Monday, 31 December 2007

December 2007

This month saw more visits to the wood, all focussed on coppicing while the season and weather allowed. The felled trees have been piling up and aren’t all logged yet so the area looks a bit of a mess, but we are getting there. There is a lot more birch than originally thought and the plan is to control this when the coppice regrows and encourage more chestnut and/or maybe add some indigenous species. That’s a decision for next winter; for now the main aim is to get the area coppiced and the felled trees logged and stacked ready for sale for firewood. To counteract the cold, there have been some fires (also to get rid of the thin branches etc), and local chippies have seen our business too (not very Ray Mears, but very welcome on a frosty day). We are often joined by a Robin who hops and flits about the felled trees while we work. On one occasion while we were taking a well earned break, a Sparrowhawk flew through the wood and then locked talons with another. They spiralled around briefly (just like on TV!) before going their separate ways. With the trees now bare of leaves there is less colour in the wood, but this bareness moves your focus to the form of the trees such as the Alder pictured above.

Monday, 26 November 2007

One Year On

November 2007

This month saw work start on returning the wood to coppice rotation. We are hoping to fell approx half an acre this winter, if we can do that every year then that will work out as roughly a 10 year coppice rotation. The first area to be done is, obviously and sensibly, next to the track; because it is easier for us to access, easier to get the logs to the trackside, and also means that there is more room to fell into without getting (too many) trees hung up in their neighbours. So far so good; we’ve spent a couple of days felling and only had 2 trees hung up (yes, I know that should have been zero, but we are still learning). The answer in both cases was a rope around the base attached by a karabiner to a ratchet strap around a nearby tree. This solution is not as effective as a strong winch (or avoiding getting the tree hung up in the first place!) but it works if you have patience.

There’s always something new and this month we saw for the first time in the wood; fly agaric, ink cap and a woodcock (it did seem odd seeing a wading bird in woodland). Most of the trees’ leaves have turned and fallen, but there is still some green in the wood from the ferns (and brambles). It’s now a whole year since we bought the wood and looking back it’s been even better than we expected. The wood is lovely; whether it’s the colours of autumn, a warm winter fire, spring bluebells, moth spotting, camping in the summer, sharing the wood with friends or just chilling out on our own. Owning this wood has added another dimension to life and is the best investment ever.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Ready for Winter

The past month has seen the weather turn away from the mild quiet of late summer towards the refreshing season of turning leaves and the season of nature’s rest. The tree camp has had its tops lopped; we pollarded the trees so they wouldn’t catch the gales and bring the whole lot down. My 1st experience of working with a chainsaw at height and although there were no injuries it wasn’t all plain sailing as a misjudgement of a tree’s lean ended up with the saw firmly held tight in the cut. Lots of rope pulling, hand sawing and muttered expletives were required to free the chainsaw. The tree camp now looks a bit bare (see before/after photo's below) but by next summer it will have grown some mop-tops to soften the starkness. We have also spent a day widening the glade a little and the fire pit area now seems linked to the glade rather than separate from it.

Saturday 27th October saw us gather with family and friends to mark the season. The afternoon was spent chilling out and cooking on the fire; roasting chestnuts, charring sausages and even roasting a whole chicken. The evening was lit by loads of fireworks; everyone brought some along and the display lasted about 1¾ hours! We finished the day off with a bonfire (which also had the benefit of getting rid of the branches and smaller wood from the trees felled or pollarded in the preceding weeks).

Monday, 10 September 2007

July to September 2007

Late summer saw fewer visits to the wood as the rest of life took over (DIY at home plus a fantastic holiday in Ecuador). During the few days spent in the wood, most time was spent chilling out; although there was always some work getting done, typically bracken bashing and keeping the path clear through the wayleave. The tree camp now has its floorboards complete and rails all round – next job will be to pollard the trees so they and the camp don’t come down in the autumn gales. The 1st weekend in September we camped in our wonderful new pop-up tents (Eurohike Flash) which take just a few seconds to put up and take down; so much easier than the cumbersome but palatial ‘umbrella’ tent we have been using, but if staying for more than a couple of nights we’ll probably still use the big old tent. Also that weekend one of Tom’s friends stayed over and they had fun exploring the wood, whittling staffs and making use of the air rifle to put holes in their old primary school’s fleece before they start secondary school. The wood feels subdued in late summer, the energy and new life of spring seems a long time behind us, while the glory of autumn colours is yet to appear. But we know that it’s only a few weeks until the leaves will be changing and it will be time to get the chainsaw back into action.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Summertime, and the living is easy

Sunday 17th June 2007

A wonderfully laidback day. A bit more work done on the upper platform of the tree camp, adding a few more split chestnut ‘floorboards’. Bashing bracken in the glade and a gentle wander down the gill and up the wayleave, where we found a beautiful orchid in full flower (Heath Spotted Orchid?). During the wander we collect some hazel for staffs and then back by the clearing to sit whittling for a while or chilling out in the hammock. The birdsong is periodically outcompeted by our attempts at drumming. With the leaves now in full leaf the woods are much darker and the glade seems quite small again, but we plan to widen it when winter returns.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Beltane and a Beautiful Demoiselle

Sunday 6th May saw our 1st gathering in the wood, a sort of woodwarming and also to gather for Beltane; about 16 of us in all. For most it was their 1st visit to the wood and after all were there we gave them a short ‘tour’ through the bluebells and down the wayleave (now with a profusion of bugle) then up through Sulis Gill and back to the clearing where half a dozen tents were pitched. Supper included jacket spuds cooked in the fire, some in foil but we also tried some in a biscuit tin; those in the tin were almost successful! Next time we’ll not pile so much of the fire on top of the tin as the bottoms were fine but the tops charred. It was a lovely laidback evening sitting round the fire chatting, sharing a few beers and cooking burgers and sausages over the flames; while the maybugs held their own gathering around the hurricane lamp. Monday morning was met by many sleepily waking faces as we relit the fire from its embers and made toast before the rain joined us and we packed up the soaking tents before heading to Hastings and the Jack-in-the-Green celebration of the beginning of summer.

At the end of May we did a little more work on the tree camp; fixing the main supports for the second platform and starting to put on the ‘floor boards’. All but a very few bluebells are past flowering and the trees are much greener now. A walk down the wayleave finds the bugle still in flower and Tom’s young eyes spot a Beautiful Demoiselle there. The bracken in the clearing gets a good thrashing and Julie takes out the sycamore saplings from Sulis Gill. We finish the day digging out a couple of stumps from the parking area and smooth out the lump there that caused trouble at the start of the month (and also fill in the hole that I managed to reverse into).

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A Glorious April

The 1st Friday in April was our first night camping in the wood. It was a lovely sunny day – meaning it was going to be a cold night. The evening was great; sitting by the fire listening to the sounds of the wood as the smoke seemed always attracted to us. Within the heat of the fire, potatoes baked and beans simmered in the pan on top; we added some cheese and washed it all down with cider for inner warmth (later to re-emerge as heartburn). We then wonder through the wood to meet the moth spotters who had set up their light traps nearby. The moths they attracted, and the knowledge of the moth spotters, was fascinating (see below for list of moths trapped). Back to the tent and we fall asleep to the sound of owls, only to be awoken by heartburn and the growing cold; the morning greets us with a dawn chorus and then sleepy people emerge. A quick wander is followed by a retreat to the Little Chef for some hot chocolate (yes, not at all in the spirit of camping, but hot chocolate…).

The next visit is more practical - constructing the composting loo. A proper loo seat (well, we need a little bit of comfort) on a strong box, placed over a hole then housed in a tarpaulin enclosure for privacy; basic but functional. Also add a bit more to the tree camp in preparation for constructing a higher platform. See a comma and a sulphur yellow butterfly. There is some ‘fluff’ at the entrance to one of the nest boxes so maybe there’s residents, we’ll keep a better look out for them.

A few days later and we are clearing a space by the track for parking; within site from the clearing, and out of site from the road and Little Chef car park. Slow progress trying to remove stumps, what looked weak was strong and trying to cut low down soon resulted in a blunt chainsaw. Plan B; just tidy up the stumps so there’s no sharp bits and build up the level with hardcore so that the stumps aren’t a problem. There’s a lot more bluebells out now and wood anemones, plus quite a few violets and bugle on the wayleave.

Friday 27th April; a quick visit checking things out before we have visitors camping over for Beltane weekend. Although the clearing is not vast, there should be enough room for tents, including a few between the trees if necessary. The moth spotters have left a list of those they trapped a few weeks ago. As I’m walking down the wayleave a deer bolts in the wood, the 1st one we’ve seen in Ewar Woowar. The path through the wayleave is overgrown already and I cut it wider, giving more light to encourage the bugle flowers that are struggling in the shade of the birch saplings. The bluebells are in full flower now and the wood is more beautiful than I’ve ever seen it before. I finish off by starting to clear a path around the south west edge of the wood, as this is a part we rarely walk through (this is where there are some rhododendron, and the ground flora is a bit different with more moss that elsewhere in the wood).

Moths trapped 6/4/7;

with many thanks to Peter and David of

Brindled Pug
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker
Diurea Fagella
Early Grey
Early Thorn
Early Toothed-striped
Eriocrania subpurpurella
Esperia Sulphurella
Frosted Green (very rare in Kent)
Hebrew Character
March Moth
Mottled Grey
Nut Tree Tussock
Oak Beauty
Shoulder Stripe
Small Quaker
Twin Spot Quaker
Yellow Horned

Monday, 2 April 2007

Going up in the world

Saturday 31st March 2007

It’s a lovely sunny day and the wood is now much greener; the bluebells’ shoots are more full and lush; honeysuckle is in leaf and some of the trees’ leaf buds are opening. In the gill by the seasonal stream the wood anemones are in flower. We see a fritillary butterfly on the wayleave and a peacock butterfly joins us later to sun itself in the clearing. After previous visits spent concentrating on developing the clearing and other more practical aspects of the wood, it was good to spend some time taking things a bit easier. ‘Proper’ work was burning the smaller branches and wood from previous weeks clearing, more creative was starting on Tom’s tree camp. This is not going to be some ultra smart neat and tidy ‘shed in a tree’ style tree house. It’s starting off with a simple platform, which in time will no doubt be expanded with extra platforms at different levels, walls, roof and maybe even a walkway to other trees – well, that’s daydreaming anyway, we’ll see what the future brings. For now, we have a platform with a floor of split chestnut and that’s a good solid start.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Biodiversity Plan

Having lived with the wood for a few months now, with the advice we have received, and with daydreams, the plan is to increase the diversity of habitats within the wood (and hence promote biodiversity) as sketched out below. The original habitat is mainly uniformly aged chestnut coppice with oak standards, which changes to alder and hazel along the gill; there are also birch in the sunnier areas of the coppice. There is a central strip of brambles running north-south where trees have been cleared by a previous owner, and a small central clearing. While the oak is great for wildlife, chestnut supports only a few species compared to native tree species (e.g. see table below indicating number of insect species associated with various tree).

The plan is to evolve the middle of the wood as continuous cover forestry by managing and supplementing natural regeneration to favour indigenous tree species. The existing clearing was too small to be of significant benefit for wildlife; rule of thumb for clearings is to have the width at least 2x the height of the trees, as this allows plenty of sunlight in. To create this we will expand the width of the existing clearing and also extend it to the south boundary. The bramble area will be left as it is, with the brambles providing food and shelter for a variety of species; over time natural succession will age this area. The hazels in the gill will be coppiced, while the alders will generally be left to mature. The remainder of the wood will continue as chestnut coppice with oak standards, but rather than being coppiced in a single year, it will be done in smaller areas (approx 0.5 acre per year) to provide a wider range of ages and hence habitats.

Table of trees and associated insects (* indicates introduced species).
Adapted from

Habitat plan at purchase (November 2006)

Proposed habitat/management plan

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


Saturday 17th and Monday 19th February 2007

The past couple of visits have seen good progress expanding the glade’s length; it now reaches to the fence on the south side of the wood. As well as felling trees, this has also involved clearing more of the wood felled by previous owners and trimming back some young regrowth from coppice stools. One of the next jobs will be to make the glade wider, while preserving a few selected trees within it (a large birch and a couple of relatively young oaks). On a walk round the wood we clear back some young growth and brambles to give a more defined, easier to follow path* to the east of the wood, we’ve also cleared a path* from the entrance to the glade. We set up a cheap tarpaulin (from eBay) to provide a dry store for the firewood as it seasons. As well as helping with the glade, Granddad clears some old dead coppice stools and has made us some bird-boxes turned from some of the chestnut that we’ve felled. We see a squirrel, 2 red admirals and a pheasant (there are a lot of pheasants along the local lanes). The bluebells are pushing up green shoots all over so we are looking forward to a colourful spring show.

* well, we say path, it’s really just a route that avoids getting snagged on branches and brambles.

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Saturday 3rd February 2007

Tidying up the work done last time on the glade, logging the trees felled and also those that were felled by previous owners; granddad joins us to help with the work. Not the most exciting day but probably the most progress we’ve made, you can now see that we are making a difference and it will be great when the coming months’ growth and sunshine bring a new richness to the glade. Logs from the newly felled trees are stacked for firewood, while those of older felled trees are stacked as habitat piles.

Saturday 27th January 2007

Following the FC visit and considering how much work there is to do, I have invested in a chainsaw (and some safety gear of course). This is the saw’s 1st outing, felling some trees to start developing the glade. Using it I appreciate the benefits of spending the extra to get a professional quality saw (Stihl MS240) rather than the more affordable one I almost bought (although my bank balance isn’t too sure!). Ceinach, Ranger and their kids visit us and its great to get some advice and share ideas with them. A wonder around the wood highlights the benefit of clearing some paths (which we hadn’t done). There are deer tracks on the wayleave and the bluebell shoots are starting to push through the leaf litter in Sulis’ Gill. Ranger and Tom light our 1st fire in the wood, a small but significant mark of progress.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Friday 12th January 2007

The Forestry Commission visited today to give advice on how we can manage the woodland for the benefit of wildlife. We walked the wood and I was disappointed that the Forestry Commission advisor could not tell me what the fern species were (I guess that’s not his job), but he seemed to have good knowledge on general woodland management. In general he agreed with our plans, and provided clarification on a few points, in particular:
· The glade we are clearing is well positioned, at the south edge of the wood with a field adjacent; this will allow easy colonisation of the glade by butterflies etc. He suggested that the trees cut to create the glade could be maintained on short rotation coppice (2 yrs).
· Much of the chestnut coppice hasn’t been felled for over 20 years, the stools themselves maybe over 150 years old.
· 2 main options for the coppicing are either
bringing in a contractor to coppice 2 acres or so at a time, or
coppice it ourselves and do about 0.5 acre per year.
The 1st option may bring in about £100-200, while the second option could be better for wildlife as this will provide a more varied range of habitats (and so our management plan will include option 2).
· The hazel in the gulleys is well overdue for coppicing. He suggested the gulleys be managed either fully coppiced, or as standards with a coppice hazel understorey.
· We should maintain a variety of deadwood; standing, wind blown, felled and stacked.
· Regular cutting should be enough to control the rhododendron, as it is quite young.
· The local Forestry Commission policy on ‘permitted developments’ such as tool sheds is that they will advise the council against granting authorisation if we apply.
· The north east corner which is a SSSI should simply be maintained as coppice. We just need to write to Natural England for approval before we coppice it.

Following the visit, I spend some time just wandering and wondering. I stop in the south east corner and take some time to connect with the spirits of place. This corner has a lovely feel to it; a sheltered gulley with a stream winding through it, slender hazels, lumpy alders and a trunk clad in fungi (trametes versicolor?) bridging the stream. Am pondering with whether to give this part of the wood a name, maybe “Cunnits’ Corner” or “Sulis’ Gill”?