Careless Key-holders

Just recently I have noticed on a number of occasions that the padlocks on the gates into the wood have been carefully  positioned to look locked, but left unlocked. And it’s not just me, some of my wood-neighbours have noticed too.


Last weekend I went to the wood to collect some of the logs my son had split. At this time of year I don’t drive into the wood, a) for fear of my car getting stuck in the mud and b) because it would damage the ride. So I wheelbarrowed logs back to my car, parked on the road, and then went off to for a birdwatching circuit of the rides. Sadly Colin’s feeders were empty, so little chance of seeing a nuthatch there. But I had plenty of opportunities to watch blue, great and marsh tits really close. Surprisingly I saw no long-tailed tits or goldcrests, though I’m certain I heard them.

Reaching the top of the ride which my daughter and I cut with the scythe in the summer, this is what I saw.



Deep, wide ruts full of water, running 20 yards down the ride (which nobody ever drives down). Too far for just a turning manoeuvre. I hope it recovers. That is our best ride for moths, butterflies, fungi etc etc. It must have been a large 4×4 that did this.


Returning to my car I set off for home, but noticed the chain on the other gate, which I’d not used, looked a little odd so I stopped to check. It was unlocked. So it’s anyone’s guess how long it had been like that or who had caused the damage to the ride. And who had the key-holder been leaving the gate open for?

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A New Convert

A short while ago it was so warm that I was worrying that Spring would overtake me in January(!), and I’d fail to complete this winter’s coppicing in time. The Dog’s Mercury was coming through in flower and the first bluebell leaves were already poking through.

My son knew I was a little worried and worked out which weekends he was free to help me. So 2 weeks ago he met me at the wood with his chainsaw gear and chainsaw and the two of us spent a happy few hours with our 2 saws going – coppicing. We made the decision to not tidy up as we went, but to just leave the wood more or less where it fell. Speed was of the essence. And by the end of the afternoon we had done the whole plot with the exception of the two stools immediately under the folded-in-two oak  – which appeared to be at least partially supporting the weight of the broken crown of the oak shown in my last post.It was so satisfying to get it all done, even if I am left with about 12 hours worth of tidying up to do at my leisure.

Last Saturday morning, whilst out for coffee, cake and a natter with a good friend, my phone went off, a text from my son “Are you at the wood?” It turned out he’d like to come and help again, so we met up around lunchtime and he split logs with the axe whilst I barrowed them to my car. We also put some protection, stakes and brash, round some of the coppice stools which had been browsed by deer last year. Son has decided he really likes my billhook.


That night it snowed. Put Spring on hold for a while! Sunday morning I was joined by the members and leaders of our RSPB Phoenix group. The wood looked ridiculously pretty in the snow.We continued with some more deer protection for a while, then boiled the Kelly kettle for hot drinks when we got cold. All the while we were accompanied by a very bold robin.We went round to my wood-neighbour’s bird feeders before we left, which were very busy. We saw great tits, coal tits, a marsh tit and a nuthatch! Brilliant!

The next day at work I got a text message from my son “How did you get on yesterday? Looks good. I can get to the wood and back in my lunch break I’ve found out”

Yep, he’s got it bad just like my daughter and I have, we’re all smitten by the wood.

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And it huffed and it puffed …

20151223_114825This probably happened around the same time as the willow came down, but I only noticed it today. It doesn’t look much on the photo, but actually that is the crown of an oak which has snapped off and is now hanging down by a hinge. The tree is effectively  almost halved in height. Although it looks like a small tree in the picture, I can’t reach round the girth of its trunk with my arms, that’s a piece of tree the size of a full grown tree in a small garden hanging upside down.


And this is what it did to its neighbour on the way down.

It was a beautiful day to have a wander in the wood, I saw a blackbird searching through the fallen leaves for food and a wren in one of the brash piles I created. Whilst marsh tits, coal tits, blue tits and goldcrests were busy in the branches above my head.

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Timber! follow-up

Several people have been very helpful in identifying the fallen tree for me. It seems it is either a goat willow or a hybrid of it, and I’m really not good enough to be able to tell them apart. But today, a week after discovering it, I returned to the wood and took cuttings, which I planted as soon as I got home. So hopefully someone will be able to positively identify them some time in the future.

It was not a good day to be at the wood, raining at breakfast time, and very windy, which the forecasters on the radio told me would make it feel several degrees colder than it actually was (happily this didn’t turn out to be true). But today was the only day 2 friends and I could all manage to meet up, so we went anyway. We were hoping for fungi to photograph, but we only found a few small ones. My wood-neighbour Colin was working at clearing the small ride we call the “butterfly ride” of a large fallen oak branch. He told us the nuthatches had been on his feeders all morning, but sadly we didn’t see them.

We lit up the Kelly kettle and made hot drinks, and ate food we’d brought then set off for a wander round all the rides. Still very few fungi, so I took my cuttings and we headed for home. As one of my friends commented, “I always feel better for a fresh air fix”. So very true!

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20151122_114525 After a week of storms and high winds, it was hardly surprising to find this when I arrived last weekend. What was surprising was that I couldn’t identify the tree, hadn’t even realised we had it! The upper branches were across one of the main rides, but still high enough to drive a car under. I sent my son my usual “I’m at the wood” text and added a photo of the fallen tree. Immediately I got a reply “Need a hand with that? Got your saw with you?”

I worked at coppicing (this winter’s plot) for a couple of hours, and I had a robin for company the whole time. I expected him to disappear as soon as I started the chainsaw, but he just didn’t care, at times he was almost under my feet! When my son arrived and we tackled the fallen tree, the robin came with us.IMG_0686I’ve bought myself a traditional bill hook (along with a couple of pocket knives), to see if it makes processing the coppiced wood quicker, I think it might, but I’ll need lots of practise to get good at it.

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Upping the Work-rate

20150905_122043 20150927_140709We have had some impressive fungi in the wood recently, some of which I can identify, and some I can’t. The more time I spend in the wood, the more I see.

Having learnt from last year’s mistake – starting too late and failing to get near to finishing the area we’d marked for coppicing by March; we started in September this year and I have been at the wood every available moment, knowing that once the weather deteriorates work at the wood becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. Picking up from where we left off in March we are now in sight of completing last winter’s coppice area – THEN we can start this winter’s! My daughter is feeling guilty because she’s leaving the country for most of this winter, so won’t be able to help for much longer, but I’m hoping her brother will step in to fill the void.

A lot of the coppice stools we are tackling are basically collections of very tall trees with narrow diameter trunks. We don’t claim to be experts at this, we can still get the chainsaw caught occasionally, the odd tree falls in a totally unexpected direction and we spend a lot of time disentangling contorted branches. But we are getting quicker.

A lot of the new shoots this year were browsed by deer, so we have “copparded” the remainder of the plot, and we are experimenting with various heights of cut to see what works best for us. We saw this technique being used at Grafham Water where they were also experiencing problems with browsing deer.

Whilst busy at the weekend, we were joined in the wood by a number of quad bikes and trail bikes roaring about the rides. I’m hoping they don’t make a habit of this as they will soon ruin the rides once it gets muddy. They were also incredibly loud, I heard them easily above the chainsaw and through my ear defenders.

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A Perfect Summer Day

My daughter and I returned to the wood the day after the “Work (wood) Do”. The weather was still fantastic and the place was alive with butterflies. We saw commas, large whites, wall browns and gatekeepers but these were far outnumbered by ringlets, a butterfly we’d never seen in the wood before, let alone in these numbers.

We’d taken the scythe with us to tackle a ride down one side of our plot. Last year when the tractor came in to cut all the rides it didn’t do this one, and as a result it got very overgrown. So one of us scythed down the waist-high hogweed, meadowsweet and encroaching brambles etc, while the other used loppers and a saw to take back the overhanging branches which were threatening to meet in the middle. It was a hot day, but the swish of a sharp scythe was satisfying and we managed to open up a good length of the ride. My daughter says about 40-50m, I say about 1/2 a mile! Whichever of us is right, the result was a striking difference in appearance. What had seemed impassable, narrow, overgrown and dark, became wider and open with just dappled shade. I really wish I had some before and after photos. There is still at least the same distance again to do. I am hoping to spend a few evenings continuing the work, until I meet up with the section my neighbour has already cut.

Before we felt too weary we put the scythe away and went off to look for regrowth from our coppiced stools. We were relieved to find it’s coming, some better than others and a proportion of it has been browsed, presumably by deer. None of my efforts at layering are showing any signs of growth yet, but I’m still optimistic that some might.

Before we packed up and came home we loaded up all the logs from a tree my son cut up back in January. They are now in a heap on the grass in my back garden waiting for me to discover if they will split with an axe or not.

In spite of a few insect bites and our weary limbs, that was the perfect way to spend a beautiful summer day.

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