Thursday, 26 June 2014

A morning at the Charcoal Burners.

Recently,  Sarah and Sue went to a farm in Elstead  Surrey for a (very) hands on crash course in how to make charcoal. Ian is a woodsman who spends the summer producing charcoal , and the winter  coppicing and felling. It is a surprisingly simple operation, and you don't even have to be picky about the type and size of timber put in the kiln.  Ian uses mainly chestnut, with plenty of birch, and soft woods like Scots Pine, to a ratio of about 70% to 30% . It took only 3 hours, including plenty of talk and a tea break to:

Empty the kiln of the previous 'burn' and bag the charcoal up for sale

Clear the air vents for the next burn

Re-fill the kiln with new timber

Start the fire with a bucket of burning charcoal

Get the new burn going well before putting the lid back on

Seal it with earth and let it get on with it for the next 30 hours or so.

It has to be said though, that it's a hot mucky job, so, afterwards, covered head to foot in charcoal dust we  jumped into the nearby river  to cool off . This washed the top layer off,  but a hot shower and lots of soap was the only way to get properly clean. In all it was a fun, informative and filthy morning's work. To be recommended.

Ian said that he can't supply enough of his charcoal to meet demand.  We thought that to make charcoal from our unwanted birch and Scots Pine might be an excellent  way to generate  income  towards paying for essential forestry work to meet our Management Plan targets. Old Copse was used by charcoal burners in the past, so it seems fitting that we might be able to  follow this tradition. First thing, locate a kiln........... 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Going Hardcore

Labouring  continued:   we were kindly donated a load of builder's hardcore from a demolished wall, which was  delivered to Old Copse and left in a heap to be wheel- barrowed up the Ride. Composed for the most part of chunky broken brick it isn't as visually pleasing as wood or sandstone as a rut filler, but  with a top layer of Type 1, and a few weeks of bedding down, it should look ok, and by next year it will have sprouted a covering of grass. Sarah has been building her upper body strength with all this heavy work - all the better to get that chain saw started. Another bulk bag of type one to be delivered tomorrow - and hoping this should be enough to finish the job. No picture for this short blog item, because the subject was deemed to be just too boring to merit an illustration ............ 


Sarah and Sue created a new 'ride' in OC1  in 2011. ( post Dec 11th 2011)  This resulted in more light on the ground which has encouraged increased  growth of bluebells and rowan seedlings.  Unfortunately, the main species to colonise the space is bramble, which, if left unchecked will soon smother less rampant species.

Many people involved with woodlands view alien species such as rhododendron and  Himalayan Balsam as the main threat to bio-diversity, but Rob Marrs of Liverpool University argues that 'thug' plants, such as bramble, bracken,  nettles,  ivy and sycamore  are the real threat to English woodlands. They grow incredibly fast, take up lots of space, and quickly drive out slower growing plants, resulting in a marked decrease in bio-diversity. They are four times more widespread in English woodlands than imported invaders. Professor Marrs and his team studied 103 woodlands, 60% of which are classed as ancient woodland.

The diverse plant communities that developed in ancient woods were the result of thousands of years of continuous management. Coppicing, cutting for charcoal burning, removal of bracken for animal bedding, all contributed to creating light filled woods where it was difficult for one species to become dominant. Stop that management and a different - and less diverse plant community emerges.

As is well known,butterflies and hoverflies like bramble, and birds like nesting in it, so a few patches clearly make a positive contribution to biodiversity. But bramble is a thug, thriving in sun or shade, and needs to be watched closely, before it grows as intractable as bracken.  As always in the wood, it is important to continually look at the wider picture, remaining  aware of the overall impact of one's woodland management.

Reference: Professor Rob Marrs, University of Liverpool, School of Environmental Sciences 2011
Aliens or natives: who are the ‘thugs’ in British woods?

Enjoyable cabin titivation

Well, the cabin is now finished except for  non-urgent odds and ends. The decision on guttering has now been made,  and it is fixed to one side of the cabin so the rain run-off on that side will be directed  behind the cabin -  draining into a new small wild-life pond perhaps - we'll see.   The windows are finally in, made by Kryzstof in the end, who did an expert job, as usual. There is a wonderful piney resinous smell in the cabin  - I hope it doesn't disappear as the logs gradually season.

It's been fun outfitting it  from old bits and pieces no longer wanted at home, and long destined  for Freecycle or Gumtree. It's like furnishing a Wendy House. We're keeping it simple, a small table,  a rocking chair, to go with Sarah's imaginary banjo,  a pair of free standing shelves for storage, and a trestle table or fixed shelf for a little camping stove, to be used when the log burner isn't lit, or we don't have a cooking fire outside. It'll  be very cosy, and such a relief not to have to lug tools and equipment to and from the wood every time, and managing to forget some essential item. Not that we will be storing anything of value in the cabin - definitely no chainsaws on site.

We've been investigating different sorts of outhouses/dunnies. It won't be used all that much, but would be useful, especially for children. Also planned is a simple solar power set up to provide a bit of extra lighting when needed.  Already the cabin has given an idea of how managing Old Copse will be easier. BC (Before Cabin) each visit was a matter of arriving, un-packing, working like billyo, and then packing up and leaving -  in a hurry if it's started to pour down Either that, or having to stand under a dismal tarpaulin waiting for the rain to stop.  

We appreciate the difference in pace now -  we are visiting more, staying longer,  getting a lot more essential work done, but also enjoying 'cabin life' - taking time to sit out on the deck with a sun downer, while listening to and seeing wild-life in the wood and on the pond. It was a without a doubt a great decision to obtain planning permission for a traditional log cabin made from our own trees.