Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Spring growth and new sightings

Broom had disappeared , but with good deer management it has returned in abundance.

New birch, goat willow, wood sorrel and ferns are sprouting next to the cabin.

The bird and wildlife friendly informal hedge, planted 6 months ago on the verge along the roadside boundary is doing surprisingly well. Everything is thriving except for the blackthorn. Outgrowing everything are the field maple and hazel. We had our doubts about the success of  this hedge given how shady the situation is in late Spring and Summer, and how inpenetrable the sandstone and clay soil is in places, but now we can see the encouraging  results of last winter's labour we'll continue to augment the hedge during the next planting season. Although the ground is drying out on top after the recent prolonged dry spell, it's still damp underneath, so we hope we won't need to bring in the watering  truck just yet.

Wild Privet (Ligustrum Vulgare) 


Viburnum lantana (wayfaring tree) is blooming already

The weather has been perfect for bringing on the young broadleaf trees, planted 17 months ago in the thinned Scots Pine plantation.

The Hornbeams are doing well

The first chestnut appears

The first oak to grow out the top of its tube.

Recent Sightings:

Sarah was sitting a few feet from the cabin, enjoying her coffee overlooking the pond, when she spotted what she thought might be a dead mallard duck. It was extremely well camouflaged, but on closer inspection proved to be not dead, but sitting on a clutch of eggs. It returned her stare quite calmly.  Lately we've seen a large number of duck egg shells in the wood  clearly taken from nests and eaten by mammals, foxes I expect. I wonder how on earth any ducklings survive. Ducks sit for 28 days and then have to lead the ducklings to water which in this case is a journey of about 20 feet. I don't hold out much hope for the survival of this brood, but it would be nice to be pleasantly surprised
Sitting on her feathered nest

Fine dark grey toad by a woodstack

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Spring work party at Old Copse

As usual we had quite a long list for the Spring work party of  Old Copse deerstalkers. We stayed overnight to be there for their arrival. It was a treat to wake up to a wood full of early morning birdsong and sunlight through the trees.

The day's work list included:

Putting up a temporary deer fencing enclosure around the new tree nursery raised beds.

The Scots Pine are perfect for wrapping and  attaching  the fencing

Banging in sturdy stakes along the roadside verge to help deter motorists who like to pull in to throw out their litter.

Sturdy stakes - now with added reflectors

Protecting a row of young hedging plants that were nibbled by deer with a chicken wire fence and an inner line of tape. Apparently deer are reluctant to jump over what appears to be a double fence. We shall have to wait and see if this is the case. It doesn't look very attractive now but once the plants grow up it'll be hidden.

Next winter's firewood logged and stacked.

It was a glorious  sunny day to be working in the wood, and a good day's work was done. Many thanks to Mark and his crew. They are doing a great job managing the fallow deer population . This can be seen  in the explosion of new plant growth  this Spring. It is only 3 weeks into the closed season  which lasts until August 1st, so there is still plenty of time for the deer to do their damage, but  there is so much growing  it's difficult to see how they can eat the lot. We've started to see the occasional deer in the wood again, mostly young ones, but not,so far, the large groups of them that we used to see.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Hammock life

At long last we have invested in two hammocks. The aim is to encourage us to spend more time just enjoying the wood - rather than always finding new tasks to do.

Trying one out:

The most perfect view looking up from the hammock:

Monday, 7 May 2018

UK Bluebells


 Somewhere deep in my subconscious I had assumed that bluebells were  - well - English so I was quite startled to see from a friend's Instagram photos that they are doing well and are a common sight across the Channel in Brittany. A quick Google  made it clear that although 50% of the world's hyacinthoides non scripta grow in Britain, they have a range that extends from the UK across western France, Netherlands and Belgium and down the Atlantic coast to northwestern Spain. They are all over the UK, apart from the far north - Hebrides and Orkney.  With that Atlantic distribution it's clear they don't like their winters too cold, and prefer the milder Gulf Stream climate. This year's cold spring has apparently delayed bluebell flowering, although looking back at this blog, in Old Copse they are probably only a few days later than last year.

Bluebells mean a lot to us because they are a clear indicator of how the work we are doing to thin the plantation and clear the bracken makes a difference to the ground flora.  We can track the changes by watching how the bluebells march across the newly created spaces from year to year, advancing through the wood from the ride towards the pond. Front runners appear in single figures, and are joined by new ones each Spring until there is a clump, and pretty soon the clumps join up to form a carpet  that conquers all the empty brown space .  This year, the first few bluebells managed to reach  beyond the Pond side of the cabin. Hurrah! -  and the deer don't eat them -  Double Hurrah!

 The most abundant bluebell displays can be seen in the northerly 15 acres (OC2)  of the birch wood . The southern 15 acres (OC1)  is less diverse ,  increasingly so the further south one walks, where there are no bluebells at all in the birch wood, or any deciduous trees apart from birch, except along the roadside edge. We don't know why this is so. In the northern 15 acres  there are a fair number of  other deciduous trees such as beech, oak, rowan, hazel crab apple, cherry, and hawthorn. There is only 1 large Scots pine  present as this part of the plantation was destroyed in the 1987 storm, and birch quickly colonised the space. The absence of pine means there is no thick layer of  pine needles to suffocate ground flora, and light levels have attained a good balance, resulting in  very little bracken and hardly any bramble, except for around the edges. So  the bluebells are thriving. This is what we are aiming for in the rest of Old Copse.

Herbie, full of the joys of a bluebell Spring, and the scent of fallow deer.

 Brimstone butterfly feeding on a bluebell

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter Sunday in the wood

A quiet day in the wood. And I mean that literally. There are road repairs going on to the west beyond the pond and the traffic has been diverted. With no passing cars and no fishermen (presumably at home for the holidays) there was just us and the usual woodland inhabitants. Standing still on the top ride in the space of just a couple of minutes I saw a dozen tits feeding in the top of a birch, a buzzard circling overhead and could hear a woodpecker drumming on the golf course and a tawny owl hooting and hunting towards the north.

So just a usual day checking out that all is ok at Old Copse. We loaded a van full of firewood, squelching through the mud to the bottom gate. We mended some tree guards and staked some young trees growing in the wrong direction. We checked out the wild daffodils. There are now six clumps growing up on the slope towards the seat. There are definitely some new arrivals since last year, possibly helped by all the rain.

Up in the top wood we discovered this new hole - which I think is fox, rather than badger. The track to it is new, and you can see where he has been crushing the bluebell bulbs as he goes to and fro.

And as it's Easter there has to be chocolate. These bunnies came to the wood with us.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Everything changes, everything remains the same

The snow has melted, the first day of Spring has come and gone and suddenly winter is over.
After the late February and mid-March snow the wood looked flattened and brown with collapsed bracken, and it was difficult to recall the lush green growth of Spring and Summer. Yet even in the snow the wild daffodils pushed through and the hazel catkins have been blooming by the road since February.

Wild daffodils (taken Mar 15th) showing early buds
Every spring I seem to be writing about the daffodils - like this post from last year or this one from 2016. This is because for me the daffs are the truest and most regular sign that the cold is on its way out and once again the wood is about start a new cycle. I can even put my finger on the date Spring arrived this year: 22nd -23rd March was the definite tipping point, the pivot between dormancy and potential. On the 22nd the day was chill and grey, and all looked flat and just - waiting. On the 23rd, the breeze was a couple of degrees warmer, a weak sun appeared and a faint green could be seen on the tops of the goat willow.

What is noticeable this Spring is how the wood has responded to the additional light from thinning the plantation and efforts on bracken control.The bluebells have extended their range by a further four metres or so into the areas which have been cleared of bracken. A variety of grasses,  ferns,  moss, bilberry, heather, figwort and wood sorrel are also appearing in spaces where there was once just bracken.

Almost impossible to find a way through the collapsed bracken

Contrast the dead bracken with the patches of green growth here, and many other places where bracken has been removed

 A surprise patch of wood anenome appeared last Spring. Before I had time to take a photo, the flowers had gone,  presumably eaten by deer. We hope they might re-appear this Spring and also  hope that the same fate isn't in store for the several clumps of  flowering primroses that have found a home in the dappled birch shade, in the entrance and parking area.

Woodland wildlife is starting to move too. The fishermen report lots of toad activity at the edge of the pond. The cold weather has meant the toads have been late emerging from hibernation, but are now evidently making up for lost time. The males have been leaving their hidey-holes in piles of leaves and logs, and have come down to the pond to wait at the edge of the water for their potential mates to arrive.

We saw two big buff tailed bumble bees  - possibly queens as they tend to emerge earliest - crawling over the moss in search of nectar and pollen. And the tawny owls are getting up earlier and earlier, starting calling from lunchtime onwards. Presumably they found little to eat in the snow and are now hunting as much as they can  - another species determined to get a move on. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

More snow!

Just when we thought we'd  missed the chance of snow this winter, there was a further wintry blast on Saturday night. Not nearly as much snow as in 2009 (see link in previous post) but better than nothing. Overcast and bitterly cold in the wood, it was warm and cosy for lunch in the cabin. Here's  a few pictures: