Friday, 30 January 2015

Fence mending

Down in the southernmost corner of OC1 the boundary fence along H P  Road is looking rather the worse for wear. Without its summer coat of bramble it's clear where posts have rotted and in places the wire is coming down, helped by the deer who have created a few convenient exit points.

So the most recent visit was spent knocking together some temporary repairs until we can get them mended properly. Fortunately that part of the wood is rich in hazel so there were plenty of straight poles to use as fence supports.

Being next to the road we found the usual collection of litter: jam jars, bottles and a lump of corrugated iron. People throw the oddest things out of car windows.

Sightings: a grey heron gliding over the pond, buzzards, a mistle thrush, and a rare glimpse of the resident white stag with his impressive antlers.

Grey heron (library picture)

Monday, 26 January 2015

Pollarded willows

Returned mid-week to complete the final pieces of work in creating this new habitat. Another restoration job done! Just thought I would explain in a bit more detail what we're trying to do ...

Sallow or Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is the foodstuff for caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sallow kitten and sallow clearwing, but what interests us most is that it is the main food plant for the purple emperor butterfly. The area we are working in has many sallows, but they were all overcrowded by birch and growing very tall and thin. Unable to support themselves they then toppled over and were eaten by the deer.

Straggly willow growth is lopped off ...
Following advice on managing sallows we removed the birch to let light in to promote new growth, and then pollarded the sallows to about six feet. This should make them stronger and keep new growth out of deer range.  All the brash has now been arranged around the pollarded stems to protect from deer depredation.
... and turned into pollard protectors

We have been careful to ensure that the sallows are still shaded from the south and west, as it appears that the Purple Emperor prefers shaded Goat Willow leaves with mid-green, soft, matt (upper surface) leaves. A few taller birch and a mature alder have been left to provide partial shade. We'll keep an eye on light levels during the summer.

Come the Spring we're looking forward to seeing the the new willow shoots.  

Monday, 19 January 2015

The purple empire

At work in the willow
Yesterday the pollarding of the willow was finally finished -  hurrah!  Milo plus helpers made short work of it, and now there are mounds of willow tops protecting the pollarded trees and neat stacks of willow, which when seasoned, we'll try out in the log burner as a change from birch.  We can't wait to see the results of our labour next Spring and look forward to sitting above the willow grove to see if the Purple Emperor butterfly, (one of the reasons that this part of Old Copse is a SSSI), has been enticed back.

Admiring the results so far

The Purple Emperor

The Purple Emperor is the second largest butterfly in Britain ... only the Swallowtail being larger. It is rarely seen unless a special effort is made to find it as it flies high in the tree-tops of woodland where it feeds on aphid honeydew and sap runs. Its range is now restricted to some of the larger woods in southern England. There are colonies in Southwater Woods (eight miles to the west) and at Knepp Castle Estate (nine miles to the southwest), so it's not unreasonable to hope that it could one day return to Old Copse if the conditions are right. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

After the Rain

To the wood on Friday 16th January. It had poured down the night before - the worst winds and rain of the winter so far, and I went to see how the wood was holding up. This is what I found:

The pond was brown with churned up silt.

The water level was very high, in places flooding the fishermen's swims

At the northern end of the wood, Frenchbridge Ghyll had flooded 

Along the ride the ditch - created with so much effort last year - was working just as it should. The water was running down the slope and into the ditch, and through the drain and under the ride:

Great pleasure to be had from a working drainage system
And then running down through the wood towards the pond. 

Note to self - this woodland channel needs clearing out, and the ditch needs extending - possibly doubling in length. The ride with the ditch is obviously dryer. Where there is no ditch the water sits on the ride, the surface is water logged and rushes grow. Back to work with a spade ...  sigh. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Looking back at 2014

Another year gone,  but we've achieved a lot: 

A beautiful, much loved and much used  log-cabin shelter has been built;  a new entrance  track , and parking place has been constructed;  ride-side widening is completed, and the resulting timber has been cut and  organised properly.

Working with others and building up contacts

We have a few regular cord-buying customers, who live locally, we also burn a lot of wood ourselves in various wood burners and open fires, and plenty is left to rot down on the ground.

We have begun an informal bartering system too, exchanging skilled labour for firewood. This is something we want to develop more in future -  working with like-minded woodspeople who support our objectives , and who can offer Old Copse something in exchange for what Old Copse can offer them, without money changing hands.

Holly in the SSSI, Work in the birch

There's far too much holly so we've started a major thin . We want to finish this job during the next 6 months, At the same time we'll do more work in the birch side of the wood creating a meandering ride running roughly South to North, 'halo' thinning  round the many young broadleaves that are at present hemmed in by birch, while also creating additional glades and paths.  The final job in the birch will be by way of an experiment,  to clear fell an acre or so,  replanting with native broadleaves, and perhaps some nut trees and fruit trees if the soil will support them. Strong deer protection will be needed for this project, unless the deer stalker has been exceptionally successful.

Progress in the Pine plantation

Milo gets some felling practice in the Scots Pine
We'll continue thinning  Scot's Pine with a chainsaw in the coming months, and also perhaps try out a small harvester, but next Autumn  it looks likely that a 30% fell could take place.We had more or less given up on this idea, having done a lot of research, and vacillated first one way then another , but at last we might have found  a contractor who will do the job sensitively, at no cost, and moreover pay us for the extracted timber. So fingers crossed, by early 2016 we'll have solved the Scot's Pine plantation problem.

Next?  well, there will always be work to do , and improvements to make; that's the nature of woodland management. But by mid 2018 , which will mark the end of our first 5 year plan for Old Copse 2,  the aim is  that the initial major work of restoration will be completed and Old Copse will be well on its way to light,  health,  and increased bio-diversity.

Below is a letter (paraphrased) from Natural England
Old Copse is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW), part of which is Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS) . An ASNW is an area of woodland that has been continuously wooded since at least the 1600's; this is a good indication that the site has never been completely cleared of trees and as such has been woodland for thousands of years. These woodlands tend to be rich in diversity and the continued existence of such habitat is vital for the survival of many woodland species. Such sites now only occupy 1% of land area in the UK and concern about the continued loss of ASNW's has prompted the drive to maintain these woodlands in a healthy state and return PAWS areas back to native broadleaved woodlands. The area  was found to be in unfavourable condition when I carried out an integrated Site Assessment on May 12th 2012. The reasons for this were:

- Lack of open space and closure of rides.
- Ground flora lost to heavy shading in large parts of the site.
- Very little regeneration of young trees and saplings.
- Understory dominated by holly, no hazel or other shrubs.

A few more pines to fell to create a new view 

In a relatively short time I think it not unreasonable to hope our work has improved the status of Old Copse  (or at least, our 30 acres of it) from unfavourable' to 'recovering' . From there to 'favourable' will take a little longer than our first 5 year plan, but we'll be doing all we can to reach that point.