Sunday, 20 November 2016

Today we were....................

Today we were mostly removing pollard shoots...............

We finished felling birch and pollarding the Goat Willow (Sallow/ Salix Caprea)   in the willow grove almost two years ago.  Most of the willow had grown tall and spindly and was toppling over. We needed to lower the overall height in order to maximise the chances of  attracting the Purple Emperor butterfly and more Marsh Tits back to Old Copse. We couldn't coppice it  (i.e. cut it down to near ground level) because the deer would have eaten it, so we decided to pollard it  ie. cut it down to about 6ft, out of the reach of the deer.

We don't know if  our work has attracted any Purple Emperors because we don't have time to spend sitting around with a pair of binoculars looking for them. But it's reward enough that we've made a nice attractive home for them if  they just happen to wander over from Knepp Castle eight miles away ( the nearest known colony of the Purple Emperor). Who knows, they just might have been tempted to make regular visits. We hope so anyway.

Pollarding willow is not the most enjoyable job. The wood is hard and springy, and the ground is squelchy and uneven. So we were pleased to have completed it last year, with the help of Martha and Milo, our two volunteers. However, work in the willow grove  doesn't stop after the initial pollarding. The new shoots have sprung up 15feet and more, some of them very thick, and they now need to be cut back to the main stem.

It is not the right sort of willow for weaving, too brittle,  and as far as we know it cannot be used for anything very much nowadays. Traditional uses included clothes pegs, and the foliage was used as winter feed for cattle. The wood also burns well and makes good fuel. Apart from the latter,  I suppose we could use it for dry hedging.  Aspirin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species, but I don't think that producing aspirin from Old Copse willow would be much of a money spinner, so nearly all of the prunings will be left on the ground to rot down.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Bonfires, fireworks , and barking deer.

Pre-Bonfire Night fireworks in the Wood

Holly bonfire burning hot and fast. Herbie was interested but cautious.

When we started clearing the dense holly growing along the length of the ride, and by the pond , we estimated  that the work would take about 6 months. ( that was always optimistic.) Almost two years later we are still at it, but at long last we seem to have broken the back of this not very enjoyable  job. The most recent clearance was at the north end of the wood, next to Frenchbridge Ghyll,  the stream that flows down through St.Leonard's Forest to the North West of Old Copse,  and feeds into the pond. It is  lined along its length with a narrow band of shady woodland. Springs emerge from the steep banks and empty into the Ghyll, helping to keep the area wet throughout the year. The holly was particularly dense on the banks of the stream, but now it has been well thinned out, to encourage the oaks, alder, and other broadleaves,  allowing  us to see and enjoy this particularly lovely part of the wood .

Old Copse is in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and  part of it, particularly the area bordering the Pond, is an SSSI, that is, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Old Copse is at the Western edge of the Sussex Weald . Both the High and Low Weald have numerous Ghylls, steep sided woodland streams that have their own specific characteristics. Frenchbridge Gyll that runs through Old Copse and into Hawkins Pond is typical of Wealden Ghylls, though perhaps not quite so steep sided as some.

Ghyll woods constitute an important core area of 'primary woodland' , that is to say, wooded sites which have never been cleared within the larger semi-natural woodland of South East England. A Ghyll woodland has a humid and relatively stable micro-climate resulting from long continuity of shade and moisture. Such woods support ancient semi-natural woodland vegetation often with high bio-diversity value . Wealden Ghylls mark some of the oldest, least disturbed woodland in the South-East.

Now the Scots Pine has been thinned, the young beech trees can be seen in their Autumn colours.

The woods have been echoing with the sounds of barking deer, all competing with each other in trying to attract mates.