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.