Saturday, 4 December 2010

Winter comes early

4th of December and after four days of snow and freezing temperatures, the thaw has come and we are back above freezing. Visits to the wood have been out this week due to icy roads. The snow has now gone but all is raw, damp and dripping.

Over the autumn we have made slow but steady progress, with at least one day's work being done every week. Thinning on the east side of the ride is just about finished, although there will always be more to take out. With the leaves gone,  the results of our work are clear to see. The crowns of the young oaks are free from encroaching birch.  At the other end nearer the gate there are fewer oaks and we have not thinned back so far. The wood here is narrower and we need to leave growth between the ride and the road.

Disposing of the cut timber is now more organised. The cut timber is neatly in the cords awaiting the firewood man. The brash is now off the ride, in loose heaps out of sight and the excess has gone on the bonfire or into the dry hedge. We have enjoyed several bonfires, and are amazed at toughness of the rhododendron which refuses to burn away despite a roaring birch fire on the top of it.
At last we have our permissions and can start work on the rest of the wood. The plan for the winter months is to work on three areas:
  • clearing the willow grove of birch 
  • creating a new ride down to the pond
  • thinning the west side of the ride 
Wet conditions are likely to hamper work in the main body of the wood, so when it is too wet to work on the slope we will thin from the ride - thinning around the trees we want to keep, and then reviewing.

During the autumn we have met several unexpected visitors who were very curious about what we were trying to do. One of the most interesting was an elderly man, out walking three dogs. He had known Old Copse since he was a boy, and remembered it from before it was sold by the timber company, when it was full of magnificent mature beeches. He also remembered the charcoal burners who set up camp in what is now the Forestry Commission  car park. They would stay for months, burning the charcoal in a large metal kiln.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Still working on the ride

Last Sunday we were joined by Milo, a 15 year old doing his Duke of Edinburgh Award, whose father was keen to get him working during the summer holidays. We found his youthful energy and muscle power an  invaluable help, and he and Sarah used the bowsaw to fell 10 trees along the ride nearest the gate, some big ones included. Milo enjoyed the felling process but  importantly was equally enthusiastic in sawing them up into required cord lengths, and even more importantly cheerfully hauled every last scrap of brushwood , which is the tedious hard work part,  to add to the dry fence started earlier in the year. Result, nothing left on the ride to inhibit the flora.  While he and Sarah were busy with this task I shifted 4 huge piles of thin logs left on the ride to the 'firewood' pile near the gate. Now there are just a couple of large brushwood piles and thin log piles up near the top end of the ride  to get rid of.  We plan to continue thinning  from the gate up, disposing of the trees one at a time as we go. I think this will keep us occupied for a while.

During a rest  from labour I spotted a comma butterfly, on a large patch of flat , bright orange fungus on the right of the ride looking north. We also disturbed some fallow deer, a doe and her fawn - I hadn't seen any for months - they seem to have lots to eat elsewhere in the woods. I had my camera with me but as usual forgot to use it ........

Saturday, 3 July 2010


As the summer progresses a variety of wild flowers have begun to appear along the ride. Many of these are yellow to attract pollinating insects and a number are ancient woodland indicator species. These include slender st John's wort, yellow pimpernel, tormentil and tutsan.

A clump of scrub near the entrance to the wood is particularly species rich and attracting huge numbers of butterflies, bees and insects. Bramble is a great crowd puller, but nettle, hedge woundwort, birds foot trefoil, lesser stitchwort, germander speedwell and heather are all currently part of the mix, while lady's smock, bugle, ground ivy and wild strawberry have all been and gone, and now thistles are beginning to appear .

 Foxgloves are replacing  the fading bluebells and figwort has appeared along an old moss covered ditch. Although the flowers appear insignificant, they lure pollinating insects with an unpleasant smell.

It's hoped that more flowers will appear next year in some of the thinned areas. Bracken dominates much of the wood and may be suppressing the growth of other plants and preventing them from producing flowers, so Sarah and I  have started bracken bashing in selected areas.

 Honeysuckle has appeared in the tree tops and along the ride and woodland edges. Although looking scrappy in some places, in others there has been a beautiful display of flowers and there are seedlings in many parts of the wood.   With the right conditions these may scramble up to produce further plants in the future.

The white admiral lays its eggs on honeysuckle and  one  was seen flying along the ride today, although it was too fast and too far away to  photograph.

Much more obliging was the silver washed fritillary  on bramble . Click on the picture to see the silver wash on the underwing from which it gets its name. Also feeding on this thicket were numerous meadow brown, large skipper and an unidentified female blue butterfly. A comma was also seen sunning itself on an oak tree along the ride.

Friday, 30 April 2010


The primrose is an ancient woodland indicator species in the south of England. There is a clump beyond the gate and a few plants scattered in the grassy area just beyond the entrance.It will be interesting to see if this species returns next year in response to thinning of trees along the woodland ride to allow more light to penetrate.

Wood sorrel is another ancient indicator species associated with damp woods. The  flower has pale lilac striped petals and trefoil leaves. It is present throughout the wood in damp areas, but is most common  along the margins. Other early flowering species are both dog and early dog violet, with  heart shaped leaves, ground ivy, an evergreen member of the mint family with mauve flowers, and coltsfoot, which is situated in the grassy area near the gate. This yellow dandelion like plant is typical of disturbed ground, and a distinctive feature is that the flowers appear before the hoof shaped leaves.

The most common plant is the bluebell, yet another ancient woodland indicator and very typical of weald woodlands. These flowers are just beginning to appear,  by next month they will  spread throughout the wood. Not yet in flower, but beginning to appear are lords and ladies, with arrow shaped leaves, and an unidentified currant. Both are growing near the old embankment along the Grouse Road boundary.

Sightings: This tawny owl was seen roosting in the wood one sunny morning. A further probable sighting occurred on a subsequent visit when a large greyish bird with shortish wings was disturbed near the quarry and flew away towards the road and disappeared.


Warmer weather has led to the appearance of early flying butterflies  along the ride on sunny days.
 The speckled wood is seen basking in sunlight, sucking nectar from woodland flowers or patrolling close to the ground. It lays its eggs on a variety of grasses favouring cocksfoot and yorkshire fog.

Quite a few brimstone, the orginal 'butter' fly. The bright yellow male is highly conspicuous as it wanders up and down the ride and through more open areas of the wood. The female is much paler and from a distance easily confused with a Large White. They may lay their eggs on alder buckthorn present in the wood. They rarely settle and when they do are very difficult to spot, resembling a small leaf in colour and shape.

Another frequent visitor is the orange tip,  the female lacks the distinctive orange wing markings of the male. The green mottled underwing shows when at rest. Eggs are laid on cuckooflower and garlic mustard. Not many in the wood, but a few are present around the edges.

There has been a single sighting of the comma butterfly with its ragged wing edges. This lays its eggs on the common nettle and there are several patches around the ride entrance and near the spring.

Another nettle laying species is the peacock, with its lovely bright eyes and a fondness for sunbathing on logs or patches of bare earth. In spring, the willow is a favoured source of nectar.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Nesting birds

The peak time for breeding birds will soon begin . Many large nests can be seen  high in the canopy, with  fewer small nests in the less mature birch.

One ground nesting bird is the pheasant, which is regularly seen in the wood. The nest is little more than a hollow  scrape in the ground, scantily lined with leaves and grass. 8-12 olive brown eggs are usually lain mid April - May. Incubation takes just over 3 weeks and the hatchlings leave the nest shortly afterwards, being tended by the female. The female is very well camouflaged.

The woodcock, although lacking their preferred field layer, may use bracken as cover . They nest near their favourite swampy feeding sites, a scrape on the ground lined with dead leaves, often by a tree . The olive brown eggs with dark markings, usually four, are incubated for three weeks. The nestlings depart shortly after hatching, tended by their parents and flying after two weeks. Adults may be observed carrying young to safety.Both eggs and nestlings of these ground nesting species are at high risk of predation by foxes.

 The robin may nest in dense vegetation from ground level up to about 3m, from March - July. Nests are  difficult to find, but may be traceable when adult birds are feeding the young.The wren , a small and noisy bird typically nests April - July within 2m of the ground, in dense, low cover or concealed against a tree trunk in honeysuckle, a dominant climber within the woodland.  Both these species also nest in brash piles.

Blackbirds are ground feeders  generally nesting low in the shrub layer, seldom higher than 4 m. Their breeding season is March - July. The song thrush nests in similar locations. Both line their nests with mud, but the blackbird finishes with an additional layer of grass. The blackbird has a foundation of moss whilst the song thrush base is small twigs. This nest, found in rhododendron during removal, is probably blackbird.

There are many hole nesting species in the wood, many of whom nest at a relatively low level. The marsh tit excavates its own hole in a live tree , typically within 3m of the ground. It often feeds at a low level , either on the ground or within the shrub layer or low canopy. This bird rarely uses nest boxes. Blue tits and great tits typically nest at a higher level, up to 15m. These species can easily be 'watched back' to identify nest sites both when building nests and feeding chicks. The blue tit is predominantly a canopy feeder while the great tit prefers the lower shrub layer.

While these birds are predominantly associated with broad leaved woodland, the coal tit is often associated with coniferous woodland. It is another hole nester but will frequently use holes at ground level, in tree roots and stumps, as well as natural tree crevices up to 5m high. Tree roots under an overhanging bank are a particular favourite, so could be nesting by the pond path. The long tailed tit is not a hole nester, but builds an intricate oval nest woven from moss, cobwebs and hair and lined with feathers. It has a small entrance hole near the top of the nest. This may be situated in a dense, thorny thicket or hedge, or sometimes in the fork of a tree, although it may be well camouflaged by lichen and difficult to spot. Breeding is from April - May, but nest building may begin as early as late February.All these tits breed April-June.

Both the green and great spotted woodpecker use holes excavated in live trees. Calls and 'chasing' displays are signs of courtship activity, as well as drumming. Materials are not carried into the nest site but wood chips at the bottom of a tree are a telltale sign. The green woodpecker breeds April-June, with the great spotted woodpecker a little later, in May-July.

The nuthatch also uses holes in trees, but will plaster with mud to reduce the entrance size, making the nest distinctive if found. A pair have already been seen calling to each other in the alder, but they become silent once eggs are laid. Breeding is late April-June, so nest sites may be difficult to spot at the feeding stage, as foliage on the trees will obscure likely holes.

The treecreeper is another April-June breeder, using crevices in bark or between roots of ivy on a tree trunk, rather than holes. Nest height is 1-3m. Look for protruding pieces of nesting material.

The finches may nest in either bushes or trees at a wide range of heights. The most likely woodland nester is the chaffinch, whose nest is notably neat. Songs and display flights are possible indicators of a nearby nest site. All finches nest between April-July. Greenfinch and bullfinch have also been seen in the woodland.

The tiny goldcrest nest usually hangs below a branch and may be high in the conifer canopy or at a lower level in gorse, honeysuckle or ivy in broadleaved sites. Breeding time is April-June.

Crows, magpies and wood pigeon may already be nesting high in the canopy. Jays breed late April-June, but the bowl shaped nest is difficult to find, usually in cover. Their raucous calls may be the best indicator of their presence.

An important aim of  woodland management is to improve the habitat for wildlife and increase biodiversity. Observations form a baseline for future changes to nesting records, which will be a key indicator of  success. This information will also feed into the national picture by contributing to the breeding bird survey run by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). Signs of returning summer migrants will be looked for, such as blackcap or chiffchaff, which may use the wood for feeding or nesting purposes. 

Monday, 15 February 2010

Woodland Birds

There is a reasonable diversity of birds present within Old Copse,  a number of these are likely to be breeding , while others may use it simply as a feeding resource.

Many of these are birds associated with un-managed woodland, and prefer tall mature trees. In the corvid or crow family, jays, magpies and carrion crow are all evident and probably breeding in the wood. There are a fair number of twiggy nests in the treetops at a high level, in both coniferous and deciduous woodland areas and their raucous cries can be heard within the woodland area. Wood pigeon are also frequently seen and the habitat would seem well suited to nesting for this species.

Other birds that favour neglected woodland include woodpeckers and treecreepers, which benefit from dying wood associated with this type of forest. A pair of great spotted woodpeckers were seen on several occasions during the summer and a single bird has also been seen over the winter period. They seem to favour the coniferous part of the woodland, although have also been seen and heard in deciduous woodland. A single treecreeper has also regularly been spotted winding its way up the trunk of one tree before moving on to spiral again from the foot of the next. Nuthatch works only down the trunk, and its distinctive call and beautiful colours always make this an exciting bird to find. Both these species prefer deciduous woodland. We suspect there are a number of both these birds in the wood and we will be watching closely for signs of breeding activity during the nesting season.

The green woodpecker has been heard but not seen. This bird prefers grassy areas, where it likes to forage for ants. We hope we may be able to tempt it into our wood by managing the grassy ride and extending this habitat through the introduction of a new ride and some areas of glade.

Flocks of tits have been seen flitting through the wood in search of food during the winter months. These have included the common species of blue, great and long tailed tits. We are becoming increasingly proficient at identifying their calls and song, which will be very useful in the summer months when the fresh foliage makes it far less easy to spot them in the high branches. While there is some evidence of these birds breeding, the number of old nests present is significantly less than for the larger corvids.  Some may be nesting in holes in trunks, but it may be that the lack of leafy growth at lower levels makes the habitat less suitable for their needs. Increasing the diversity of age, and therefore height of tree, is a key management objective to encourage the raising of young.

We have the red listed marsh tit in the wood. At least one pair has been seen, and since it is a sedentary species there is a good chance that they will be nesting within the wood.

Finches are far less common in the wood than tits. Chaffinch has been heard and may be more common in summer than winter, when they are known to move to other habitats. A female and juvenile bullfinch ( the young have no black cap) were seen feeding on the rowan berries last summer. A male was also seen near the woodland edge during the snowy winter period. This bird has recently been downgraded from red listed to amber listed conservation status.

Blackbird and robin are commonly seen in the wood, and occasionally a song thrush. Wren are also present, and have been seen progressing down the ride, pausing at each pile of cut brash to search for insects. There have been no records of dunnock; these prefer hedges and more open shrubby growth but may be found at woodland margins.

 The number of summer visitors such as warblers is uncertain A blackcap family was in a tree near the entrance to the wood, which is a slightly more open area, and unidentified 'little brown jobs' were seen disappearing into the shrub near the gate. However, there is very little of this habitat currently available. Much of the woodland is too dense to allow this type of growth and work to open up the ride over the winter period may encourage the development of some shrubby lower level growth, but this will take some time, and is unlikely to support such birds this summer. Chiffchaff may well visit for feeding purposes, even if there is a lack of suitable nest sites.Pheasant have regularly been seen and heard around the wood.

The coniferous woodland contributes its own birdlife, with goldcrest and coal tit favouring this habitat and being relatively common in the wood. Other woodland birds that may appreciate this habitat include crossbill, siskin and redpoll. None of these have been seen, although they have been recorded at similar woodlands nearby.

Buzzards have been seen circling over the ride and a smaller brown hawk flew low over the pond. Owls hoot and swoop low over the water on summer evenings. Woodlands are used by birds of prey for both nesting and feeding so there could be more positive identifications in the future.

Kingfisher, mallard, mandarin duck, moorhen, canada geese and great crested grebe can all be seen on the pond. 

Monday, 1 February 2010


Autumn and at least 50 different varieties of fungi can be seen.  Fly agaric ,  russulas,  false chanterelles beneath the pines, and jelly fungus sprouting from birch trees. Penny bun and milk caps covering the forest floor, bracket fungus on standing and fallen trunks. Porcelain fungus  on the beech tree and numerous others in all colours, shapes and sizes. Hedgehog fungus growing near a small gill at the beginning of December.Bracken and beech in autumn colours,  the oak leaves hung on longest.