Monday, 24 June 2019

Deer cam

The trail cam was up taking photos and video on the ride in OC1 from 9th -20th June. We were hoping for all sorts of wildlife, but what we got was - deer.

Mostly the camera caught individuals, usually appearing between eight and ten o'clock in the evening. It was good to have confirmed that the deer management is having an affect on numbers. Heading south to north, they often stopped to feed on the holly hanging over the ride.

This chap was an exception - he appeared at 07.51 in the morning

The fallow have had their babies in the forest and are now coming back to Old Copse. This mummy and baby came through on a Tuesday afternoon just after four pm.

They stayed in the wood until half ten in the evening, when the camera caught them heading back the way they came - this time in the dark.

After 12 sightings 9th-12th June, fallow sightings stopped apart from a couple of individuals several days apart - again at their favourite times of 8-10 in the evening. 

We don't see that many roe deer, so it was good to catch this individual taking advantage of the fallow's temporary absence to have a good run on the ride. 

Friday, 14 June 2019


This is the time of year to go around the wood looking for seedling trees. They are springing up everywhere, primarily oak, beech, cherry, rowan, alder buckthorn,and  birch. If they're growing in the 'right' place, which is just about anywhere off the Ride, we mark them with a red topped stick and return later to protect them from deer with a small tree tube and stake. Any that pop up on the Ride itself are dug up and planted in the tree seedling enclosure to grow on  and planted back in the wood when they are are a decent size. The birch come up in their hundreds, and dozens have come up around the cabin. Usually the deer eat them  but this year, for the first time we can remember they have hardly touched them. We think it's a combination of them being elsewhere in the Forest at this time of the year, and good deer management.

Oak, cherry and beech seedlings being removed from the ride to grow on

Last year's seedlings are doing well and will be planted out this winter.

This annual job is a really good way to examine what's going on in the wood at ground level. We got really excited when we spotted this empty nest hidden in a mass of dead bracken. Could it be a woodcock's nest? We have seen and heard them in the wood, but this nest seemed a bit big. After a bit of Internet research we concluded it was probably made by the Canada geese. It was beautifully made, but how successfully Canadas rear their young is another question. We're always coming across eggshells in the wood, presumably predated by squirrels and foxes.

The bees are doing well.On June 9th Krzyzstof came to harvest Old Copse honey for the first time. We'll find out how productive they were when we next see him.

The smoker is used to calm the bees while Kriss harvests the honey
Here's a link to Kris's Instagram account with a bit of video of Old Copse bees enjoying the sunshine. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019


The bluebells were beautiful again this year, such a fleetingly short season, starting towards the end of April and ending by the third week of May here at Old Copse.  I somehow didn't get around to taking the obligatory shot of  a sea of bluebells in among the beech trees, or even a picture of the very first solitary bluebell that had managed to reach  within a few feet of the cabin, sure to be joined by others next Spring , so I'll put a few old ones in.

It feels ridiculously rewarding to witness the results of our work over the past year - the progress of bluebells being  an easy improvement to monitor. I've been watching their onward march  towards the cabin helped by the Scots Pine thinning operation in late 2015, and the strict removal of bracken each year. This is just one example that we're doing the 'right thing' in our approach to the restoration of Old Copse.

 It has become increasingly popular to enjoy the Spring bluebells, whether in private or public woodlands, but it seems there  still exists  carelessness and a lack of  understanding and  respect for this wonderful sight. 

When you see them each year, faithfully pushing through the old leaf  litter in their hundreds,  it may be hard to believe they're a fragile flower. Bluebells don't like change or disturbance, preferring ancient woods where the ground has lain undisturbed for years. Most bluebell woods open to the public have strictly designated paths or raised walkways to stop people trampling them.

Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish - around 5 - 7 years from seed to flower and can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell's leaves are crushed they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesize. Sadly many people don't know, or choose to ignore this , and also that it is against the law to pick, uproot or destroy bluebells.

So, it was dismaying, to put it mildly,  to discover  recently that not only had unannounced  visitors trampled an area of bluebells which we had been encouraging for several years, but had lit a bonfire on top of the bulbs. This shows a regrettable disrepect for the habitat. Bluebells don't recover very quickly after that sort of treatment.  Of course it isn't always possible to avoid every single bluebell in the wood, and we all sometimes tread on them. But we stop routine woodland springtime work in areas where there are growing colonies of wild daffodils, primroses, and bluebells, and we wouldn't dream of  having parties, picnics, and bonfires in their midst.

                                         Won't be seeing bluebells here again anytime soon

                                                            Party litter by the Pond

This made us think about why anybody would do this. I can only think that they just didn't notice them, that their observational skills were lacking.  A nice spot for a party and a bonfire, to take selfies and pose for an Instagram post, but they failed to really look at their surroundings and notice that while they were enjoying the experience of being among the bluebells, they were also crushing and burning them.  I can't imagine this was done deliberately - the site was nicely tidied up , only a few bits of litter to clear up - so it was doubtless just a failure to look and understand. Looking after the wood involves noticing both the general and the details, how over time all the different living elements change, interact and compete. And once you notice these things, you understand better the impact of everything we do - big and small.

Some people might think that the loss of a few bluebells isn't important in the greater scheme of things   .........Oh well, all we can do is continue with the work, protect Old Copse as much as we can,  and maybe in the process,  educate a few people too.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Spring Workparty

 Many hands made light work last Saturday, and a very productive day it was too .............

One of the scheduled projects  was to build an Old Copse woodland growing area in which we plan to experiment with growing fruit and vegetables in three large raised beds protected by deer fencing.  It's located near to the entrance as this is one of the sunniest spots in the wood, and near to the beehives whose occupants we hope will make a good job of pollinating future crops. 

Cabin upgrade. Since the cabin was built in 2014 we've been meaning to install a modest solar system and now it's done and we have light at the flick of a switch -  what luxury.

A second huge branch fell off one of our veteran beech trees. It must have happened very recently. The first huge section fell down last year, and as it was now seasoned the work party made a fast job of cutting up the timber and winching it up to the Ride.  

The inside of  the branch that broke away from the main trunk to reveal the ancient, rotten wood .

Plenty of Beech fire wood for next winter

             As ever, many thanks to Mark and his team for all their much appreciated hard work. 

Monday, 8 April 2019

The hazel grove

We had always intended to extend the hedge to continue south and west from the bottom gate in OC1 down to the fishermen's gate, to form a continuous boundary. As explained in this post in January, when scoping it out, we realised that we had a much bigger and more exciting project on our hands.

We're going to try and create some suitable habitat for dormice. Petra's dormice boxes are untenanted, probably because there isn't enough food or cover for dormice. The new hedge will provide additional food (berries, shoots etc), but the hazel needs to be taken in hand (coppiced and/or pollarded) to make it more productive. But first the holly needs to be tackled as it has badly overshadowed the area.

Shade from the holly makes everything grown tall and spindly
This could be lovely
   Henri, Andy, Felix and friend came on the first Sunday in April to help do some holly bashing. Good progress was made, but there is a LOT of holly. This will be an ongoing project for the summer. An application has gone into Sussex Lund for a small grant to pay for the hedging and some additional hazel whips to extend the area.

Child labour enjoying a bonfire


Sunday, 31 March 2019

Filming the bees

Kryzstof the bee man came on his usual weekly visit to check the hives, but accompanied this time by two MA students who are making a film about the relationship between man and bees. They had to wear all the bee protection, as they got very close to the hives to record them.
Getting ready to film 

Grainy picture taken from far away - I'm not getting in too close
Photo of Old Copse hives from Kriss's Instagram account
Kriss inspecting the bees - from Kriss's Instagram account
As ever, Kryzstof wonders what food sources bees find in the wood.  They are clearly finding a lot, but it's not obvious what. The trick is to look up. At this time of the year all the activity is happening on the tree tops, where they are in full sunlight. For example, the wild cherry are blossoming like crazy - but the flowers are hard to see, and even more difficult to photograph on a phone - but the bees love them.

There's some cherry blossom way up there

And of course the wood is full of catkins for the bees to collect pollen from to feed the developing brood. The birch flowers early. The flowering season lasts for several weeks, as the tops of the trees flower first, and the branches in shade bloom a lot later. While birch catkins are full of pollen, they don't provide any nectar, which the bees need to give them the energy to fly.  But as I learned here willow catkins provide both pollen and nectar, which explains why there is so much bee activity in the willows.

Birch catkins on the ride
The other thing I learned was that the word catkin comes from the old Dutch kat-e-ken, which means 'kitten'. 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Mild winter, early Spring

Looking back over previous posts it seems I write about the appearance of the wild daffodils every year. That's because they are such an obvious sign of the coming Spring. This year they are earlier than ever. The first ones and twos were in bloom on 3rd March, with lots of flowers a week later. In 2016 and 2017 the daffodils weren't in bloom until the third week of March. That's a full two weeks early this year!

Winter was very mild, with only one small scattering of snow and maybe one frost. The result is that the wood does not have the 'flattened' look is usually has at this time of the year. The dead bracken has not been broken down by frost and crushed by snow. As a result the ground layer still has a high covering of dead material, when it's usually bare in early Spring. While offering protection for small mammals, this may mean that other regeneration will struggle for light this year as it will have to fight through this lot - see photo below.

All of this has been making us think about planting for climate change, and trying to decide how best to approach it. There is one school of thought which says that our native trees will adapt, and they will self select; the trees best genetically suited will survive. Other people suggest planting species which come from further south.  We're not planting for timber  - we want to restore our bit of ancient woodland and associated ground flora, so we're wary of introducing non native species, due to the potential effect it might have on the vegetation community.  So one route might be to plant tree types that exist in our woodland community - oaks, beech, rowan, birch, crabapple - but which have non native provenance. So we could look for trees of the same species which are generally grown further south - say in western France.

The danger is of course is that climate change is not just making our weather warmer, but more uncertain. So more southern trees would still have to be able to survive occasional but severe late frosts  - such as the one which killed off a  pot grown walnut we planted the winter before last  This technical paper suggests that planting a mixture of species will act as as an insurance. Which seems like common sense.

I suspect we'll take the cautious route: planting more native broadleaves to make the wood more diverse and trying out a few with non native provenance to see how they get on.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Busy January, working and looking.

A beautiful day. Cold but gloriously sunny. We started the day with  more  hedge planting along the roadside,  a project we began last winter.  The idea is to do a bit more each year until there is a substantial  barrier between the wood and the road, and then, when it has grown tall and thick enough, start laying it in the traditional way. It's all experimentation so we'll see how it goes. The hedging plants have done better at the northern end , not so well  at the south. Not sure why, perhaps because it's  shadier down there, and the ground is definitely worse, almost all sandstone and clay.

It's easier and faster to do this time around because we're not using rabbit spirals as there don't seem to be any rabbits, or bamboo canes as these don't seem to have much of a purpose. The plants appear to be doing fine without them. Plus, we're becoming tree and hedge planting experts!

There is quite a lot of  badly neglected hazel at the southern boundary . Originally planted for coppicing, it hasn't been touched for many years , and  branches have grown long, thin and tangled , bending in all directions, and over 30 feet in height.  Cutting will improve its health and strength. 

                                            Hazel before it is coppiced or pollarded

While ideally we would coppice them it's going to be almost impossible because the deer will eat all the emerging new shoots however much we try and protect them.  So, we'll  pollard the stems, i.e.  cut them at above deer munching height . At least this will add a different  height layer to the wood. The  Willow Grove which we started working on a few years ago, has been very successful in creating a much needed shrub layer for the wood. That project is ongoing , we are still felling birch there, and  will have to cut the pollard stems soon, but we are pleased with the results of our work. Luckily, hazel is much easier to cut than hard springy willow, so it shouldn't take us too long to get the job done.
Pollarded hazel, surrounded by the cut tops, to keep the deer from eating the new Spring shoots
                                            Part of the pollarded Willow Grove in winter.

At this time of the year. the wide paths made by the machinery during the Scots Pine plantation thin in late 2015 are very noticeable. After the work was done, these paths were just churned mud, but now they are grassy small glades , with a much more diverse ground flora. This is because the tractor flattened the bracken and seems to have destroyed its rhizomatic  roots - the welcome result being that it hasn't returned!  a real bonus. It might even be worth doing a bit more thinning in the Scots Pine area just to get rid of more bracken. Bracken is a problem for us, and there is a great deal of information on this: e,g, as  Professor Rob Marrs from Liverpool University says:

'Brambles, bracken and ivy are threatening the future of Britain's woodland, new research has concluded. ... Biologists fear the plants are a major threat to biodiversity in Britain's wooded areas and are potentially more damaging than invasive species that have been introduced to the countryside from abroad'.

New  glades thanks to tractor bashing.

A stroll through the 'wet wood'  , though not as wet as it should be this dry winter,  on the way to the (soon to be )  Hazel Grove

Full moon tonight, reflected in the Hammer Pond. 

Friday, 11 January 2019

Planting continues

A murky January day getting on with planting. We've begun this annual winter task a bit late , normally trying to get it done before Christmas. There won't be as much to do this year. Only planning to plant  about 200  this season.  We started with creating a small Hazel Grove  in an area of the wood colonised by birch , choosing a spot with a lot of bramble in it, which clearly gets more sun than other areas .  The hazel should do well here, with the added bonus of it eventually shading out the bramble . It's all about the light levels  - too much light  and an area is taken over by bracken and bramble, too little, and nothing much will grow.   We are always conscious of trying to strike the best balance. We are using recycled tree tubes, and the stakes are  poles from another area of the wood where there is a lot of neglected hazel. We will pollard  this before the Spring to improve its health and strength and harvest their very useful, strong and straight  poles at the same time.   We might also try a bit of experimental coppicing, but are a bit wary of doing this because of the somewhat diminishing, but still present  chance of deer depredation. They love fresh green hazel shoots!

The hazel poles have the bonus of often producing roots, which will  double the number of  plants

A patch of bramble which will very quickly increase in size if left another season.We have plenty of the stuff for wildlife, but un-managed it will very soon take over  a large area 

The soil here was pretty good for planting - not too much sandstone.