local school and I belong to a group called The Tree Awareness Group, I was secretary for many years and, as part of that, I am keeping an archive of ancient trees in the county. It is very ad hoc because there have been any number of schemes to do this. You know, there is a tree scheme every other year. It is all computerized now. I must be one of the very few people not to have a computer. I have a card index system and I have my notebooks. I keep everything recorded that way and when people lose things on their computers and can`t find them, they ring me up and I get my old note books out and my card indexes. I was just having a look at them. Here are all my entries of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth for a number of years. I think I am going to look all these up now because there are lots of interesting bits and pieces.

I have just seen the word `aspdistra` here on this card, and I am immediately reminded of Miss Senescal, Rene Senescal, who lived in Woolsthorpe and died about ten or fifteen years ago. She would meet me and say,` Oh I saw Minnie today`. `Minnie?` `You know, the moorhen`. She had nicknames for everything. After she died, we were clearing out a shed opposite and I found these tortoiseshell butterflies hibernating there. Remembering Rene, I went and put them somewhere safe because she always used to keep them in an upstairs bedroom and watch them come out. Before two of these houses nearby were built, Rene came and dug up the cowslips that flowered there and transplanted them before they went under and were never seen again. One clump was put in her garden and another in Margaret Winn`s garden at Woolsthorpe and they are still there. I have a lot of little harebells in the front that she found from somewhere and she used to grow on from seed. You could do a piece on Rene on her own couldn`t you? You know, people like that are gold. They do lots of little things for wild life. Over the 26 years that I have lived here it has been one of life`s pleasures to receive all kinds of information and queries about local plants and animals. This has included caterpillars, toadstools and other curiosities left in the porch.

The other thing is frogs. I have two ponds in the front garden and the frogs were introduced many years ago from somewhere as local as I could. Over the years I have donated frogspawn in ponds all over the village. Now they are saying that frogs would not survive without garden ponds. So the little bits we do in the garden are really quite important. After I had been in teaching for a time, I left. I loved teaching but I wanted to work in nature conservation and I went to work for the Lincolnshire Trust as a surveying officer and then became the officer for Lincolnshire for the Nature Conservatory Council. When we stopped being naturees policemen and became bureaucrats in my view I then went independent. I became a trainer for people like the Electricity Board or the Forestry Board. They are the sort of people who influence land use and they may not know anything at all about wild life. As part of that we were advising people to put in ponds and to put in native plants.

My daughter who was in horticulture started growing these native plants and we then had a sort of sub-business where we planted up people`s ponds and advised them on wildlife ponds. One day when I was standing up to my knees in smelly water rescuing some plants from a dyke and it was very very hot and I could hardly move, I thought to myself, `It is about time to pass this work on`. So my daughter took the business on and has done some wonderful work planting up ponds. One of our first big orders was planting up the lakes at Belton for the golf club and we did one of the lakes in the club colours, yellow and brown! My daughter and another girl were working on the project, both attractive blondes, and I was asked by the foreman when we were going to finish as the builders wouldn`t get on with the work of building the clubhouse while they were there!

We also advised on fishing lakes and then under the new Reservoir Act there was a lot of work to do. Our attitude was that as the water was going to be put on the land, why not make it into a wildlife site at the same time? Occasionally I go back to these places and it is nice to see how they have developed. The pond at the bottom of the Woolsthorpe Road has been dug where there is a `swallow hole` unfortunately. That is where water will be held for a while, but will gradually soak away due to underground rock structures. There is another `swallow hole` at Burton Coggles. As for being retired, I actually teach art and design. I have started a stitching club at Ropsley. I was at Grantham College doing the exam courses of the City and Guilds (embroidery) and the BTec there. That was a hobby . Then the teacher left and I was asked to take on the class. A lot of older people come to the classes which is great because they discover their creativity quite late in life and bring great experience to it. Some of my students planted an apple tree in appreciation of me. You don`t have to die to get a memorial! I get so much out of this work, you wouldn`t believe it. I do painting as well. I have done a set of paintings of flowers from my garden.

We have a narrow which we keep moored at Barrow-on-Soar and we go all over the country on the canals for the summer. Imagine sailing slowly along and just think of all the wildlife we see! It is wonderful. The natural history of the canals is absolutely fantastic. When we started going on the boat, that is when I took up painting because you have the time and there are so many interesting and beautiful subjects to choose from. I have lived in interesting times, as they say. What nearly did me were the Public Inquiries over developments, first for the Nature Council and then as an independant as what was called an Expert Witness. It was very very stressful. Sometimes it seemed to be that things had been decided beforehand. Much as you fought, you were always on the side of David against Goliath.

If I were asked why this should be, I could get carried into the realms of philosophy but actually I think it all comes down to money. Also, people don`t actually understand what they are doing. They don`t realise the great complexity of moving things out of danger. `Oh you can move those orchids somewhere else`, they would say. There is so much we don`t yet understand. We can`t create habitats. There are many people who believe that only God can do this. I certainly know that conservationists can`t, though we keep trying.

I do believe that the only way to go is through education, so that people really want to protect wildlife. That is why I could never really give up my bits of teaching that I do with youngsters. If a child experiences things at first hand having examined them and held them in their hands and experienced the excitement of it all, they may get to their teens and it won`t be cool and they won`t bother. But later on they will be like my two eldest grandsons, getting interested again and having a hobby like identifying beetles or something like that. The more children you have get keen on wildlife, the more hope there is for the future. I think we have got a bit arrogant, we think that we know everything, but Nature brings you back to realising that you don`t.

When I look back the only thing I would change, I suppose, is that I would like to have grown up next door to Brian and have been with him longer than the nearly 50 years we have now had. My father thought that we were too young anyhow when we did get married but we sort of assured him that Brian`s father agreed and we told Brian`s father that my father agreed and that`s how we fixed it. We hadn`t a penny between us when we got married and you have to take jobs to earn enough to live on, but they are all experiences you wouldn`t swop. I mean, I would never, ever have worked on the land if I hadn`t met Brian. Potato-picking taught me a lot more than how to pick potatoes.