Wednesday, 9 June 2021

May Workday

How time flies during a Pandemic. It's June once again and Covid restrictions were time  for the annual Old Copse workday in May, with Mark Chase and his team of deer stalkers. In contrast to the hot dry weather on last year's work party, this May was  wet.  We were lucky though,  and it only started to rain right at the end of the day. 18 workers got a great deal done, including repair of the roadside boundary fence using sturdy chestnut fence posts;  removal and processing of a large quantity of timber from various felling sites in the wood, and repairing a leak in the water supply which entailed mechanical digging. The range of  machinery they brought with them, from chainsaws and log splitter, to a digger/ fence post basher  made a crucial difference to how much could be achieved in one day. Tiring but satisfying. 

After a long cold winter, Spring rain and a bit of sunshine has brought  astonishingly exuberant growth . There's more regeneration this year than we've witnessed in the almost twelve years since we've been restoring Old Copse. From ground and shrub layer to canopy - everything is sprouting. The tree whips we've planted and protected from deer have greened up and started to put on a growth spurt. Natural regeneration has included birch, rowan,willow, oak, beech and wild cherry. This hasn't come about by chance but is due to a number of crucial factors such as the rainy Spring and  gradual felling of the pine plantation to  let in more light  - but not too much. It's  a tricky balance - too much light encourages bracken and bramble.  It's such a joy when  the ground flora starts to return, e,g,  Lily of the Valley, wild daffodils, wild garlic, honeysuckle, wood anenome. In the shrub layer broom and alder buckthorn are all gradually increasing. A small new glade was created to the south of  the cabin last Spring , and cleared of dense bracken.  This Spring 50% of it was covered in bluebells. We're hoping for 100% coverage next year. Results like this makes work at Old Copse very rewarding.

 It's been so wet that the ducks have been leaving their 11 acre 'Pond' to stroll down the Ride for a change of scene. The cuckoo is safely returned from its gruelling journey from West Africa, and we're hoping to hear again the strange call of the Nightjar near the cabin soon.   


Saturday, 13 February 2021

Willow Pollarding in the snow

Our  Willow Grove at Old Copse hadn't been pollarded (cut at around head height)  since we created it  (together with Milo and Martha) in January 2015,  so this winter we decided it was time to do it again. It was a particularly cold day, and shortly after we started, so did the snow. 


John, our forester, and Ana, from Mexico

    A clump of pollarded willow

Goat Willow grows very well in this part of the 'wet wood', the main wet wood nearby is full of very tall Alder trees which are closely associated with wet woodland (see Woodland Trust article). However some goat willows had started to grow tall and spindly and a couple had collapsed onto the ground for the deer to eat.  Old Copse was, and still is to an extent,  lacking in a range of tree age and height, having been completely untouched for many years. Regular pollarding, i.e. cutting  at shoulder height ,  gives trees strength and stability . It also  keeps the foliage out of reach of deer. 

We pollarded half of the Willow Grove this time, leaving the other 50%  until  next year, because the Emperor butterfly, which we are trying to attract, need goat willow leaves, their favourite food plant, to eat and lay their eggs on. Hatched larvae are well camouflaged with the midrib of willow leaves. The caterpillars overwinter in willow twig forks, then pupate in the Summer and are active at night.  

The beautiful Purple Emperor butterfly

As adults, purple emperor's main food sources are aphid honeydew and tree sap, though they also come to ground to feed on animal dung and carrion .During July, males congregate on particularly tall 'master trees' awaiting mates. Females either couple up with a male or swoop to the ground as a signal that they have already mated. 

Despite a decline in the 20th century, thought to have been caused by widespread   large-scale loss and fragmentation of ancient woodland  together with the removal and  'tidying-up' of areas of goat willow, which is usually considered  non-productive 'scrub', it seems the Purple Emperors may be expanding its range again,  even into suburban areas particularly in  South -central England which is still  their  prime territory . Knepp Castle has had enormous success in attracting Purple Emperors due to their rewilding programme, and that isn't far from Old Copse. They favour oak woodland, and though Old Copse has a fair number of oaks, with many regenerating naturally (and protected from deer)  there aren't that many tall ones in the vicinity of the Willow Grove, so we hope they might make use of the tall birches instead.  

Burning the Brash. No chance of setting the woodland floor on fire in the cold and wet

First time we've seen icicles at the cabin

A rare sight - snowing in the wood 

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Old year new year

It feels like being stuck in a time warp. Here we are at the start of 2021, back in 'lockdown' once again. As in  Spring  last year we will continue work  at Old Copse (in between  the demands of actual  paid work), in  the forthcoming weeks, months, or however long it takes . We still have to check the beehives during winter, and  continue with the usual seasonal tasks. We also have to respond to emergencies  like the large Scots Pine that  toppled over at the southern end of the wood in recent stormy weather, knocking off the top of a Beech as it fell. It was directly adjacent to the road,  so it's  fortunate that nobody was driving past at the time . The ground there is too poor, dry and shaded  to plant a successful wild hedge at the boundary so the resultant pine and beech brash will make a useful temporary 'dead' hedge.   

Fallen pine at the road edge

Our main project this winter is to restore an area of  derelict hazel coppice at the south end of the wood, adjacent to the road. In the old days, up to the end of the 17th century, the majority of Old Copse would have been coppiced   to produce wood for making charcoal  near to the dammed pond, to fuel the iron furnace/forge. The archeological surveyor who came to inspect Old Copse some years back , showed us numerous places adjacent to the pond where coppice workers had made charcoal hundreds of years ago.  It's taken us a while to get around to tackling it, but it's always been an important item on our to do list, and great to think that at last we're re-connecting Old Copse to its Wealden iron industry past.  The area was a complete mess, choked with fallen trees, enormously over grown hazel and holly, and very dark. It has been fairly challenging but with the professional help of  John, our forester, we've managed to (almost) get it done.

Overstood coppice before work started

Coppicing  is a traditional woodland practice which provides a steady supply of useful material for turning into firelogs, charcoal, hurdles, bean and pea sticks and many other uses. This part of woodland management is also excellent for wild life and bio diversity. Coppice rotation, i.e. regular cutting every 7 years or so, means that the light in the area changes over time and a  rich diversity of woodland ground flora is produced. We began to see this happening last Spring, after we had felled some of the holly that shaded out the ground,  and  wild daffodils and primroses appeared . We hope this will continue with a wide range of other ground flora. We hope too  that eventually a few dormice will find it to their liking, and decide to set up home. At least, that is the aim.       

 Temporary deer fence supported by hazel poles

Forester's assistant Lara supervising progress and guarding equipment 

The hazel has now been coppiced, holly removed, 60 new hazels planted, to add to those we coppiced, and  a temporary deer fence installed. We've also started a bit of 'layering' to produce more plants. Outside the deer fence are a number of  hazels which earlier this year we pollarded i.e. cut further up the stem,  and  protected with brash,  to see if the deer left them alone, which, surprisingly  they did.  So we'll pollard the rest of the hazel outside the deer fence and hope that they too remain unmolested .  Many thanks once again to Sussex Lund who continue to support us by funding our hazel coppice initiative , and other projects at Old Copse.

New hazel planting

Previously pollarded hazel  protected by brash

Coppiced hazel stool

There is now a large stack of hazel 'poles'  for fire wood, or for charcoal burning. We've had some experience of this (as shown here) so if we have the time later this year..............

                  Cut hazel poles with brash behind  and  Hawkins pond in the background.

We'll see how the coppice area gets on next year, and next Autumn/Winter plant more hazel  both in the restored coppice  and alongside the road. We'll extend the coppice coupe or form a new one once we've felled enough holly to let more light in. In doing this we'll be very careful , as usual, not to encourage bramble and bracken.   So,  we'll be busy for quite a while in these few acres at the neglected southern end of Old Copse. 

We've managed to do a little more tree planting elsewhere in the wood this season , though not as much as usual because of the coppice project.We like to get the whips into the ground by early January at the latest to help them get off to a good start in the Spring. Suppliers tend not to lift them  until late November so we  have a short planting time frame.  It's also been satisfying to plant our own home grown trees -   oak, beech, hazel, wild cherry, sweet chestnut  etc.  Thanks to Sarah's Mum who kindly dug up and donated seedling  oaks from her garden , and which have now grown large enough to be planted out in the wood. Maybe  we should label them  all,  'Ann's Oak '  The tree nursery is looking pretty empty at the moment. Perhaps she'll have some more for us soon. 

For readers  interested in the Sussex  Wealden Iron Industry, and making charcoal the traditional (Earthburn) way, there's loads of interesting information online. Here's an evocative extract from  Wealden Iron: A Short History by Helen Pearce 2018  

'The remaining ponds cannot hint at the widespread heavy industry that dominated the scene a few centuries ago. The clamour of the hammers, the acrid smoke from the furnaces, the countless miners, fillers, finers, hammermen and carters, the roads blocked by oxen hauling iron and fuel, and riverboats laden with bar-iron would have presented a far busier and noisier landscape than today’s peaceful waters. Weed and silt have reduced some ponds in size while others have been altered for ornamental purposes. All have been reclaimed by flora and fauna, and many are now within Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Often assumed to be natural beauty spots in the High Weald (now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) these delightful artificial lakes are useful reminders of the largely concealed post-industrial nature of so much of our countryside.'

Oh, almost forgot, for the 4th time we've won a Woodland  Award from year we were winners of the best tree planting project,  welcome recognition for what the two of us are doing at Old Copse. There are many committed woodland restorers  all over the country carrying  on this important  work  and  it's always nice to win an award and to receive a lovely box of useful woodland equipment, and  books as a New year surprise.  

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Everyone enjoys the wood

One of the great pleasures of owning a wood is sharing it with other people. As the strange summer of lockdown comes to a close we can look back on a few of the visitors  who've had fun in the wood. 

Boyz in the wood

Six boys spent two nights in the cabin - a chance to catch up and chill out together far from parents and university. How they all managed to jam into the cabin we're not asking. 

They even made a video


These three loved it so much they're coming back to spend a couple of nights in the cabin and watch the bats. Perhaps they'll move in  and never go home ...

Climbing up every deer hide

The rope swing proved popular

Family party

Finally an end of summer family get together, under strict C19 rules - but with proper tea, delicious sandwiches  and cake.


Saturday, 25 July 2020

Tree Planting

Our ongoing tree planting project at Old Copse is a vital component of the restoration of 30 acres of ASNW, (partially PAWS), situated in an AONB, part designated SSSI.* 

In the mid 1950's almost all of the original ancient woodland was clear felled and Scots Pine planted across the site. The big storm of 1987 blew down half of the plantation, and birch and other broadleaves are now regenerating in areas where once only pines grew. Our project is to fell the majority of the remaining Scots Pine plantation, and return it to mixed woodland. We are doing this gradually and carefully and replanting in the gaps to maintain 'continuous cover'. 

As part of our management plan we started by felling approximately a third of the Scots Pine plantation in December 2015, and in late 2016 started planting a mix of broadleaves: oak, beech, wild cherry, hornbeam, chestnut and hazel, in the open areas created by the felling. The species mix has been chosen to match those occurring naturally on the site, supplemented by a few English native trees not found within the existing vegetative community, such as small-leaved limes. We aim to achieve a healthy diversity to help the wood withstand the threats of climate change. We have now planted well over 1,000 trees. Every year we fell a little more and replant in the gaps. 

Replanting in the gaps in the plantation

Three years on some of the hornbeams are more than 7ft tall 

Foreground - new planting and remaining Scots Pines, background - remnant original woodland

Oak emerging from tree shelter 

We have planted more than 1000 trees. Note also regenerating ground flora encouraged by the removal of bracken.

Replanting is augmented by a great deal of natural regeneration prompted by the felling, predominantly oak, beech, rowan, alder buckthorn and goat willow. All promising regeneration has to be protected from deer predation. We also transplant any regeneration growing in the 'wrong place' such as the middle of the rides, and grow them on in our deer proof tree enclosure before planting them out elsewhere in the wood. 

Protecting regenerating beech with recycled tree tubes

Growing on natural regeneration in our deer-proof enclosure

By implementing the continuous cover system, newly planted trees might not grow as fast as if they were planted on an open, treeless site, but we've been surprised and pleased at their good rate of growth. We've also been quite lucky with the weather over the past few years, especially the last wet winter which helped the newly planted whips settle in and make it through hot, dry summers. Losses have been minimal. We've been unable to find long lasting, biodegradable tree tubes so we use a mixture of recycled, mesh, standard plastic and home-made wire shelters.   

The future: To continue what we've been doing since late 2016, aiming to fell a further 20% or so of Scots Pine in the next few years, replant, and repeat until the majority of the Scots Pine have been replaced by broadleaves. It is very encouraging to see the difference in the woodland since the felling and replanting began just 3 1/2 years ago. Lastly, because restoring a wood costs money, a further bonus of the felling operations is that the sale of timber for both chip and sawlogs has helped finance other projects in the wood, including the planting of over half a mile of boundary hedge.  

ASNW - Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland
PAWS - Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site
AONB - Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
SSSI - Site of Special Scientific Interest 

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Teapod Party in the wood

Our friend Therese has left the world of digital tech for a new career making crepes and milkshakes at festivals and parties.  Last Saturday was a perfect day for a small, relaxed woodland gathering - socially distanced of course (we tried). The weather was gorgeous and the wood the perfect setting. So what better place for Therese to take her new venture for a trial run?  Friends agreed to come and sample some crepes and it was George's 9th birthday too ..

Therese, and George the Birthday Boy

George and  Pippa  waiting for a  treat.


Thursday, 9 July 2020


Wisps of smoke show where the fire is burning underground

The phrase 'Stupid is as Stupid Does' has been in common use during this Covid 19 pandemic to describe people who behave in carelessly stupid ways, putting themselves and others in danger. I think the phrase is also relevant when applied to a recent incident at Old Copse. 

Each time we go to Old Copse we do a recce to make sure that everything is ok, for example, checking for fallen trees and large branches in windy weather. This morning, with a busy work day planned as usual, I  took a quick walk about. There was a strong smell of woodsmoke and lots of smoke around. I  quickly found its source and was shocked and alarmed to find that a fire was burning through the leaf litter and had evidently been going for some days despite  recent rain. The burn had gone deep into the ground layer and the fire was spreading below the surface. The charred area was  20 ft across and flames were licking the edges, driven by a south west breeze.

After stamping out as much of the visibly burning areas as possible,  I ran to get help from Sarah. Thank goodness we could get water from the lake, but it was a long and exhausting process filling containers and dragging them up the bank to the burning site. We  dread to think what would have happened if  the fire had continued to burn and/or there had been no water source. We spent much of the day making as sure as we could that the fire had been contained.We can only hope that we were successful and it is not still burning at Old Copse.

Down at the pond fetching water - bucket by bucket

Fire finally out - we hope

We are baffled by the behaviour that caused this. This photo clearly show the remains of the original fire, edged by burned logs. Why anyone would use logs as a fire edging is incomprehensible .

The fire was burning hottest inside tree stumps.

What a shame that the fire was not extinguished properly. It must have been burning for a week - hence the spread of the damage. Absolutely anyone with an interest in,  respect for, and understanding of  woodlands would know about wildfires, and how destructive they can be, especially in an area where pine predominates. Pine needles, full of  highly flammable oils, build up a deep layer, and when lit,  the fire will quickly spread under the surface. By the time this fire was discovered the area of burn was already 20 feet across and still burning slowly and steadily aided by a southwest wind. Much of the burning cannot be seen because it is below the surface.

There are endless stories in the press about  forest and woodland fires caused by carelessness and ignorance - a dropped match,  cigarette end, a barbecue etc., but still it goes on, uninformed people who do not understand the dangers, just wanting to enjoy our beautiful wood  and no doubt, to have  something to post on their Instagram account. It would be no good putting up signs or explanatory notices, these would probably be ignored. We can only hope there won't be a repeat performance, and be extra vigilant for the next few months, especially during very dry,  hot spells such as we had in late June.