Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Another year at Old Copse: A summary

The Scots Pine thin is almost over. It's taken longer than we expected due to machines breaking down,  other jobs that needed to be fitted in by the foresters, and the endless rain that hampered operations, especially the extraction of cut tree trunks. Still, now  all the felling has been done, the timber has been extracted and taken up to the roadside collection point where the great big articulated truck loads up and takes it away to..........not sure where. All that remains are a few tree trunks that need to be winched up to the Ride as they are on a steep slope (the winch broke and had to be mended) and a few more that are hung-up on other trees. Then some Ride restoration to smooth out the ruts.

Moving the wood as the light fades

Up in the stacking area

Three artic loads were collected on the shortest day of the year 

Final total will be 200-250 tonnes of timber removed - now just the mud and ruts to sort out

It's a relief that this major piece of work has been successfully concluded. We aimed to get it done by January 2016, and we will have met the target.  It looks a great deal better with the remaining pines spread out more,  far less regimented. Though there are still a great many pines that will go during the next thin, in  about five years time. A woodland manager told us that in a neglected plantation like ours, trees 'lose the habit of growth '. Now that they have more space to grow, we hope they'll get into the habit again,  producing  more sawlogs and fewer chiplogs, and be of increased value in the timber market. We shall see.

We've been busy with other tasks this year as well:
  • Finally finished Ride-side thinning in the Spring.
  • Also in the Spring, finished pollarding the willow (horrible difficult job) in the 'willow grove', to encourage the Purple Emperor butterfly back to the wood.
  • Holly clearance went on all year; when we started this we optimistically thought it would only take 6 months. We haven't done too badly though there remains a little more to get rid of while still leaving enough for the bats and birds.  Our major achievement has been clearing the 50 foot holly ( horrible difficult job on a steep slope) which was hiding a good number of mature oak and beech adjacent to the Frenchbridge Ghyll stream in the North West corner of the wood.
  • Created a new Ride/track through the birch on the East side of the wood.
  • Plus all the routine activities such as; collecting fungi to eat immediately or turn into  'Old Copse Porcini'   (makes welcome Christmas presents); bracken and bramble control; fence mending, litter removal from the boundary fences; regeneration protection; processing cordwood for our own use and for sale; organising increased deer 'management'.
  • And lastly, not work as such, but an important and enjoyable part of woodland life this year -   hosting social get togethers like the wedding and mid-summer parties, and having lots of visitors to enjoy the cabin, the wood and its wildlife. Our lovely volunteers,  Milo and Martha are much missed, and now live in the USA, in Eugene, Oregon where Milo is working as a forester and tree surgeon.

Next year.......... well, first job is to do some tidying up  where the Scots Pine has been felled. The brash layer is not nearly as dense as we feared it would be and will rot down within a year or so. Much of it will be left undisturbed but we need to organise it a little, clear it away from paths so that we can move about the wood. Creatures are already making good use of it, both small mammals and birds. Sarah disturbed a woodcock from under one pile the other day. We'll also be doing some work filling in the ruts where the machinery has been, but past experience has shown us that nature is the best  tidy-upper in the wood.

Woodcock (library picture)
Then it's on to replanting with broad leaves where  needed, though we hope, if the deer numbers have been reduced, that natural re-generation will increase. We also want to do more work in the birch side of the wood, 'halo' thinning the spindly birch around the oaks, beech and rowan, and at the sides of the new ride,  pollarding the birch, and planting hazel.

All in all, a satisfying and productive year. Hard work, but really good to see the results.

P.S. We found out where our timber is bound  - Timber destined for Chip goes to North Norfolk , and the Sawlogs go to Wales. This is because these are the nearest sawmills that deal in softwoods. Bit of a shame though that it has to travel such a distance, and can't be processed locally.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

An Informative Day Out

It's always interesting to visit woods and see what others are doing. Last week we joined a group of woodland owners,  professionals, volunteers and assorted dogs, for an Ancient Woodland Restoration Workshop run by the Woodland Trust. A lovely day for it too - dry, mild and sunny.

We started off at the Roebuck Inn in Laughton Village for presentations which  included Restoration at Vert Woods; Deer Control;  Woodland Grants; Wood Fuel Options; and Woodland Archaeology. Some of the people present were new woodland owners, keen to learn as much as possible about how to manage their woods; but  we, as 6 1/2 year woodland  'veterans'  were encouraged that we were already familiar with much  of what we heard, and that overall  we were going along the right tracks in our ongoing restoration of Old Copse.

After an excellent lunch at the Inn we set off for nearby Lower Vert Wood which is within the larger area of Laughton Woods in East Sussex. Lower Vert Wood is around 70 hectares (172 acres) of PAWS (Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site), plus another 20 - 30 hectares of other woodland, with patches of heathland and other habitat.  The wood is completely flat,  unlike Old Copse, though  the soil and vegetation is similar. There are about 15 owners with plots of varying sizes.  In addition in the adjacent Upper Vert Wood there is  a  large, newly acquired 'community' woodland which has the overall aim of increasing bio-diversity, and where courses, volunteer work days and other activities will take place .

We stopped to look at some sections where the conifer plantation has been thinned.  Regeneration has been good and it  no longer looked like plantation, but more like a mixed wood of broadleaves interspersed with fine specimens of  Scots Pine and other conifers. There are deer present, but it seemed not in the numbers present in Old Copse.  

Coppice Protection using  a barrier of very prickly gorse

                                               A thinned area with good regeneration.

What the day reminded us, both  in the presentations and talking with others there, was that there is really no single answer to how specific restoration problems should be understood and managed. It's more that there are a set of principles and some tactics for applying them. For example, the bracken problem. This was touched upon during our tour of Lower Vert Wood.where some thinned areas are infested with bracken and we discussed how bracken rushes in as soon as the dense woodland becomes lighter.  At Old Copse, while our aim is to maintain continuous cover,  we are reaching the end of  a 30% thin of the un-managed Scots Pine plantation, and perhaps we will have let too much light in at once. Arguably it would have been preferable if thinning had  been done very gradually every few years since it was planted in 1956  but we are dealing with woodland neglected for 60 years, and slightly more drastic action was  needed.  So, yes, more light will be let in , which we want, but it will also mean  that there will be more bracken,  and increased bracken means a lower chance of natural re-generation:

 Extracts from the Woodland Trust's  'The conservation and restoration of plantation on ancient woodland sites. A guide for woodland owners and managers':

'High light levels' provide ideal conditions for coarse or generalist vegetation, such as bracken, bramble, coarse grasses, nettles, and rosebay willow herb.' 

 We should be aiming for 'moderate shade' which approximates to favourable conditions for remnant woodland species (mimicking those found in the pre-plantation ancient woodland)'

While avoiding/remedying 'prolonged heavy shade'  which can eventually be  beyond the tolerance of even the most resilient woodland species.

So, there we have a bit of a quandary.  Opening up the canopy =  an inrush of unwelcome vegetation which will threaten the survival of vulnerable woodland species, and also of regenerating and newly planted trees. Quite a balancing act is called for. We are formulating a plan that is based on the following: Firstly, try to increase light levels gradually, and avoid any clear felling. Do a certain amount of replanting in the opened up areas , while  also protecting  any natural re-generation -  both from deer, and rampant bracken and bramble encroachment. This coarse vegetation possibly has some use in offering limited  protection to new planting, but must be prevented from swamping it. The hope is that the growing trees will cast increasing shade on the bramble and bracken,  eventually reducing its impact on the woodland.  Well, we'll just have to wait and see.

Of course, the elephant in the room, or rather, the deer in the wood,  is even more of a concern. Unless we can control these, Old Copse's prospects look quite bleak. We are hoping to make more progress on the deer front this winter, but realistically we think it will take several years more to obtain a balance whereby we still have some deer in the wood, but not so many that the understory will never get going and emerging trees are destroyed.

There is no co-ordinated  single Forestry Commission management plan for the multiple owners of Lower Vert Wood, or presumably the rest of Laughton Woods, but the Woodland Trust hopes to be able to put together an overall 'vision' for the landscape which includes the wider area of Laughton Woods together with  Lower Vert Wood which forms  a part of it. This sounds like a tall order. One of the owners told me that some of the others have no particular plans for their piece of woodland, and/or their woodland is just not a priority , while others do have plans for continuing improvement. This can be difficult when you have an 'improver/restorer right next door to a more laissez faire owner, who might for example, let their boundary trees grow over and shade 'their' side of a shared Ride/path.  However, this sort of 'mixed' management  was seen by the owner I talked to as a plus in that it all adds to the 'diversity' of this large area. I'm not sure about this. I think it has to be better to try and see the whole picture and plan accordingly, rather than managing bits of it on an ad hoc basis. Though I could well be wrong. As I said, there seems to be no one answer when it comes to PAWS restoration.

Still, these are very attractive woods, with a great deal of potential . Occasionally plots come up for sale, such as the one described below advertised  on 'Woodlots'  in  October.

15 acres mixed woodland for sale - East Sussex. 

Lovely plot of 15 acres of woodland for sale. Sits within much larger Upper and Lower Vert Woods, North-east of Lewes. Mixed species: oak, chestnut, birch, pine and hornbeam. Lovely spot and good access via two gates and protected track. Guide Price £75k.


A roundhouse being built from local materials

Sometimes it's better to leave a favourite tree standing even if it's an overstood hornbeam pollard.

                           He works for the Forestry Commission and definitely enjoyed the day
                                                 even if he did have to stay on his lead.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Big Thin continues

The Old Copse Ride is a mudbath now that the Autumn rain has started in earnest,  and the tractor trundles up and down with its load of timber mashing it up as it goes. The target for finishing the job is the end of November. Then, once we've made some space in the brash  we plan to start doing a bit of replanting from December to February; primarily oak, beech, cherry and hazel,  most of which we've raised ourselves or transplanted  from other, unsuitable areas of the wood , such as the Ride.  We'll use our recycled, but still serviceable  tree protectors to put off the deer. We're hoping that this will work . If it doesn't we'll have to consider some expensive deer fencing.  Our target is to plant a minimum of 100 trees this season;   protect any young trees  that have so far escaped the deer; and   buy in some if  we can find a reputable local supplier.

The tractor with a special attachment is used to extract the felled logs. Faster than using a heavy horse.

         Sarah gets a lesson in tractor and timber lifting management. Verdict: 'It's harder than it looks'

Here's some ghostly night time trailcam footage of a few of our much too large (50 + at the  last
 count) deer population. They are having a good old nosey around the pine felling area.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Autumn at Old Copse

                                            Our canine volunteer inspects felling progress

The Scots Pine plantation thin continues. The steep terrain means that  much of the timber must be carefully hand felled.  Some of the small broadleaves among the pines have been knocked about a bit  but none have been destroyed, which is a relief, and all down to the skill of the workers.  In a couple of weeks the extraction machinery will be along to transport the timber uphill to the new entrance.

 The rut has started and the fallow deer stags have started barking. On a still afternoon their deep grunting calls echo across the pond.

Trying out a new deer seat

With a great view from the top

It's the start of the wood burning season and we have quite a lot of birch firewood to shift

 A regular customer,  loading his trailer with a cord of birch

Newly emerged Honey Fungus on a pine stump

And a week later

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Forestry in Poland

With forestry operations on my mind, and felling, or at least, extraction,  with fairly large scale equipment about to begin in Old Copse,I remembered a visit to Southern Poland 25 years ago. While walking in the Tatra Mountains I came across a clearing in the woods to see a group of nuns from the local convent supervising a couple of adolescent boys using working horses to help with pine felling and extraction. The mountains are too steep to use machinery, and heavy horses are ideal for the job. They were used extensively in the rural areas, for farmwork and for transport in and around the villages, as well as for forestry work . This visit was shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, the repercussions of which were still to be felt in rural Poland. I don't know how much things have changed in forestry work since then. 

I managed to dig up a few, now rather faded, photographs. It was a beautiful sunny late summer day, and everybody was enjoying the occasion, with the work being done at a gentle and leisurely pace. 

We looked into the possibility of using 'heavy'  horses in Old Copse, particularly as the felling will take place on a SSSI site. Working horses have a lower impact than machinery, and as they work, 'scarify' the forest floor, which encourages regeneration. Unfortunately the use of these horses for forestry has been in decline for many years and is now a niche activity in the UK, and sadly, the daily rate is too expensive for us.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Big Thin

At last we are about to start thinning the Scots Pine plantation. This job, which is the major  task of our management plan, has taken six years for the two of us to arrange, and  involved consultation and negotiation with a variety of people and agencies.  The plantation dates from 1957. Much of  this tree crop was blown down in the 1987 storm, and since then has remained untouched, growing both weedier and gloomier each year. If  a regular thinning programme had taken place we would now have a lot more  strapping big trees;  instead, much of the timber is of poor quality and fit only for woodchip and biomass fuel, though there is also a fair number of large sawlog trees growing too close together. After this initial thin, the remaining timber will be left to grow on, and the thinning process  carried out again in about 5 years time, and subsequently  every 4 or 5 years or so until nearly all of the Scots Pine has been removed, and in its place, regenerated and/or replanted broadleaves.

To get the machinery in and out, particularly the 'artic' truck which will take the timber away,  we are having to widen the new entrance, We initially thought that the old South  entrance could be used if it was enlarged, but its situation prevents easy turning onto the road, and such a weight would not be tolerated on the bridges over the two neighbouring  Hammerponds.   Instead, our  'carpark clearing' track further up the road will be used to extract the timber from the plantation.  Luckily it's in just the right spot to place the timber near the  roadside for stacking  and collection.

Felling to create  a wider entrance and  a timber stacking area
The digger has arrived to widen the entrance

I'm not looking forward to seeing Old Copse in a  mess, but this is inevitable, and as we've seen before, it quickly recovers. We'll  be having plenty of bonfires this winter. The contractor will be leaving the tops 'at knee height', so we'll be clearing  pathways through it for quite some time, until it eventually rots down.

Our first job was to mark the trees for extraction - easier said than done to judge which ones should go, -  looks easy from a distance, but is harder when you are in among them.


Monday, 21 September 2015

Cabin Life

And here's a little something for cabin lovers everywhere: http://cabinporn.com/
especially our friends on the excellent Small Cabin Forum :  www.small-cabin.com/forum/

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Mushroom Foray

Today we welcomed a group of walkers and mushroom enthusiasts led by Ann Axon (walk leader and Sarah's Mum), and mushroom expert Dick Alder from the West Weald Fungi Group http://www.westwealdfungi.co.uk/. The recent weather - warm sunshine and rain,  produced a bumper crop of fungi to be identified by the visiting group. The foray was followed by lunch at the cabin, and then a 5 mile walk through St.Leonard's Forest, returning for tea before they set off home to Surrey. Everyone enjoyed the day and hope it will become a regular event in their walking calendar. See below for a full list of all the fungi seen and identified.

Tawny Grisette

Unidentified as yet. It has a purplish stem which doesn't show in the photo

Charcoal Burner

Gomphidius roseus (Rosy spike) and Suillus bovinus (bovine bolete). Rosy spike is parasitic on bovine bolete.

Umm.......not sure what these are, but they look very appealing.. 

We've been collecting large numbers of ceps (Boletus edulis) during the past couple of weeks, which are now being eaten fresh, or sliced and dried at home.

Fungi found (listed by Dick Alder)

St. LEONARD’S FOREST, 20/09/15
Aleuria aurantia
Orange Peel fungus
Amanita citrina
False Death-cap
Amanita citrina var. alba
False Death-cap, white variety
Amanita excelsa var. spissa
Grey Spotted Amanita
Amanita fulva
Tawny Grisette
Amanita muscaria
Fly Agaric
Amanita phalloides
Death Cap
Amanita rubescens
Amanita rubescens var. annulosulphurea
Blusher with yellow ring
Boletus badius
Bay Bolete
Boletus cisalpinus
Red-crack Bolete sp.
Boletus edulis
Boletus erythropus
Scarletina Bolete
Calocera viscosa
Yellow Stagshorn
Cantharellus cibarius
Coprinopsis atramentaria
Common Inkcap
Daedaleopsis confragosa
Blushing Bracket
Ganoderma applanatum
Artist’s Bracket
Gomphidius roseus
Rosy Spike
Gymnopilus junonius
Spectacular Rustgill
Gymnopilus penetrans
Common Rustgill
Gymnopus erythropus
Redleg Toughshank
Hydnum rufescens
Terracotta Hedgehog
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca
False Chantarelle
Hypholoma fasciculare
Sulphur Tuft
Hypomyces chrysospermus
Bolete Mould
Laccaria amethystina
Amethyst Deceiver
Lactarius quietus
Oak Milkcap
Lactarius turpis
Ugly Milkcap
Lactarius vietus
Grey Milkcap
Leccinum scabrum
Brown Birch Bolete
Megacollybia platyphylla
Whitelaced Shank
Mycena inclinata
Clustered Bonnet
Paxillus involutus
Brown Rollrim
Piptoporus betulinus
Birch Polypore
Psathyrella multipedata
Clustered Brittlestem
Rhodocollybia butyreacea
Butter Cap
Russula cyanoxantha
Charcoal Burner
Russula delica
Milk White Brittlegill
Russula nigricans
Blackening Brittlegill
Russula ochroleuca
Common Brittlegill
Russula parazurea
Powdery Brittlegill
Russula subfoetens
Stinking Brittlegill sp.
Scleroderma citrinum
Common Earthball
Stereum hirsutum
Hairy Curtain Crust
Suillus bovinus
Bovine Bolete
Trametes versicolor
Turkey Tails
Tremella foliacea
Leafy Brain
Trichaptum abietinum
Purplepore Bracket
Tricholoma fulvum
Birch Knight
Tubaria furfuracea
Scurfy Twiglet

Monday, 7 September 2015

More Experimental Propagation

Collected beechnuts
Beechnuts separated from their casings

As well as mushrooms, we've been collecting beech mast, noticing that this year, some beech trees have produced none at all, while others have a deep layer around their trunks. The first lot collected needed a helping hand with the nutcrackers to get at the seeds inside, but the second lot have opened as they dried out, making the job of extracting the seeds much easier. They need to be kept cold in order to germinate, so will be stored in the fridge until November, and then mixed with some damp compost and put back in the fridge until they sprout. A proportion  will be planted out direct in the wood and be protected with tree tubes from the deer, and with luck,  woodmice, squirrels, and rabbits as well;  the rest will be potted up and grown on, to be planted out in a year or so. A slow process, but arguably better than  buying in 'whips'  with a dubious provenance.In about a 100 years time there should be a very well established Beech Wood at Old Copse. We've also collected some hazel nuts that escaped the squirrels, which we'll leave in a dry place until they ripen, then plant them in pots, and see what happens. There are also a few cherry seedlings to grow on. These were collected  near a couple of  fine specimens on the Ride -side.

Drying out collected hazelnuts 

There are also about a dozen thriving oaks ready to plant out in the wood, and more growing on at home. These were  raised from tiny seedlings collected from the Ride edges , where oak trees are not wanted . We'll plant these out  to make an oak grove on the SSSI side of the wood, once the Scots Pine thinning operation  has been finished, and the ground cleared.

It's interesting how our ideas of woodland management changes as we respond to growing knowledge, both theoretical and practical, and careful observation.  Our management plan for OC2 says that we would clear fell an acre or so in the birchwood and then replant with a variety of other broadleaves.  However, once we  had a really good look at it, prompted by the felling of birch to make a new track through the top end of the wood, we could see that this part of Old Copse is in fact already quite diverse , with a lot of natural regeneration . All we really need to do is to protect and encourage what is already there. Our next task in this part of the wood is to halo thin around the oaks, beech , and then spot replant  where necessary with broadleaves that we've raised ourselves.

Finally, a photo of our latest woodland volunteer. A keen digger who enjoys the outdoors.

This project's called 'Australia'

Monday, 24 August 2015

Mushroom tale

On Wednesday after a couple of days of rain a large cluster of these three inch high mushrooms appeared growing on the leaf litter. They appeared behind the cabin, growing in a sunny spot where the ground is kept damp from the pipe which takes the rainwater away from the gutter.  The ground around the cabin became very disturbed during the build last year, which might also be connected to their appearance this year. Wet, dark and shining they had tightly packed white gills, a simple stem and looked  like - well - droppings.

I couldn't find them in the mushroom book so posted them on the SWOG Facebook group. The advice came back that they were too immature to identify and to wait a few days. 

Here are the same fungi four days later. They are now five inches tall and six inches wide - an amazing growth spurt. The gills are now fawnish pink, which make them easily identifiable as Pluteus cervinius. My Collins guide describes it as follows:

'... common British species. It has a striated, bell-shaped, but usually dark brown cap that later flattens and is easily separated from the whitish brown-streaked stem. The gills are free, white, becoming pinkish and the fungus is found in woods of all types growing on piles of woody debris.. ' 

I'd say as a description that's absolutely accurate. They are supposed to be edible, but Collins says sniffily: 'it has nothing to commend it greatly'. Think I'll take their word for it. 

NB see also http://www.mushroomdiary.co.uk/2015/08/deer-shield-mushroom/. Note that when dry the colours are quite different.