Sunday, 30 December 2018

Holiday get together

Despite post Christmas flu, midwinter gloom and other assorted reasons for staying close to home, a stalwart  group made it to Old Copse on December 30th. It was unseasonably mild , there was an abundance of food and drink, and a modest but highly appreciated firework display , provided by  Sarah, Simon and Stanley. Plus just being in Old Copse , lovely even at this bleak time of year.

Demonstration of the ancient table mat flapping technique for getting the charcoal going.


and Jane's Grand-daughter Mabel

Mabel and Isla size each other up. 

Father and daughter

Father and son . Full marks for getting the bonfire started. No wonder they looked pleased.

                                  All Best Wishes for a Happy New Year to Everyone.

What a difference a saw makes

Mark  made a pre-Christmas visit to the wood to present us with our favourite tipples and a quantity of Old Copse venison, which we were very happy to receive. In addition there was a mysterious large heavy box wrapped in Christmas paper which he handed over with strict instructions not to open it before Christmas.

 So, much surprise and happiness  when the parcel was unwrapped on Christmas day. Thanks to a very generous Christmas present from Mark and all the other members of DAGS (deer stalking group), we are now proud owners of an electric chainsaw!

What a difference! It starts just by pushing a button, so no wrestling with pull cords. No nasty petrol,   quiet, only weighs 4 kilos,  it chopped up  firewood beautifully and no doubt will do the same when felling trees.  The battery seems to last as long as my desire to use it.

Thanks chaps! Best ever Christmas present.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Boys in the Wood

A Grandson celebrates his winter solstice birthday in the wood with some friends. Inner city London boys, they left the big city behind to come down to the wild, wild wood for a stay in the cabin.  I think they had a very good time. Off to different Universities in the next couple of years  it was a chance to spend some time  together before going back to more exam  swotting. It's good to see a younger generation enjoying the wood , even in winter, with darkness falling at  3.30 p.m

Photos by Angelo, Dylan, Ibrahim, and Oliver

                                     Difficult to get the fire going when it's been so rainy

Still life with electric toothbrush

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Piles, heaps and twigs

As the leaves fall,  bracken dries and droops  and the wood grows gradually barer and barer, the heaps reappear on the woodland floor. Every time we fell a tree, the trunks are trimmed and stacked for firewood, but for every set of neatly cut trunks there still remains a great mass of brash - that is thin branches, leaves and twigs. This stuff is endlessly useful as additional deer protection for small saplings, as anti squirrel devices, But there is always more than we can use, which ends up being left in piles around the wood. It takes a surprisingly long time to decay, and while it is hidden by the bracken during the summer, at this time of the year the piles and heaps reemerge.

Some heaps show obvious signs of being used as shelters. We see indentations where creatures have pushed their way in, maybe to hide from a passing predator overhead. Sometimes there are bigger tunnels which lead into the middle of the heap. Wrens are particularly fond of a good heap of twiggy sticks, and are often found hunting for insects.

The mundane twig hardly ever gets a mention on this blog. We talk a lot about the trees, flowers, fungi and wildlife, but twigs hardly figure. Maybe we just take them for granted, as they are such an ordinary part of the landscape. Yet by sheer volume, twigs - whether growing or drying in heaps - form a huge part of the woodland biomass. And they're just as useful to us as they are to creatures.  Dry birch twigs are still the best kindling. One regular job is to collect a big bag every week to light the home fire with.

In former times twigs were much more valued as a woodland product. Now they're rather overlooked. The papers had a good scoff at this online retailer selling a bundle of decorative twigs for £40. They claim they sold out, but I suspect that's just a story to save face. More interesting was this picture I found on the SWOG Facebook page of brash being bundled up for sale to create temporary hurdles. It could have been taken 100 years ago. Looks like birch twigs to me.

Thanks to Tim Davis for photo

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Before and After photos

In late August/early September 2015  I took some photos  to monitor a few areas of the wood prior to the Scots Pine thin in late 2015, and again directly after the thin. These are paired with photos taken this year from roughly the same viewpoint to record the slow but sure recovery of the wood during the subsequent 3 years.

Ground flora

September 2015  The only green on the woodland floor is bracken

 October 2018  with bracken removed and pines  thinned, a more diverse flora is starting to flourish.

Look closely and it can be seen that the 'after' photos show more growth . The  ground doesn't look nearly so brown now, whereas in 2015 it was thick with pine needles, with bracken just about the only visible green growth on the woodland floor. The Scots Pine thin has meant fewer needles covering the ground with a thick brown blanket, and this, combined with bracken removal,  has allowed much more ground flora to come through, in particular,  ferns, heather,  grasses, and also a vigorous under story composed chiefly of  alder buckthorn, hazel, and  willow; Progress is quite slow but there is noticeable improvement.

When the 33% thin was done in late 2015, the forester said we should do the next one in about 5 years time, that is, in late 2020,  but this now seems too soon. We are aiming for  'continuous cover '  at Old Copse. This is the management of forest and woodland without clear felling (removing all the trees either in one section, or overall),  but instead, to use a programme of thinning the trees to encourage regeneration  and allow for under planting.   The trees we planted in gaps between the remaining pines after the thin, need to grow taller and make more shade before we remove further pines.  We intend  to gradually re-plant more broadleaf trees each year. and must monitor the light levels in order to create and maintain a balanced light situation. Too much light and the wood gets swamped with bramble and bracken, both of which inhibit the growth of ground flora; too little light  and  most plants  fail to grow. Bringing Old Copse into better balance isn't going to happen quickly; it's a long, careful process to return the wood to  full health and bio-diversity.

In the pine plantation - looking east

September  2015

September 2018

In the pine plantation - looking south

                                                                    September 2015

September  2018

                                                                   September 2015

                                                                    September 2018

View up the timber extraction track (looking east)

December 2015  

June  2018  

Extraction track

December 2015

October 2018

August 2018  View  from top of Extraction track

OC2 Main ride looking south

December 2015

July  2018

OC1 Main ride looking south

February  2015  

September 2018

There are more 'before' photos in previous blogposts. See  'Another year at Old Copse: A Summary  29/12/2015,' and  'In praise of the humble mattock: 30/01/16'

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Illegal immigrant spotted at Old Copse

Leptoglossus occidentalis
This large handsome bug landed on the table as we were having lunch. It turned out to be a Nearctic leaf- footed pine bug: Leptoglossus occidentalis aka the Western Conifer Seed Bug.

Originally restricted to western parts of the United States and Canada, it managed to get to Italy in 1999 - presumably as a stowaway in a cargo of timber. Since then it has been following the migrant trail across northern Europe and made it to the UK in 2007. The majority of records have been of adults observed at light traps along the south coast of England, clearly indicating a large migration across the English Channel.

Adults and nymphs like to eat the flowers, developing cones and seeds of over 40 species of conifer trees, and they particularly like pine - including Scots pine. So no surprise to find it in Old Copse.

The Forestry Commission reckon it's not harmful, unless you are running a conifer seed nursery, in which case it can become a serious pest. So no need to alert the authorities. But I have logged a sighting with the Terrestrial heteroptera recording scheme, who keep records of invasive species.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Record breaking fungi

On September 16th the West Weald Fungus Identification Group made a return visit to Old Copse. Led by Dick Alder, this expert group found more than 50 species when they visited last year. This time they were particularly interested in seeing if they could find the purple web cap (Cortinarius violaceus) which was the star of the show on Dick's previous visit.

In the previous couple of weeks I'd hunted in vain in all the places where I'd seen Cortinarius last year. But no joy. Luckily the group are well attuned to spotting the most reclusive specimens and found ten individual examples down by the banks of the pond.

Purple webcap Cortinarius violaceus
OK, this one's a bit battered but it's definitely Cortinarius!

In all the group identified 70 different  types of fungi - the most ever found in one visit to Old Copse. We really appreciate having such expert visitors who help us understand more about the ecology of Old Copse. Full list below.

Amanita citrina False Deathcap Soil Betula
Amanita citrina var. alba False Deathcap Soil Betula/Pinus
Amanita excelsa var. spissa Grey Spotted Amanita Soil Betula/Pinus
Amanita fulva Tawny Grisette Soil Betula
Amanita muscaria Fly Agaric Soil Betula
Amanita rubescens Blusher Soil Pinus
Annulohypoxylon multiforme Birch Woodwart Fallen wood Betula
Asterophora parasitica Silky Piggyback Old fruitbody Russula nigricans
Baeospora myosura Conifercone Cap Cone Pinus
Boletus badius Bay Bolete Soil Pinus/Quercus
Boletus edulis Cep Soil Quercus
Boletus erythropus Scarletina Bolete Soil Pinus
Clitopilus prunulus The Miller Soil
Colletotrichum liliacearum Dead stem Hyacinthoides
Coprinopsis atramentaria Common Inkcap Soil
Cortinarius violaceus Violet Webcap Soil Betula
Daedaleopsis confragosa Blushing Bracket Fallen wood Betula
Fistulina hepatica Beefsteak Fungus Trunk Quercus
Ganoderma australe Southern Bracket Log Betula
Gomphidius roseus Rosy Spike Soil Suillus bovinus
Gymnopilus penetrans Common Rustgill Fallen wood Betula
Gymnopus erythropus Redleg Toughshank Litter Betula
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca False Chantarelle Litter Pinus
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur Tuft Fallen wood
Hypomyces chrysospermus Bolete Mould Fruitbody Xerocomellus sp.
Laccaria amethystina Amethyst Deceiver Soil
Lactarius blennius Beech Milkcap Soil Fagus
Lactarius chrysorrheus Yellowdrop Milkcap Soil Quercus
Lactarius hepaticus Liver Milkcap Soil Pinus
Lactarius quietus Oakbug Milkcap Soil Quercus
Lactarius sp. Soil Fagus, Quercus
Lactarius tabidus Birch Milkcap Soil Betula
Lactarius vietus Grey Milkcap Soil Betula
Laetiporus sulphureus Chicken of the Woods Mossy log
Leccinum scabrum Brown Birch Bolete Soil Betula
Lepiota cristata Stinking Dapperling Soil
Mensularia radiata Alder Bracket Dead standing trunk Alnus
Mycena inclinata Clustered Bonnet Fallen trunk
Paxillus involutus Brown Rollrim Soil Betula
Phacidiostroma multivalve Fallen leaf Ilex aquifolium
Piptoporus betulinus Birch Polypore Fallen trunk Betula
Pleurotus pulmonarius Pale Oyster Log
Pluteus cervinus Deer Shield Log Betula
Pluteus salicinus Willow Shield Buried wood
Polyporus ciliatus Log Betula
Polyporus leptocephalus Blackfoot Polypore Log Salix
Postia stiptica Bitter Bracket Log Pinus
Psathyrella piluliformis Common Stump Brittlestem mossy log
Rhodocollybia maculata Spotted Toughshank Soil Betula
Rhopographus filicinus Dead stem Pteridium
Russula aeruginea Green Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula atropurpurea Purple Brittlegill soil Betula
Russula betularum Birch Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula claroflava Yellow Swamp Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula cyanoxantha Charcoal Burner Soil Quercus
Russula densifolia Crowded Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula laurocerasi Soil Quercus/Betula
Russula nigricans Blackening Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula nobilis Beechwood Sickener Soil Fagus
Russula risigallina Golden Brittlegill Soil Quercus
Russula sardonia Primrose Brittlegill Soil Pinus
Russula subfoetens Soil Quercus
Russula velenovskyi Coral Brittlegill Soil Quercus
Sparassis crispa Cauliflower Fungus Stump Pinus
Suillus bovinus Bovine Bolete Soil Pinus
Trochila ilicina Holly Speckle Fallen leaf Ilex aquifolium
Trametes versicolor Turkeytail Stump
Trichaptum abietinum Purplepore Bracket Fallen trunk Pinus
Tyromyces chioneus Log Deciduous
Xerocomellus cisalpinus Soil Quercus/Betula
Xylaria carpophila Beechmast Candlesnuff Mast Fagus

Monday, 10 September 2018

End of Summer report

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest on record. For six weeks from the end of June to the second week of August  daytime temperatures consistently topped 30C. Photos from the trail cam show 32 degrees on the 25th June, and similar temperatures through until mid August. 
In the main the wood stood up well against the heat, probably because as we explained here, there had been a wet Spring and the water table was high before the hot weather and drought started. As the hot summer weather progressed, it was noticeable that the saplings which had made such growth in the Spring, just stopped growing and everything - young and mature - slowed right down. 

The other day I learned that there is a word for this: 'aestivation', the condition of summer sleep in which species pass periods of heat or drought. This year was the first time I had noticed it so strongly in the wood.  In previous years there have been odd hot afternoons when it seemed that the wood was asleep, but this year was a whole summer of torpor.  

Often it was too darned hot to do anything at all  except relax in a hammock

The newest introductions - Kris's four beehives - are settling in nicely. Kris comes to check them regularly and tells us they have started to produce honey.

Kris and the bees pose for a photo
The bees have been taking advantage of the heather which has been flourishing in the spaces where bracken and bramble have been cleared. This is the first year we have had so much heather in bloom.

Heather growth has gone mad this year, popping up everywhere.
The honey bees found it very quickly.

On many summer afternoons we could see buzzards slowly circling upwards at the north end of the pond, taking advantage of a thermal that forms over the vineyard. We think the change from golf course to vineyard should have greatly improved the hunting for the owls, There is now lots of tussocky grass and shelter for small mammals, whereas before there was just close cut fairways. Maybe we'll even see a barn owl gliding up the rows of vines.

Quite a change from the golf course

So summer is over, We're emerging from aestivation into a more active autumn. September fungi are already here. We're already planning some autumn planting: more additions to the hedge and some spot planting elsewhere. We've got to plan for global warming and think about hedging our bets (pun intended) and planting for global warming. Deer stalking has started. The wood cycle moves round once more.

Monday, 23 July 2018


Up by the car park at the entrance several ragwort plants are in bloom. They are covered in these bright yellow and black striped caterpillars which are munching away in an alarming fashion.

The charity Buglife says that many insects - bees, moths, butterflies, wasps and other invertebrates are totally dependent on ragwort for food.

Looking them up I found out that they are the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. We know that ragwort is poisonous to horses and cattle, though they would have to eat 25% of their body weight in ragwort to make them seriously ill, but as we're not keeping animals we didn't see any reason to remove them. I was very interested to find out how the cinnabar moth makes use of the ragwort poison to protect itself,

The cinnabar moth lays its eggs in large batches on the lower leaves of ragwort and when the caterpillars emerge (June to August) they eat their way up the plant. In their early stages the caterpillars are prone to attack from many insects but as they progress they store poison from their host plant in their bodies making them unpalatable to birds and they advertise this fact with bold orange and black stripes.

In August, the mature caterpillars leave the host plant and spin a cocoon in which to hibernate in the soil, at this stage they are sometimes eaten by moles.

They emerge the following summer (May to July) as adult moths when their red and black wings still advertise the poisons they contain making them safe from attack by birds.

Cinnabar moth  - photo by David Chapman