Author Archives: scampifield

About scampifield

I'm a conservation scientist, working in UK, European and African habitat conservation with NGOs and academic institutions. I am interested in the impacts of land use on conservation and ecosystem services. My wife and I are building a new house, paying particular attention to the resources used in both its construction and daily running. Follow our progress on this blog as we attempt to marry up resource protection, conservation and sound construction.....

Two completed jobs and a very overdue post – June and July 2014

Well, you wait for two months for a new post, and two come along at once.  (well, one actually, as I’ve combined them, but you get the idea).

Since my last post, announcing the near completion of the foundations, I can now announce the near completion of the foundations, only more so.  At the end of May, a further herculean effort from myself, Katie, Tony, Chris, John, Jim and Archie, we finally filled the last trench of the foundations with tyres and gravel.


Katie in the final trench




The last of the below ground foundations complete, with all backfilling done

So, after 8 months since we first broke the ground, all our wall foundations are complete.  However, there’s still work to do to these before we can put walls on top of them.  The outside walls need another layer of tyres above ground level, and then a ply-board and timber ‘wallplate’ box section to form the base on which we’ll build the straw walls.  For the internal brick walls that will be the thermal mass for the passive solar, and support the stairs, we need to lay several courses of steel reinforced trench blocks to level and support the weight of the bricks.  This is all still to come, once we’ve worked up the courage to start!


However, the next job, that we threw ourselves into, hot on the heels of the foundations, was the drainage and sewerage systems.  The enthusiasm was largely mine, because it involved another digger!  So, although finishing the foundations meant no more tyres, it didn’t mean no more holes in the ground.

Another week-long digger hire meant 2 days off work, and a lot of after work evenings saw us dig about 30 metres of narrow, and sometimes very deep, trenches.  The sewerage pipes will take the waste water and other ‘stuff’ from the house to a septic tank on the edge of the site, by the hedge.  On top of this, along one side of the house, we also laid a rainwater drain, to take water from the roof away from the site once the rainwater storage tanks are full.


The shallow end of the sewerage trench, near the house, dug, awaiting gravel lining


Rob digging the next leg of the trench, down the short side of the house. This trench is for the sewerage pipe and the rainwater drain.




Katie checking the fall of the trench. It has to deepen by a minimum of 25mm in each metre’s length to keep the turds on the move.

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Once dug to the correct depth, the trenches were lined with a few inches of gravel, to protect the pipes and ensure an even gradient. Here Chris is levelling the gravel to the correct depth before putting the pipes in.


The task of levelling got increasingly tricky as the trench got deeper, through a combination of the continued fall and it passing through a raised part of the site.


Just as well Chris is tall – this part of the trench was above my head height!


The pipes laid before infilling

Getting deeper, note the inspection chamber at the direction change to help things flow and aid clearing when it doesn't.

Getting deeper, note the inspection chamber at the direction change to help things flow and aid clearing when it doesn’t.





The last run, into the septic tank, showing the rodding eye at the final 45 degree bend

Once the pipe trenches were dug, then we had to tackle the big one – a hole 12ft by 5ft by 9ft deep! We have used a low profile septic tank, rather than the more common ‘onion’ shaped ones, or the hole would have had to be even deeper.  With trepidation, hoping that we wouldn’t hit solid rock before the hole was deep enough to accommodate the tank plus the required fall, we began digging.


Starting the septic tank hole…


A (vaguely) interested bystander – Stenocorus meridianus


Chris helping to shift larger stones from the bottom of the hole, and demonstrate how deep it is.


Katie checking the depth and levelling the base of the hole with road aggregate.

Once the hole was complete and level (we got this spot on first time!!), we lowered the tank in with the digger.

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And then filled in around it.


Eventually, this will be filled more to the level of the inspection lids, and then grassed over.  But for now, Its done.  One final job was to dig the soak-away, or percolation field as its known in posh speak.  This is done, but not connected yet, as this system won’t be used until we’ve installed a toilet or two (we’re not intending pooing in directly through the green holes!)

The end is nigh – well, the end of below ground works anyway… April & May 2014

After the busy Easter period, we have made a huge amount of progress, again aided by some regular, and some new helpers.

At the end of April, Chris, Thom, Claire and I set about sifting a shifting the remaining brick rubble from its current resting place in what we hope will be our garden, to the infill area, one day to become our drive.

Using the transport box on the back of the tractor, we moved plenty of not quite usable bricks and a lot more completely unusable brick and mortar rubble.



This process also unearthed another 50 or so good bricks.


Over the following few weekends and a bank holiday, John, Viv, Guy, Jim, Archie, Tony and Gareth all pitched in as we scraped, levelled, packed, stacked and filled our way through most of the remaining foundations.  As I write this, we have completed all but two walls worth of foundation, including the foundations under the stairs.

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Katie, back into the fray, whilst Rose spent some quality time looking after Grandma!


Archie rehearsing his role as Kevin the teenager


The trench for the stair footings ready for its’ tyres



IMG_1164 The stair footings in



John and Katie levelling the floor of the final trench


Tony (aka Grandpa) taking instruction from our younger “foreperson”, during a break from shovelling

Archie, too tired to barrow gravel, also found time to clean another 30 or so bricks!


Archie’s brick tower

A few weeks ago, during a break in the building, Chris and I visited a couple of local nature reserves to collect some of the hazel and ash stakes that will eventually hold the straw bales together.  This proved to be a very pleasant experience, as the stakes (a gift from the local wildlife trust, and a by-product of their coppicing habitat management in the two ancient woodland reserves) were located in the middle of the woods, amongst a fine show of bluebells.


Bluebells, greater stitchwort and hazel coppices


…..and Dog’s mercury


Some of the ash stakes, showing their rather scenic origins


Me carrying some ash stakes back to the landrover

 Chris cut a fine, medieval, Bruegel-esque figure, carrying his ‘faggots’ through the woods back to the almost medieval landrover!


Medieval peasant encountered in the woods…..

So, nearing the end of May, we have completed all the below ground work on all but two walls’ footings, and are thinking about the work we need to do to prepare the footings to take the walls, both brick and straw.  Over the coming few weekends, we’ll again be visited by some of our wonderful helpers (young and not so young, two and four legged) to complete the foundations.  More soon…..

Spring is here and we’re nearing ground level – April 2014

Work on site has been suspended since Katie became too round to work in the trenches in January, and in early February our daughter Rose arrived.  After a period of re-adjustment, and waiting for the site to dry out after the wettest winter ever, we started work back on site at the beginning of April.  This year, as well as being joined by friends on site, we were joined by our beloved van, condemned to a new life as the site office by the financial inevitabilities of MOT failure.



An old friend in a new job – the van joins the team…


Thus far, we have done two full weekends with the invaluable help of friends and relatives. Whilst I joined our work force, Katie (helped by Rose, kept up a supply for food and drink as well as supervising my tyre levelling efforts using her far superior experience in this).


Rose helping supervise the workers

The first job was to level the floor of the foundation trenches still to be filled.  John (complete with new bionic knee – see him go….!), and then Guy and Viv helped with barrowing and shovelling aggregate and laying a compacted layer of this on the bottom of the rough trenches.  The aggregate needs to be flat, level and compacted, but also at the correct depth.


John barrowing with the aid of luvverly gloves and hi-tech knee


Guy compacting the aggregate, the hard way (no wacker plates here – just ‘birder power’


A partially levelled trench

This we then levelled using the laser level to (hopefully) allow the tyre/gravel foundations to come to the right level at the ground surface.



Guy and Viv checking the levels – Guy doing what he’s told and Viv telling him!


Now that’s level, or as John would say… (Click on this link to hear John’s considered professional opinion of this work)

Once we’d levelled about half the remaining trenches, I decided to mark out the position of the walls that will eventually support the stairs, so that we could put in the foundations for these.  It was at this point I discovered my deliberate mistake….. The first time I’d measured these out, so that I could dig the trenches at Christmas, I had obviously had too much festive cheer, and had not removed enough for one wall.  So, armed with a pick and a shovel (rather than a mini-digger that would have made it soooo much easier) I had to remove another square meter of very compacted rubbish and clay to allow for the wall.












After this, a degree of re-levelling was required, resulting in the beautiful flat hole in the ground below:


After this, we could all return to work for the week, to recover, and reconvene on Good Friday for brick cleaning and filling the level trenches with tyres.

Good Friday morning saw the arrival of several willing volunteers, to set about sorting of the remains of a huge pile of brick rubble that was once a prime example of Victorian engineering – the old railway bridge. Built in the late 1800s, they didn’t stint on mortar, so the bricks take some cleaning.  John set to work on them with his huge implement (rubble breaker) and then the crack team of reclamation engineers (actually Caffers, Wrighty, Jim, Archie, Lulu, and Tony) set to work cleaning the salvageable bricks.




Six hours later, several large piles, totalling over 200 bricks, had appeared.  An amazing effort by all, especially Archie and Lulu.

Whilst our heroic team tackled the bricks, John abandoned his tool, and with me began laying out and levelling tyres in our newly finished trenches.  By the end of the day, we had  half filled one trench.



Some of the team admiring the day’s work


The day’s team (minus John – taking the picture, and Lulu)







Building on the momentum of the previous day, Richard, Sara and Lucy arrived on Easter Saturday to continue the tyre work.  Another long day resulted in the completion of one wall’s worth of foundation and half of another, to add to the haul of clean bricks.


This has been a great start to our summer’s work, and wouldn’t have been possible without the willing help of so many friends – thank you all!

New Year, New Author and lots of News – October 2013-January 2014

Happy New Year All.  This is my first proper post, taking over from the Late Lamented Lotterington, and I have loads to report!  Since the last post (!) we have been filling tyres with gravel every weekend.  Throughout November and December, we worked every weekend and by Christmas had completed the tyre foundations for five of the twelve walls needed. IMG_0837






This involved lots of barrowing of gravel from the yard to the site, because the quarry truck couldn’t reverse up the slope in the mud!  The short days meant that several times we were still working in the dark, helped by Claire and Thom (Katie’s brother and his girlfriend).  The underside of the roof looked decidedly seasonal though.

In the run-up to the festive season, Chris and I made use of my holiday, and started to excavate more of the foundation trenches, and shift the soil and rubbish excavated to the back of the site, to start filling in part of the old railway line for our driveway.  By the time we were forced to retreat indoors by weather and the prospect of overeating, we had completed all of the foundations for the north wall, and filled in around half the driveway.



Whilst all this frantic activity was going on, I also found time to finalise the water supply trench, which we dug back in October.  This entailed finishing laying sand on the bottom (started way back by Dave (& Spencer) and my Dad), and then putting in the water pipe itself.  This was the hugely expensive ‘barrier pipe’ required since it was to run through old domestic rubbish.  Then, the house end was connected to a non-return valve and stop tap.  The house supply will be connected up properly when the walls have been completed.


After the mince pies and chocolates had taken their toll, we resumed on site the day after boxing day. We took delivery of another hire mini-digger, this time from Hire Station in Melton.  We had this for 4 days, and made good use of it, completing the remaining trenches for wall foundations, and starting to sort through the enormous pile of brick rubble that remained from the old Victorian railway bridge, dismantled a few years ago.  This pile yielded another large amount of usable blue bricks, set aside for cleaning in the spring, and a large quantity of hard-core to augment the soil already shifted to the new driveway.  The last act of the digger hire was to level out the hard-core on the half of the driveway nearing completion.



Whilst Chris and I were doing this, the lovely Wardales came over, complete with dog pack (three constitutes a pack doesn’t it?), and filled in the last of the soil over the water pipe, to allow it to be connected up to the mains.  The water board had earlier declared themselves satisfied with the pipe setting and fittings.  One shovel (not tough enough to survive the frenzied assault) and two rats (not tough enough to survive the violent shaking by Bramble and Nugget, the border terriers) later, the trench was restored to some semblance of its original state.

Archie (my nephew) escaped from the post-Christmas uproar at home and helped me with the last straightening and tidying of the new trenches, which sounds simple, but actually involved a lot of manual shovelling of clay and rocks from the bottom of the  3 foot deep trenches – still, its good for him, and better than being terrorised by his younger siblings!

The last act of this saga was completed after new year, when the water board connected up their end of the water pipe to the mains in the middle of the road into the village.  So we are now the proud owners of a water meter chamber, though not a water meter yet apparently!  We were also the cause of a slightly disrupted first commute of the new year for some as we necessitated the use of traffic lights on the road through the village.  I enjoyed this as I was still on holiday!

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And I must add a huge vote of thanks and hugs to John Dimmick and my brother Jim, for their continued hard work in gathering tyres from all over west Leicestershire and delivering them to the farm, so that we could get on with work on the foundations.  Nuff ‘spect Gents!