Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 almost gone: 2018 plans

Winter late afternoon at Old Copse

Another year just about over,  it's  time for reviewing the plan made in December 2016 for the following 12 months. Though many forestry concerns continue to do a whole range of forestry work, including felling,  throughout the year, we do most of the work of felling and planting at Old Copse  between mid  November when plants become dormant,  and  March, when the bird nesting season begins, so it 's a busy few months, especially while the days are short.  By  March 2018 we will have planted  over  1,250  native trees and hedging plants.  Next year we're looking forward to learning  about  bee keeping.  In May, an expert bee-keeper will be moving  20 of his beehives into Old Copse, so fingers crossed for a bumper crop of Old Copse woodland honey.

This is what we did  in 2017, or  aim to complete by March 2018: (OC1 is the southern 15 acres, OC2 is the northern 15 acres.)

  1. Finished broad-leaf  tree planting in the OC2  thinned  scots pine plantation.
  2. Finished 'halo' thinning around existing broadleaf trees in the OC2  birchwood. 
  3. Woodland edge hazel planting along  the bluebell track which runs S/N and E/W   through the  OC2  birchwood.  Scheduled for Jan/Feb .
  4. Finished holly thinning in OC2.  but after review decided  there is a  further small amount of  selective thinning/pollarding to do.  Scheduled for Jan/Feb/March. 
  5. Finished planting a mixed hedge along our border (OC1 / OC2) with the road.   After review,  we decided  to order an additional 100  hedging plants to fill in a few remaining gaps. Scheduled for Jan/Feb 2018

Some of last season's broad leaf planting in the pines

In addition, essential  routine work throughout the year -  in no particular order :

  • Creating  and maintaining  paths, tracks, rides, scallops,  glades and grassy habitat.
  • Pollarding the south half of the willow shoots in the OC1 willow grove, together with  a  small amount of  birch removal . 
  • Involving neighbouring land owners in deer management plans.
  • Applying for funding for general management and specific projects
  • Monitoring and reducing  the grey squirrel population.
  • Protecting and/or transplanting  regenerating broadleaf trees, shrubs and ground flora.
  • Managing the spread of bracken and bramble.
  • Processing firewood. 
  • Cabin maintenance and improvements .
  • Ride and track  drainage.
  • Checking boundaries and collecting roadside litter

Lastly,  and  importantly,  making time to enjoy the wood, its wildlife and visitors.

2017 has seen the completion of our biggest projects - the big plant following the big thin. The wood has largely recovered from the onslaught of large machinery: grass has grown over the tide of mud on the ride and the scars and tracks have settled down and are barely visible. In 2018 the work will be maintaining what we have achieved,  monitoring our new trees as they (hopefully) grow beyond their tubes, and looking after our newly planted roadside hedge during its first season.

'Little House in the Big Woods'

                                                                  HAPPY NEW YEAR

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Source of Inspiration

Recently we attended  a party to celebrate the projects funded in 2017 by Sussex Lund, including the planting of a loose wildlife hedge at our roadside boundary. The Fund, set up in 2016,  aims to  'support small-scale practical projects that improve the ecology and landscape of the High Weald'. A list of projects funded (including Old Copse) can he found here. Guests at the party were an interesting mix  of people devoted to  the preservation and restoration of the High Weald landscape.  Statutory and voluntary organisations, also  private owners of  large and small pieces of Wealden landscape were well represented. We talked to many people with expertise in countryside ecology and conservation.  We are sure they will prove to be valuable contacts in our continuing work at Old Copse.  The celebration was at Wadhurst Park, whose restoration and management  is an inspiring example of what can be achieved. The Park covers 1,703 acres (689 hectares) of ancient Sussex landscape within the High Weald AONB. It was dark when we arrived at Wadhurst Park for the party, so we look forward to returning next year to explore the estate.

Underland Wood, Wadhurst Park Estate

Here is an extract from 'Wadhurst Park Estate History and Progress:'

 'When we came' (in the mid seventies)  ' almost all the fields were intensively managed pasture or ex-arable.The old coppice woods were unmanaged, and hedgerows had been grubbed out. We converted the fields to organic grassland; we created hay meadows;  fenced wood edges out of fields; re-established coppicing; and planted or naturally regenerated broadleaf woodlands. We developed wetlands; planted,laid and widened hedgerows; made glades and rides in our woods ; and opened up overshadowed ponds'  

'Since the beginning we have seen nature respond. Butterflies thrive in the floriferous meadows and along woodland rides and glades. Our amphibians are prospering in the chemical free environment , while small mammals flourish in the long grass and shrubby hedgerows. Between 2011 and 2016 , the number of bird species on the estate rose by 37%, from 52 to 71 . We have rare dingy and grizzled skipper butterflies , spotted flycatchers, nightingales, turtle doves, and lesser spotted woodpeckers. We also have ten species of bat , a thriving population of dormice and many other small mammals that support breeding raptors , such as kestrels and buzzards.'

 Old Copse is only a tiny fraction of the size of  Wadhurst Park, but our overall aim - to manage for conservation - is really no different at all, just on a much smaller scale. At Wadhurst Park they can make positive changes on a truly landscape scale, linking together and improving all of the varied habitats in the 1,700 acres. So I've been thinking about what difference the much smaller projects make - ours and the other 28 modest projects given money by the Sussex Lund: a hedge here, some laurel removal there, a new fence or an access path. We are all dotted about in the High Weald, reflecting that both land ownership and interests in conservation are fragmented. The RSPB can recreate hundreds of acres of heathland, as they did in West Sussex. The Woodland Trust can take over large swathes of ancient woodland - as when they purchased Brede High Woods in 2007. So can our smaller projects make any difference beyond our own boundaries? Do we make any difference on a wider landscape scale?

At Old Copse we've only got control over 30 acres. Yet Old Copse is important to a lot more people than just us: the fishermen, the dog walkers, the deer stalkers, all the people who live round about who are familiar with the wood or who just pass through. England, especially the South East,  is a small crowded country and there is always someone keeping an eye on what's going on. And they're all interested in what's happening at Old Copse. In a small and local way we can show that improving a wood for conservation is possible without being a big organisation or having loads of dosh. And I suppose that's the spirit of funding the other 28 small projects. They show the people connected to them that improvements are possible. At Old Copse we don't have control of 1,700 acres, so we have to work by example -showing what can be done on a small plot and trying to influence and encourage our neighbours to join us in our efforts.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Planting continues

On our 2017 woodland management planning list one job was to plant an informal shrubby hedge
along our roadside boundary.  So, many thanks to Sussex Lund  who very kindly provided the funding for this project.  We'd expected to have some Plumpton Agricultural College Countryside students to help us with this work, as they'd  helped in the wood last year.  Unfortunately, just a few days before the planned date, we heard that this wouldn't be going ahead because of the planting position adjacent to the road. The ever present issue of  'Health and Safety'  had raised its head  and  Plumpton  had decided, rather late in the day, that it was too risky for their students to be on a roadside verge.  This was rather disappointing both for us and  the students, as they were looking forward to getting out of the classroom and putting theory into practice.

Getting a few more planted before the sun goes down.

 It also meant a quick re-think, as we needed to drum up a few volunteers at very short notice.
 Three deer stalkers came up trumps,  so it was all hands to the pump, or rather the planting spade, as we worked as fast as we could to get the plants into the ground. This was fairly hard labour, as there is a lot of sandstone in the ground at the roadside edge. 500  specimens -  Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Alder buckthorn, Guelder rose, Crab apple, Dogwood, Field maple, Spindle, Wild cherry and  Yew , ( all except the Hazel and wild cherry sourced from the excellent Special Branch tree nursery at Stanmer  on the outskirts of Brighton)  were sorted and bagged into mixed bundles and  wheel - barrowed  to where the planting holes,  marked by bamboo sticks, were being dug.  After snugly tucking them into their places, the final task was to protect them with spiral rabbit guards,  which require a certain knack to get them round the plants effectively.  When it was getting too dark to see, the remaining plants were 'heeled' into a  trench,  and covered with damp soil to protect their roots.  We've planted  about half, and practice has speeded up the process, so the second half shouldn't take quite so long to do.  At the end of a long day we were glad to limp off home exhausted to much needed hot baths, nursing sore backs and assorted aches and pains, but also with a  feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.  We aim to get them all planted during our next few visits to the wood, and will certainly finish the job by Christmas.

Looking at Old Copse from the other side of Hawkins Pond. A perfect  late  Autumn  reflection.