Wednesday 27 July 2022

Spring and Summer 2022 at Old Copse

I started writing this in the middle of a short July heatwave. Luckily it's fairly easy to keep cool in the wood. We spent a weekend at the cabin which was gorgeous but still chilly enough at night to get the blankets out. We caught up with the bats we hadn't seen for a while and sat by the Pond at dusk watching them swoop and flutter out of the trees and skim across the water, almost brushing against my head, which felt a bit  too close for comfort.

This silver washed fritillary took a fancy to a colour matched Sainsbury's bag on the sunny cabin deck. They live in oak or mixed woodland and feed on nectar from thistles and brambles. Well we've got plenty of those.


Here's a few 2022 Spring Bluebell Glade pictures, The bluebells get better each year, spreading like wildfire throughout the wood. Oh, better not use the  W word. So far this year, despite the dryness  no wildfires have started (especially by the irresponsible person who managed to start one a couple of years ago by lighting a fire directly on tinder dry ground).

The most notable difference in the wood between last year and this year is the gathering pace of  natural regeneration, most notably in the areas where the bracken battle has just about been won.  The main species springing up all over, being oak, beech, birch, rowan, alder buckthorn, and  heather, with  masses of ground cover , much of which we haven't even identified. A variety of grasses have sprung up on the Rides, and the restored Hazel Coppice is quite choked with new flowering plants including wild daffodils.  Much of it must be protected from the deer with tree tubes and temporary deer fencing , but  the young birch is doing a great job of protecting it too. Fallow deer are welcome to eat as much of it  as they want.and we'll remove a lot of it  when it's done the job of helping successful regeneration. We might enlist some birch clearing help from children who always enjoy a bit of light felling.  Most of the explosion of growth is welcome, but some of it isn't ,  especially Tutsan (St. John's Wort) which has in places , become rampant, unwelcome, and difficult to eradicate. 

Our restored hazel coppice has been surprisingly successful, with the young hazels managing to outpace the now abundant ground cover plants, even the 7ft tall foxgloves. Pleased with its success,  we extended it further earlier this month and protected the new area with temporary deer netting. It's made a real difference to a part of Old Copse that borders the road. 

The hazel coppice enclosure protected by fencing so the deer can't eat new growth. Right now we're thigh deep with wild red currant and wood spurge.

The Willow Grove is doing well and looks lush and beautiful. We hope the Purple Emperor butterflies and marsh tits have been enjoying it. We planted lots of willow cuttings after the pollarding last winter. Most of them have taken, but the deer have chomped  a few. Time to put a protective tube over them.We plan to gradually extend the willow grove area to join up with the wet wood. Natural England suggest that instead of pollarding (cut above deer munching height), we could coppice (cut them to the ground) We don't know what the benefits of doing this would be, and of course, deer would be in like a shot to eat the regrowth so we would have to protect it with deer fencing. We will probably stick to pollarding.

One of the sprouting willow plants as yet not chewed by deer.

Recently we had a couple of  interesting meetings with  Sussex Wildlife Trust and Natural England (who came to check on the SSSI site at Old Copse which runs the entire length of the pond, and up to the main Ride . Among other suggestions, they said that we might  need to be thinking of  a second Scots Pine thin. The original thin of around 30% was done in late 2015. Well, we are thinking about this - albeit cautiously - due to the explosion of bracken and bramble that we soon learned will follow on from letting in more light. While bramble has its uses and isn't too much of a problem, bracken removal is an ongoing job every Summer. We don't want to use chemicals so there's no alternative to tackling it by hand from mid-April to early September in carefully selected areas when it starts to make its annual appearance and before it gets too tall and completely out of hand.  It works! The horrible stuff eventually throws in the towel and species regeneration starts to happen.  That's such a great reward. We are trying to keep to 'Continuous Cover' principles, which helps to keep light levels manageable, but still, we know that we're going to have to bite the bullet and take more Scots Pine down sooner or later.......  

Another suggestion by both Natural England and Sussex Wildlife was to clear a large section of birch monoculture and replant for diversity.  Gulp! more bracken and bramble to look forward to if we do this, so we're planning  a more cautious approach with some more gradual 'halo' thinning (felling only around existing non - birch, broadleaf  trees) .  At the Southern part of  Old Copse there is birch and Scots pine and  hardly anything else ( except the Wet Wood,  Hazel Coppice , and Willow Grove,   but there is a lot more tree diversity among the birch at the Northern end of Old Copse.  Why this should be, we don't know. 

A suggestion by Sussex Wildlife Trust we viewed with more enthusiasm than for tree thinning, was to  extend the 'wet wood' area by using damming techniques to slow the draining of rain and natural Spring water into the Pond. This would create a larger wet area,  and be excellent for wildlife. This sounds interesting and we hope to carry out this improvement at some point during Autumn/Winter,  2022/23  

  F Wet Wood floor, still pretty wet, even in a hot dry Summer.

This is the first year since 2009 that large sections of Old Copse are looking very 'jungly', and really beginning to look and feel much more like a 'proper' broadleaf ancient woodland,  rather than a Scots Pine plantation on an ancient woodland site. Without a photographic record it would be very difficult to remember just how uncared for it was in 2009, when nothing had been done for many years, and it was full of crowded, fallen over Scots Pine, and spindly birch . Keeping this blog reminds us of progress made towards a restored woodland with a diversity of mixed age and mixed species, and of course the work taken to help it on its way. Some of the changes are subtle  and of course there's still a great deal more to do, in order to return the whole 30 acres to a 'Healthy' condition. According to Natural England the SSSI section of the wood is now listed as 'Recovering' which is a great acknowledgement of the effect of our work so far,  What we've learned over the years is that the complete restoration of 30 acres is a long game. The photos we take are invaluable for our records, as it's hard to register the extent of the day to day changes. I hope they give at least some idea of how wonderful Old Copse looks in the height of summer, as in every season.

Broom and birch are regenerating as more light reaches the woodland floor. Young heather hides small oak seedlings and alder buckthorn. 

On-going bracken clearance has improved diversity allowing a wide variety of grasses to come up which were previously out-competed by the bracken.   


A veteran  beech - one of our two largest trees - lost its top in Storm Arwen earlier in the year, but. it's still alive and the extra light will doubtless bring more growth to the woodland floor.

The cabin looks as if it's becoming buried in heather, willow, rowan  and regenerating birch which have sprung up between the pines.  

....and........ rest, though sadly there's never a lot of time to lie in the shade of a beautiful oak when there's  work to be done.


Monday 11 July 2022

Saturday 9th July - annual work day

 The deerstalkers' annual workday was postponed from May to July 9th.. It's amazing just how much 15 men  - with machinery - can accomplish in one day.  

A new fence was put up extending the hazel copppice to protect it from the deer. Using our usual frugal wood ethic, the fence poles were made of lengths of birch felled in advance by Sarah, and the netting was left over from that donated by Darren a fellow wood owner. A thoughtful person brought along an electric post hole digger. The result is a fine fence which increases the area by about a third - giving us more space to plant hazel. 

But the main focus was firewood. Birch was collected and ferried up the ride, as was beech from the big  tree damaged by Storm Arwen.  All had to be processed. The firewood store is now stacked to the brim with neatly chopped birch and beech.  Given the soaring cost of fuel it makes me feel warm inside to have a whole winter's supply for two woodburners. 

Great work! Thanks to Mark and the team.

Sunday 21 November 2021

Golden Autumn Roundup


This is the first blog post since June , though visits to, and work in the wood, never stops and the seasons come and go more quickly each year, or so it seems to us. There is a natural rhythm of weather, growth and decline.  Often there seems to be nothing much of particular note to report or record.  A change of season when everything in the wood is making ready for dormancy seems like a good time to take stock of  the work we've been doing, and future plans.

It's been a mild and mostly still, sunny,  November . The leaves have lingered  on the trees for longer than usual this Autumn,  to be enjoyed as they gradually turned gold and russet. Old Copse is looking beautiful,  a continuing, growing  reward for our restoration work. The fallow bucks have been making their annual coughing,  barking and belching, noises.  There aren't many stags in the wood though there is one large  buck who likes to hang about and groan loudly.  Poor old chap. The wood is full of pheasant escapees from the pheasantry  on the neighbouring estate. Silly birds, they will insist on flying back when they would be safe if they stayed at Old Copse.  

Red Kite

We  were pleased  to see a Red Kite soaring above us in  late Spring this year half a mile or so from  Old Copse, and were thrilled to hear recently, for the first time, one calling overhead near the cabin.  


'The Red Kite is an increasingly familiar sight in the skies above Sussex, soaring effortlessly over the South Downs on an almost-six-foot wingspan. These magnificent birds are still outnumbered by their Buzzard brethren but they share a similar story, both bouncing back from the brink of extinction'. (Sussex Wild Life Trust)
Restored Hazel Coppice
The derelict remnant hazel coppice which we restored last winter at the south end of Old Copse, has done phenomenally well. Success is down to temporary deer fencing and additional light. Felling to let in a little more light has allowed the ground flora to flourish, though thankfully no bracken has appeared so I think we managed to get the  balance of light and shade correct. It looks very lush, almost jungly. We'll be planting more hazel this winter , doing some more holly felling  and we hope to extend the coppice area. Come on in Dormice, your new home awaits!  Here are (rather too  many)  photos. 

Mushrooms and Fungus

Autumn is time for a visit from the West Weald Fungus recording group led by Dick Alder, renowned mycologist. They managed to record 82 species in just a very small section of Old Copse. This, he says is due to its rich diversity. 

Just a few of the 82 varieties identified:


Chimney Sweep

We thought it time to get the cabin chimney swept as the log burner has been doing a magnificent job of keeping us warm and providing hot water for almost eight winters . We were pleased to be told it was in tiptop shape and  remarkably clean, due to both its being being a short chimney, and the use of our own properly seasoned wood . So, it's all safe and certified for another eight years thanks to Matthew who, together with running  the family chimney sweep business,  works as a professional ballroom dancer  and teacher during the 'off' season. Perhaps I shouldn't say that 'Half a Sixpence' came to mind. 

(Or should that be Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins...? ed.)

The Willow Grove 

Last January we pollarded  half of the willow regrowth in a wet part of the wood. We plan to cut the rest of the willows this winter and augment the area  with homegrown willow 'whips'. We hope the Purple Emperor butterflies,  and the Marsh and Willow Tits will like it. 

Maintenance of Glades and Rides
These must be actively managed to prevent the edges advancing. This would eventually narrow  the open areas , which are crucial in  maintaining the diversity and quality of the habitat mosaic which best encourages  wildlife.  We  strim  the  herbaceous vegetation to prevent  invasion, particularly by invasive bracken under which nothing grows. We start this in  late August , doing the main Ride once a year, and glades,'scallops',  and other open areas on a two year rotation. 


Old Copse has abundant supplies of  felled timber, dead wood, both standing and fallen,  brash, and other woodland debris, just lying about all over 30 acres, slowly decomposing, providing nutrients, food, nesting and shelter for many Old Copse residents. I love seeing  heaps, piles, and stacks being colonised by small creatures. Numerous neat, circular  'entrances' of all sizes are evident if one looks closely at decaying brash piles, but not so close as to disturb the inhabitants. I often wonder who lives in them. Certainly invertebrates, also small mammals such as wood mice and voles, and perhaps stoats and weasels, all of which we've seen in the wood.  Birds such as wrens and robins make good use of brash piles,  and grass snakes and reptiles love a log pile. 

Winter Work

This winter's agenda  includes  pollarding willow;  thinning  even - aged birch that are shading out regenerating young oaks, beech  and other broadleaves ;  and holly thinning . We'll also be tree planting,  including a  few different ones this year - Black Poplar and  Aspen  as well as our  usual Oak, Beech, Wild Cherry, Hornbeam, Sweet Chestnut, Field Maple  etc. Natural regeneration is springing up in all the places where  we've managed to get rid of the bracken: oak,beech, alder - buckthorn, wild cherry, birch, rowan, are just part of the explosion of  recent growth , and we have quite a few transplanted saplings growing on in the tree nursery. Looks like it'll be a busy winter.  




Wednesday 9 June 2021

May Workday

How time flies during a Pandemic. It's June once again and Covid restrictions were time  for the annual Old Copse workday in May, with Mark Chase and his team of deer stalkers. In contrast to the hot dry weather on last year's work party, this May was  wet.  We were lucky though,  and it only started to rain right at the end of the day. 18 workers got a great deal done, including repair of the roadside boundary fence using sturdy chestnut fence posts;  removal and processing of a large quantity of timber from various felling sites in the wood, and repairing a leak in the water supply which entailed mechanical digging. The range of  machinery they brought with them, from chainsaws and log splitter, to a digger/ fence post basher  made a crucial difference to how much could be achieved in one day. Tiring but satisfying. 

After a long cold winter, Spring rain and a bit of sunshine has brought  astonishingly exuberant growth . There's more regeneration this year than we've witnessed in the almost twelve years since we've been restoring Old Copse. From ground and shrub layer to canopy - everything is sprouting. The tree whips we've planted and protected from deer have greened up and started to put on a growth spurt. Natural regeneration has included birch, rowan,willow, oak, beech and wild cherry. This hasn't come about by chance but is due to a number of crucial factors such as the rainy Spring and  gradual felling of the pine plantation to  let in more light  - but not too much. It's  a tricky balance - too much light encourages bracken and bramble.  It's such a joy when  the ground flora starts to return, e,g,  Lily of the Valley, wild daffodils, wild garlic, honeysuckle, wood anenome. In the shrub layer broom and alder buckthorn are all gradually increasing. A small new glade was created to the south of  the cabin last Spring , and cleared of dense bracken.  This Spring 50% of it was covered in bluebells. We're hoping for 100% coverage next year. Results like this makes work at Old Copse very rewarding.

 It's been so wet that the ducks have been leaving their 11 acre 'Pond' to stroll down the Ride for a change of scene. The cuckoo is safely returned from its gruelling journey from West Africa, and we're hoping to hear again the strange call of the Nightjar near the cabin soon.