Tag Archive: wildlife


bonfireNovember is upon us, the clocks have ‘gone back’, the days continue to shorten as temperatures fall. What is there to do in the garden this month? Here’s a list of ten top ‘to do’s’ to keep you busy!

1. Clean

  • Rake up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds. Put the leaves in a leaf cage or black bags to create leaf mould to use on your garden over the next few years.

  • Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the remains of annuals, but leave those perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example).

  • Clear out the greenhouse, wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope of reasonable repair!

2. Burn

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

  • If you need to, use a seasonal bonfire (where this is allowed) to dispose of material that can’t be composted. Follow good neighbour and eco friendly practices- avoid smoke nuisance and don’t use petrol/diesel or burn plastics etc.

3. Dig

  • This month is probably your last chance to prepare your soil before winter sets in. If it’s heavy, clear the weeds, dig it over and add organic matter to the soil as you dig or lay a thick mulch on top and let the worms do the work for you!

  • If you produce a fine tilth, protect it from winter rain, which will damage the soil structure – use a good layer of compost and/or leaf mould, sow a green manure or even lay plastic sheeting over it. The soil will be easier to plant or sow into the following spring.

3.Plant

  • Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi, crocuses and alliums – even though it’s a little late!

  • Plant tulip bulbs – the cooler soil helps prevent the fungal disease ‘tulip fire’. Plant bulbs in containers or in a sunny spot at 2 – 3 times their own depth and double their width apart. They can also be used to fill gaps in beds and borders, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland. Remember that tulips like good drainage and ideally should lie on a thin layer of grit if your soil is heavy, to prevent rotting.

  • Pot up amaryllis bulbs, water, keep them initially in a dark, warm place, then in daylight as leaves appear – hopefully you’ll have glorious colour for Christmas!.

  • Plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, hedging and roses as well as fruit trees and bushes. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour before planting.

  • Sow over-wintering onion sets, broad beans and garlic.

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

4. Divide

  • Perennials such as daylilies, Asters (Michaelmas daisies) and Golden Rod can be divided and replanted. Cut them down to about 8- 10cms, dig them up and divide carefully. If your soil is heavy clay, do this in the spring. All other perennials are also best left until the spring, especially peonies which dislike being split in cold weather and ‘warm season’ grasses like Miscanthus.

5. Prune

  • Roses  and tall shrubs (Lavatera and Buddleja for example) should be pruned lightly to prevent wind-rock (reduce stems by about a half). Pruning can be carried out from now on throughout the dormant season. Once the leaves have fallen it is easier to see the overall shape and prune accordingly.

  • Do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemons and hardy fuchsias more than a third – the dead stems should give some protection for the crowns in the coldest weather. In colder areas, mulch them with composted bark or something similar and avoid cutting them back fully until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.

  • Remove any fig fruits larger than a pea – the really small ones are embryo figs that will be next year’s crop. The larger ones will not survive the winter.

6. Support

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

  • Remember to feed the birds in your garden and provide fresh water.

  • Create a small pile of logs to provide shelter for insects and amphibians over the winter.

  • Solitary bees make good use of nooks and crannies in gardens over winter, so if you need some build your own by drilling holes in blocks of untreated softwood and then suspend the blocks in a sunny site. (Block dimensions – 5cm x 10cm x 20cm, Drill bit sizes – 4mm, 6mm and 8mm).

7. Protect

  • Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees by using grease bands around the trunk.

  • Drain and lag standpipes, outdoor taps, irrigation lines and water pumps in advance of really cold weather.

  • Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem

  • Move tender plants inside or keep a supply of fleece, bubble wrap or similar to protect them from freezing conditions – this is especially important for recently planted hardy annuals and outdoor containers which can be insulated with bubblewrap and raised off the ground to prevent waterlogging and freezing.

  • Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from the elements with a temporary netting windbreak if they’re in an exposed site.

8. Harvest

  • Bring in carrots, parsnips (wait until after a frost), endive, cauliflower and autumn cabbages.

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they've had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they’ve had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

9. Store

  • Remove any canes and supports in your garden left from your summer crops or staking– remember to store them safe and dry.

  • Check stored fruit and vegetables and throw out any that show the slightest sign of rotting.

  • Dahlias – wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them, then cut the stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it – it’s easy to forget which is which! Lift the tubers carefully as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once they are completely dry, they can be buried in gritty or sandy peat free compost (used stuff will do) so the top of the tuber is above the compost level. Keep them somewhere frost free.

10.Plan

  • Order seed catalogues or invesitgate seed availability online so that you can get hold of the seeds that you want in good time. If you’re a member of the RHS you can get hold of up to 12 packets of seeds (including 9 collections) for only £8.50- find out more here.

Old School Gardener

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Now's the time to harvest blackberries- though I've been doing this for couple of weeks already!

Now’s the time to harvest blackberries- though I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks already!

With the new month comes the beginning of autumn – meteorologically speaking. September ‘usually’ brings generally cooler and windier conditions than August, and the daylight hours are noticeably shorter. It is the time to reap the remainder of your summer harvest in the veg and fruit garden (and begin with the autumn crops) and for gently coaxing the last few colourful blooms from your summer flowers. It can be a time of special interest if you have grasses that turn to a golden brown and which combine well with ‘prairie’ style plants that bloom on into autumn along with Asters, Sedum and so on. It’s also a time of transition, as you bid farewell to this years growth and begin to prepare for next year with seed collecting, planting, propagation, lawn care and general tidying up. Here are my top ten tips for September in the garden.

1. Continue harvesting fruit and veg

Especially autumn raspberries, plums, blackberries, the first apples and vegetables such as main crop potatoes. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about storage (including freezing) of some of these for winter use. Root vegetables should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Leave parsnips in the ground for now, as they taste better after being frosted. Onions and shallots should be lifted (but do not bend them over at the neck as they won’t store as well) – if the weather is not wet leave them to dry on the soil, otherwise bring them into a dry shed. Any outdoor tomatoes (including green ones) should be picked before the first frost and brought indoors to ripen (placing them next to a banana will accelerate the process). Or you can remove a branch with them still attached and place the whole truss in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.

2. Careful watering

Be selective in watering new plants, those that are still looking green or are flowering or have fruit and veg you have yet to harvest. At the same time start to reduce the amount of water you give house plants. And make sure that established Camellias, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas are well watered in dry periods, otherwise they won’t produce the buds that will form next year’s flowers. Ensure trees or shrubs planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this should be kept clear of grass which could prevent essential moisture getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will also help.

3. Collect and where appropriate, sow seed

Save seed from perennials and hardy annuals to get a start on next year. Continue to sow over – wintering veg seeds such as spinach, turnip, lettuce and onions.

Keep your cabbages covered

Keep your cabbages covered

4. Net work

Put nets over ponds before leaf fall gets underway, to prevent a build up of leaf litter and nutrients in the water and also cover vulnerable Brassica crops with bird-proof netting.

5. Greenhouse switcheroo

Once you’ve finished with your greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers etc. give it a good clean out (and cold frames too). Prepare it for over – wintering tender plants you want to bring inside such as Fuchsia or Pelargoniums before the first frosts. It’s worth insulating it with ‘bubble wrap’ as well as providing a form of heat to ensure the temperature never falls below 5 – 10 degrees C. After the first frost, lift Cannas and Dahlias and after removing the top growth, washing off the roots and drying them, store the tubers in a sandy compost mix in a greenhouse or other frost – free place. Alternatively, if they have been planted in a sheltered spot where frost, cold or wet conditions are rare you can try to leave them in the ground – but cover them with straw, bracken or a mulch of compost.

Save seed from plants like Echinops

Save seed from plants like Echinops

6. Nature nurture

Clean out bird baths and keep them topped up with water. Continue to put out small bird food (avoid peanuts and other larger stuff which is a risk to baby birds in the continuing breeding season). Resist the temptation to remove seed heads from plants such as Sunflowers, as they provide a useful source of food for birds (of course you can still remove some seed for your own use). Put a pile of twigs or logs in a quiet corner of the garden and this will become home to lots of wildlife – and perhaps make a natural feature of this area with primroses, ferns etc. Consider making or buying other wildlife ‘hibernation stations’ for hedgehogs, insects and other critters.

7. Prolonging the show

Continue with dead – heading and weeding so that you extend the flowering season and ensure soil nutrients and moisture benefit your plants and not the weeds.

8. Propagate, plant and prepare

Divide any large clumps of perennials or alpines. Most plants can be separated into many smaller pieces which can all be replanted (or given away) – discard the old centre of the clump. Buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs – Narcissus, Crocus, Muscari and Scilla especially, but wait a couple,of months before you plant Tulips. September is also a good time to plant out container – grown shrubs, trees, fruit bushes and perennials. Always soak the containers well before taking the plant out and fill the new hole with water before putting the plant in its new home (having ‘teased out’ the roots if it’s pot bound). Plant out new spring bedding such as Wallflowers, Primula and Bellis. Now is your last chance to put in new strawberry plants and pot up any rooted runners. Remove any canes that have fruited from summer fruiting raspberries and tie in the new canes, if you haven’t already done so.

dividing perennials

Divide perennials

9. Improve your soil

Sow green manures where the soil used for food growing would otherwise be bare over winter. If your soil is heavy clay, start digging it over now whilst it is still relatively dry. Add plenty of organic matter to improve the quality, and pea shingle to improve the drainage. It can be left over the winter when the cold will break the lumps down, making spring planting easier. Keep your production of compost and leaf mould going from the tidying up you are starting now. For compost, remember the rule of mixing 50% ‘green’ material and 50% ‘brown’ (including shredded paper and cardboard).

10. Lawn care

September is the ideal time for lawn repairs and renovation. First raise the height of the mower and mow less often. You can sow or turf a new lawn or repair bald patches or broken edges in an existing one. It is a good time to scarify (either with a long tined/spring rake or powered scarifier to remove the thatch and other debris) and aerate (by making holes all over the lawn with a fork or powered aerator). Then brush in, or spread with the back of a rake, sieved compost/loam/sand (depending on your ground conditions) and you can also add an autumn lawn feed (one high in phosphate to help root development). This can all be hard work, but you’ll notice the improved look of the lawn next year! If you have large areas of lawn, you could prioritise this work for an area that’s especially visible or near the house, or perhaps rotate around different areas of grass so that you give each one a periodic ‘facelift’ once every two – three years.

Old School Gardener

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Trees and shrubs are important for all forms of native wildlife, including birds, mammals and insects. They will add another dimension to your organic growing area – providing leaves and fruits as a rich larder; habitat for nesting; shade and shelter, plus height for safety. A mature oak tree will support over 280 different insects. See Beneficial Insects..

Where possible, the organic grower plants trees or hedges, along with flowers, shrubs and water, to provide a valuable and diverse ecosystem.

Many of our native creatures are also predators of garden pests. Did you know that a ground beetle eats slugs? And a family of blue tits can eat 100,000 aphids a year? Natural pest control is an essential aspect of organic gardening.

Trees don’t have to be huge. The following list provides ideas for trees for small and large gardens. Some can be grown as a hedge. Hedges supply housing for over 30 species of British birds. A mixed hedge will also provide a variety of nectar producing plants, supporting bees and other pollinators.

Key

N = native

O = non-native

D = deciduous

E = evergreen

Extreme conditions tolerated: W = wet, Dr = dry

Specific soil type: Cl = clay, C= chalk

Common alder, Alnus glutinosa. Full height 22m (70 ft), suitable for hedge.
Can provide a home and food to at least 90 insect species. Small woody cone-like fruit is important food for birds such as goldfinch, siskin and redpoll
N, D, W, Cl

Ash, Fraxinus excelsior. Eventual height 40m (130 ft)
Flowers provide nectar for insects, the seeds or ‘keys’ are food for birds and small mammals. Over 41 associated insect species.
N, D, C

Quaking Aspen, Populus tremula. Eventual height 20m (65ft)
Aspen colonises new ground and is quick to grow. The leaves move in a magical way, immortalized in the poem ‘Lady of Shallot’- ‘willows whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver’. Over 90 associated insect species.
N, D

Nuthatch feeding in tree

Beech, Fagus sylvaticus. Eventual height 36m (120 ft), suitable for hedge.
Richly coloured autumn leaves and beech nuts, or ‘masts’, provide food for many birds such as tits, chaffinches, nuthatches, as well as squirrels and mice throughout the winter. Over 64 associated insect species.
N, D, C

Wild Cherry,Prunus avium. Eventual height 9-12m (30-40 ft)
Bright red fruit are popular for birds and mammals in early summer. Scented white flowers are attractive to bees and flies in the spring.
N, D

Bird Cherry, Prunus padus. Eventual height 6-9m, (20-30ft)
Beautiful white to pale pink blossom fill the air with almond fragrance in the spring. Attractive to bees and flies. Bitter black/red fruit, are eaten by birds. Common along streams and watery areas in North of England and Scotland.
N, D, W

Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster frigidus. Eventual height 9m (30ft), suitable for hedge.
Sweet scented flowers are borne early summer, popular with many insects, followed by a mass of scarlet berries in the autumn. These are much loved by birds including the waxwing and pheasant. C.horizontalis is very popular with bees in the spring.
O, D

Crabapple, Malus sylvestris. Eventual height 9m (30ft)
Pretty pink or white flowers in the spring, followed by small bitter fruit in the autumn. Many mammals such as foxes and badgers, as well as birds, enjoy the fruit. Over 90 associated insect species.
N, D

Buckthorn, Rhamnus Eventual height 5m (16ft), suitable for hedge.
The small yellow flowers of the Purging Buckthorn in spring provide food for the brimstone butterfly, whose caterpillars also feed on the leaves. Black berries in the autumn are borne on the female plant and are enjoyed by birds and small mammals.
N, D,C

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Eventual height: 8m (26ft), suitable for hedge.
A small tree or shrub. Heavily scented white flowers in early spring are much loved by bees and other insects.The bright red berries, called ‘haws’ are a favourite food in winter for many birds including fieldfares and redwings. Leaves are food for the brimstone moth and oak eggar moth. As a hedge, it is a fast growing and sturdy plant, and can be ‘laid’. 149 associated insect species. The midland hawthorn, Crataegus oxycanthoides, is more tolerant of shade and heavy clay soil.
N, D

Hazel,Corylus avellana. Eventual height 6m (20ft ), suitable for hedge.
Classed as a tree or shrub, regular coppicing will keep the tree quite short. Nuts and leaves provide a great deal of food for birds and mammals, including the now rare dormouse.
N, D, W, C

Holly, Ilex aquifolium. Eventual height 20m (65ft), suitable for hedge. The small, pale green scented flowers attract butterflies, bees and other insects, in late spring/early summer. Long-lasting red berries are important winter food for many birds including the thrush and small mammals. Spiny, glossy leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly. It is important to have both a female and a male tree for the development of berries.
N, E

Hornbeam,Carpinus betulus. Eventual height 24m (80ft) , suitable for hedge.
Dead leaves remain overwinter when grown as a hedge, rather than leaving a bare framework. Seeds are important food source for squirrels and birds.
N, D

Small-leaved Lime,Tilia cordata. Eventual height 22m (70ft), suitable for hedge.
This can be grown as a hedge, with sweet smelling flowers that are highly attractive to bees early summer. Host to 31 insect species. Commonly found in limestone regions in England and Wales.
N, D

English Oak, Quercus robur. Eventual height 35m (115ft ) , suitable for hedge.
Can provide home for more than 284 species of associated insects. Although lofty at full height, this tree can be pollarded, or coppiced, and can also be ‘laid’ to make a hedge. Long lived.
N, D

Rowan,Sorbus aucuparia. Eventual height 12m (40 ft)
Sweet smelling flowers in the spring attract many insects. Orange berries in the autumn are an important food source for many birds and small mammals such as hedgehogs. Over 28 associated insect species. Can survive in exposed situations.
N, D, W

Silver birch, Betula pendula. Eventual height 15m (50 ft)
A beautiful tree, with silvery-white bark. Suitable for small gardens. Older trees play host to bracket fungi and birds such as woodpeckers. Supports 229 associated insect species. Seeds popular with over-wintering birds and small mammals.
N, D

White willow, Salix alba. Eventual height 18m (60 ft), suitable for hedge.
Flourishes beside water; useful in reducing soil erosion. Over 200 associated insect species.
N, D, W

Source: Garden Organic

imagesOn Saturday a group of about a dozen volunteers set about transforming the space around my local church, St. Peter’s Church, Haveringland; from a wildlife friendly, but rather dishevelled churchyard into the first stage of creating a more ‘managed’ space.

The newly established ‘Friends of Haveringland Parish Church’ arranged the event following a visit from Norfolk Wildlife Trust who gave us some very helpful advice, and my own efforts at producing a Management Plan for the churchyard. The overall aims of this are to achieve a space which is a balance of:

  1. Accessibility to recent graves

  2. A place for reflection and calm

  3. Wildlife friendly

  4. Prevents deterioration of the church building and grounds

  5. Low maintenance

  6. Easy accessibility to the Church (and some surrounds to church?) for wheelchair users

The overall layout features:

  • Blocks of ‘meadow’ (major perennial weeds dug out, strimmed annually and raked off) surrounded by regularly close mown paths.

  • Areas of regularly close mown grass around recent graves and close to the Church; possibly including seating and ‘photo opportunity’ spaces.

  • Perimeter trees (firs) pruned from ground to above churchyard wall height, and an entrance avenue maintained to it’s established crown height.

  • Other major deciduous trees pruned to raise crowns; elders and hawthorns removed.

  • Regular removal of invasive ivy, grass and weeds on perimeter walls and next to church walls (drainage trench).

A few days before the event, this is what the place looked like.

Our first ‘Groundforce Day’ focused on strimming and mowing the rough grass and then raking the cuttings off to avoid fertilising the soil (so as to encourage wildflowers to thrive and spread), removing thistles, Ragwort and sapling trees from poor locations and trimming back trees along the front wall of the churchyard to open up the churchyard to the outside and to improve views out to the surrounding fields. One of our team also made a start on weeding the pebble drainage trench surrounding the church walls- a painstaking job. Here’s a layout plan that will guide our work.

st. peters planWe made good progress until ‘rain stopped play’ around 3pm, by which time the strimming was done, most of the cuttings had been raked away, some of the ‘weed thugs’ removed and the front row of trees trimmed to provide great views in and out of the churchyard. We also planted our sign showing we are members of the Churchyard Conservation Scheme run by Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norwich Diocese…

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HUGE thanks to Deborah (refreshments), Gisela, Andre (and for the cakes too), Andrew, Brian, David, Fred, Les, Neil, Norman, and Richard (and Nancy for the delicious lemon drizzle cake).

…and also thanks to Peter Richardson and Dick Rowse for the loan of two special strimmers!

Here’s to Haveringland Groundforce Day #2 (date to be confirmed, but probably mid October- watch this website)! We will finish off the weeding round the church walls and tackle the ivy on the churchyard walls.

For now, the Church looks ready for the special Harvest Festival event this Sunday, 11th September when a vintage tractor run, the Aylsham Band, children’s activities, standing steam engines, refreshments (and toilet facilities), and an informal Harvest Service (hopefully outside) will be on offer- please come and visit us from 2.30-pm to 5pm (St. Peter’s is set in fields just off of the Haveringland Road, between Cawston and Felthorpe).

Old School Gardener

WP_20160512_21_47_51_ProOK, I’m sorry. It’s two months since we got back from Scotland and the roll out of my pictures and stories is painfully slow. Put it down to ‘getting back into the garden’, as those of you who read my letters to my friend Walter, will know.

So far I’ve shared my experiences of two clan seats on Skye- at Dunvegan and Armadale Castles- and in particular the splendid gardens. Today I thought I’d do a sort of composite post picking up the various other things and places we did/went to before moving back for a couple of days to Glasgow.

We were sharing a rather nice house with 6 friends in the north west of the island. The weather, and especially the sunsets (see the picture above) were amazing for early May…27 degrees C on one or two days. First, then some shots of our immediate area…

Second, some from some of the walks (and swims!) we did…Coral Beaches, Fairy Pools and a long trek across moorland towards Talisker Bay…

We also went on a boat trip where we managed to (just about) see some White Tailed and Golden Eagles as well as a good range of other sea birds….

Finally, and most spectacular of all, we went on a rather longer walk up and around the ‘Old Man of Storr’ up in the north east of the island- some breathtaking scenery here…

Well, hopefully you get the flavour of what was a fascinating and fun week- including a themed Scottish evening meal with us all wearing ‘See you Jimmy’ hats (and hair)!! no pictures to protect the innocent…

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Old School Gardener

birdbath%20trio.jpg-550x0Birds will splash vigorously in an expensive ornamental birdbath – but just as readily in an upturned old dustbin lid. Prop it in place with bricks to ensure it is stable and put some gravel in the bottom to give the birds something to grip underfoot. change the water every few days and in the winter be sure to break any ice which forms. Give the lid a brisk scrub occasionally to keep it clear of algae.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener

bird feeder

WP_20150910_12_46_17_ProOur recent stay in Northumberland featured a boat trip to the Farne Islands.The National Trust says:

‘The Farne Islands are possibly the most exciting seabird colony in England with unrivalled views of 23 species, including around 37,000 pairs of puffin.

It’s also home to a large grey seal colony, with more than 1,000 pups born every autumn.

Historically, the islands have strong links with Celtic Christianity and St Cuthbert, who lived here in the 7th Century.

There’s also a medieval pele tower and Victorian lighthouse here, plus a visitor centre and easy access boardwalk.

Many of the islands hide underwater at high tide…’

 

We loved to see the birds and seals of the islands and to visit the main island to explore St. Cuthbert’s Chapel with it’s memorial to Grace Darling.

This young girl shot to fame nearly 200 years ago as she and her father helped to rescue survivors from a shipwreck. As the Grace Darling website says:

‘Grace was born on 24th November 1815 at Bamburgh, Northumberland and spent her youth in two lighthouses (Brownsman and Longstone) where her father, William, was the keeper. In the early hours of the 7th September 1838, Grace, looking out from an upstairs window of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, spotted the wreck and survivors of the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a low rocky outcrop. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks and broken in half; one of the halves had sunk during the night.  Amidst tempestuous waves and gale force winds there followed an amazing rescue of the survivors.  Grace’s life would never be the same.’

November 24th will be the 200th anniversary of Grace’s birth.

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I also loved seeing the cliffs where bird nests can be seen up close. Unfortunately the main nesting season had passed so we weren’t able to see puffins and other birds who had moved on to new homes for the winter, but it was, nonetheless a great trip.

Old School Gardener

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Old School Gardener

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