I’m sorry (shuffles feet)

WordPress tells me that it is 5 months since I last posted anything here! How did that happen? I’m really not sure, but I’m sorry, and I will try to give you the highlights but I’ll begin with a lowlight.20170122_105945

We coppiced this winter’s plot between November and the end of February without too much trouble, comfortably finishing before the bulbs had done anything more than push the tips of their leaves through the earth. Sometimes I worked alone, sometimes I was joined by either my son or my daughter, occasionally by both. We had a few large branches come down in the storms, but nothing too serious. The ditch overflowed a few times where it had become dammed by fallen leaves and branches, and we spent an hour or two unblocking it so it could run freely again.

I feel as though I saw less wildlife through the winter this year. Fewer birds, no woodcock, and deer only 2 or 3 times at most, but plenty of voles. They appear to be unafraid of us to a ridiculous extent, emerging from numerous holes around the bases of trees when we are less than a metre away.

Whilst working alone one Sunday a man with a lurcher appeared. I’d seen him the previous day and wondered who he was, he’d given me the impression then that he belonged there and I didn’t. So the next day when he came into view, I thought I’d ask him why he was walking his dog in our woods? He laughed at me, not taking my question seriously at first, and his dog began circling me, never making eye-contact, whilst the man started to approach me. He gave me the names of some of the people who own other sections of the wood, said he’d never seen me there before – almost as though I had to account for myself being there. He vaguely suggested that he had permission to be there. Then his dog jumped up at me from behind and stayed there with it paws on my back, he didn’t even call it. I asked him to put his dog on a lead and get off my property, and he went, calling his dog and swearing over his shoulder at me. Afterwards I wondered if the dog would have jumped up at my back if I’d been using a chainsaw – that would have been scary.

 
SignsDSC_0189.JPG of spring started emerging as we were completing the coppicing. FullSizeRenderWoodpeckers drumming, then primroses and wood anemones flowering, hawthorn leaves bursting in all their vibrant
greenness. The delicate yellow flowers of Herb Paris, apple blossom, the bluebells and early purple orchids, and now, as I write, the wild garlic buds are starting to burst open whilefullsizeoutput_ce chiffchaffs and blackcaps sing.

Yesterday on a bright but windy day, my sister and I visited the wood. We stopped to speak to my wood-neighbours who had positioned a reclaimed garden seat, secured it to a tree, and were then painting it. We walked on admiring the flowers, listening to the birds and noting the butterflies, mostly orange-tips and brimstones. One caught my eye, initially I thought speckled wood, but it was too dark and too small – grizzled skipper perhaps? And just a little later we found these oak apple galls on the ground, the wood always has something new to offer.

 

 

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And they’re off!

20161126_1146271Today my daughter and I officially started the coppicing for this winter. We marked out the plot a few weeks ago, but we waited for the leaves to fall before starting. This is plot number 3 of our 12 year plan, and until we’ve completed all 12 plots we shall be cutting overstood (left to grow for too long without cutting) coppice stools each winter. These are more difficult to cut because the stems are thicker, they’re taller and heavier and rarely straight. It also means that we are often on the limit of what we can cut without requiring a felling licence – 15cm diameter or less when measured 1.3m from the ground. Contrast this with a hazel I’ve coppiced in our garden, which produces a multitude of long, thin, straight poles, perfect for bean poles.

I am very pleased to report that I  had no problems either starting my chainsaw, or using it today, I was slightly concerned that it might be something my  hand that was operated on in the summer might complain about, but no it was fine. Ironically I can’t use a hand saw comfortably at the moment because of that hand. My daughter was sorting what I’d cut down today into a brash pile and a usable timber pile, and either she’s getting quicker, or I’m getting slower. My billhook appears to be her second-favourite tool (after a chainsaw), and my son has got one of his own since last winter.

My son has found a buyer for some of the wood we’re producing, I’m not absolutely sure what she wants it for, but apparently she has a lathe and she’d like to come to the wood to choose her own timber. Intriguing.

The weather couldn’t have been nicer for being at the wood today, no wind, lots of sunshine and dry. There were more birds chirruping than on our previous visit. We heard goldcrests, a nuthatch, marsh tits, a buzzard and a woodpecker amongst other things. As the sun was falling and we were packing up our stuff a robin flew through the trees to join us. I’d love to think it was the robin that joined me each time I worked in the wood last winter, but it probably wasn’t. I shall have to remember to take a few mealworms along with me in future.

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Summer update

Another school year is over, and another pleasant evening was spent at the wood with colleagues just before the end of term. And then I had an operation to decompress the carpal tunnel in my right wrist, which means no driving for now, and no working at the wood for weeks. I am itching to take the scythe and cut some of the rides, but it cannot be done, and both my children are too busy at the moment to help out. I’m hoping that I will be able to get a little coppicing done this autumn before I have the same operation on my left wrist.

Light at the end of the Tunnel near OrlingburyI entered 3 of my photos of the wood into the local RSPB group’s calendar competition this year, and heard recently that 1 of them has been selected – this will be the June photo for 2017.
I adore green and white plants!

Natural England have informed me that they have finally been to visit the wood.They’re hoping to come back in the spring, and they’ll want to meet all the owners too if possible. I hope this is a good sign that we can improve our SSSI rating from “Unfavourable – recovering” to “Favourable”.

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Turned out Nice Again – Eventually

Having been away, been busy, or just had awful cold, wet weather, it was about 2 weeks since I’d visited the wood. So this weekend nothing was stopping me from going. My daughter unexpectedly came home for the weekend, and she agreed we must go. She was sad to have missed the garlic in full flower this year, it is always spectacular.

So on Sunday morning  we packed the kelly kettle and drove to the wood. We were a bit sad to see that 1 of our neighbours had used his ride-on mower to cut the ride. I love it when the cow parsley is waist high. We dumped our picnic bag at our usual fallen tree and set off to see what was happening in our patch. We examined the coppiced stools from last winter and the winter before for regrowth, some new shoots had been browsed off by deer, but others were surviving. The taller “copparded” (coppiced but at about 1m off the ground) stools were doing better than those coppiced at ground level. The ones we’d protected with brash were doing ok, except where the shoots had immediately grown out of the protection of the brash. Where we could we carefully tucked the shoots back inside20160605_140204

There were snails on almost every upright we looked at, whether it was growing or not. Our tiny door snails as well as the larger multi-coloured type snails. We checked on the oak sapling we’d planted in early spring, looking into it, the tree protector was stuffed full of new oak leaves, and it is well on the way to bursting out of the top. I was just taking a photo of door snails on the outside of the tree protector when my daughter exclaimed – there was the dying flower spike of an early purple orchid! The first we’ve ever seen in our part of the wood. Had it always been there? Or was it flowering now because our coppicing had given it extra light? Whichever it was, we were excited. As my daughter said,”Isn’t it nice to know that we’re not killing everything off?!”

We boiled the kettle and had lunch whilst enjoying the birdsong all around us. We heard blackbirds and thrushes, a calling nuthatch, garden warbler, blackcap, great tits, wrens, long tailed tits plus lots of things I wasn’t certain about. We watched a buzzard fly quietly through the trees. How do they do that? My daughter saw 2 birds chasing each other, flying fast and very low – she thought woodcock and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she was right.

Afterwards we walked round to the ride we scythed last year, hoping to see signs of common spotted orchids. But our neighbour and his mower had got there before us and we probably won’t see any orchids there this year. The butterfly ride hasn’t been cut for a couple of years and I’m beginning to wonder if that means the orchids won’t flower there this year either. I intend to scythe it later this year.20160605_153844

 

Finally we collected our things together and wandered off to the car. As I was changing out of my muddy boots, my daughter saw what she thinks was a very small muntjac cross the ride – I, of course, missed it.

 

 

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“I must gather knots of flowers”

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Breakfast al Fresco

This morning I woke and thought, why don’t I get up and go straight to the wood and have breakfast there? I’m on holiday. It was a beautiful spring morning, chilly but bright. So I made myself a flask of tea and a marmalade sandwich, and was at the wood by 7.30am.

I was greeted by blackbirds flying up the ride ahead of me, some great tits and lots of birdsong.  Almost immediately I heard my first chiffchaff of the year, then I heard a snippet of what I believe was a garden warbler. We get them every year, but it takes me a while to get my ear attuned. There were several song thrushes singing, and wrens, blackbirds and robins too. I made my way to the fallen tree we use as a seat and had my breakfast there. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming regularly, a wren kept me company and two squirrels crazily chased up and down trees. I had a pair of mistle thrushes fly above me, going systematically from tree to tree. I could only guess that they were looking for a suitable fork to nest in. What surprised me though was that although they’re quite large birds, and were only just above me, I couldn’t hear them flying at all.

The floor of the wood is studded with wood anemones at the moment, and because I was early they were mostly still closed. There are a few bluebells in flower, but only those on the margins, I didn’t see any open further in. The clumps of primroses continue to flower, they seem to have been doing that for months already.

I continued round the edge of the wood and returned to my car. I saw a pair of chaffinches and lots of blue and great tits, but no marsh tits or long tailed tits. I heard a green woodpecker yaffling and I disturbed a jay.

I am so glad I went early this morning, I should do it more often. In fact I can’t think why I haven’t done it before.

 

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Here come the bulbs again, lighting up the wood

With lots of help from my daughter, son and son’s girlfriend, we got the coppiced area all tidied up by the time the primroses were open, and the very first wild garlic leaves were smelling pungently as we walked over them. The last thing we did was to plant a young oak tree,20160306_134839 grown from an acorn I’d picked up in the wood, and planted in my garden. I really hope that it continues to thrive, it is the first thing we have planted in the wood. Because of the site’s SSSI status we are probably overly cautious about importing anything into it, so propagating from the existing plants is ideal.

Recently my son misidentified a tree he’d taken down in a garden as an ash. It goes without saying that I shall have to disinherit him now. In the following days though the news broke that experts are predicting that diseases will wipe out the european ash in the same way as Dutch Elm disease removed elms from the landscape. A friend saw the news and sent me a jokey text saying how that would make it much easier for my son to identify trees. But the harsh reality is that it means about 2/3 of the trees in our wood will be gone. So what would be left ? There would be the oaks which were planted almost 100 years ago, though many of them don’t look really healthy, and those which do are stil20160403_135602l prone to being damaged in high winds. Field maples, but not many, and goat willows which are also few and far between. So if we don’t want huge gaps we are going to have to start encouraging some of these other species. The photo on the right is one of the cuttings I took from the willow which the wind brought down this winter. It is the first cutting to leaf up, but there are others which aren’t far behind.

For a month or two now, the wood will become a no-go area. It is impossible to walk through it without crushing wood anemones, wild garlic, and bluebells. I shall still creep in now and again just to see if the Herb Paris has survived, but apart from that we’ll be admiring its full Spring glory from the surrounding rides.

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