It is getting on for a year since posting my last blog entry. The long silence does not mean that I haven’t made progress, though certainly I wish I had found the time to do more. When I did do stuff I never seemed to have time to blog about it, partly because I was prioritising my personal blog (where I have now published 95 posts). I hope I can organise my life in such a way as to be able to spend more time in the woods next year but for now I will just summarise what has happened since my previous post.
At the end of January I took a trip to Much Hadham where I bought a twelve foot metal field gate from McVeigh Parker. I installed the gate in early February but it wasn’t until March that a local guy called David came with a machine to do a bit of landscaping. He scraped down to solid ground and used the topsoil to form a small bund, then spread twenty tons of crushed concrete to form a nice firm track, just long enough to drive a truck in and close the gate behind.
Meanwhile I bought a load of bare root hedging plants from Rochfords to create a hedge along the roadside, either side of the new gate. I chose hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), spindle (Euonymus europeus) and field maple (Acer campestra) and then added a few more small trees that I had rescued as seedlings and grown on in pots. On either side of the gate I planted some yew (Taxus baccata). I set the hedge far enough back from the road to leave a verge so that I won’t have to trim it too often and eventually I will lay it.
In April I got my friend Dean to come back and finish taking down the hollow lime tree that he had made safe in March 2012. We left about five metres standing and most of the rest went for firewood (it is not considered to be a desirable firewood but it seems to burn OK in my stove). Later in April I was saddened to discover a mature oak near the picnic table with an area of charred bark – why would you light a fire against a tree? Hopefully the damage is not too severe but I will have to wait until spring to see how it responds.
In early May it was dry enough that I thought I should water the hedge but I don’t have a source of water in the woods. I have taken the odd bucket of water from the river and carried it up but it would have been a lot of work to water the whole thing like that. Fortunately I had got to know Brian up at Herts Tree Care and he said I could fill a tank at his yard. So I put one of those metre cube tanks on the back of van and attached a large bore flexible pipe to discharge through (it is surprising how little flow you get through a hose pipe when you don’t have mains pressure behind it). I watered the hedge a few more times after that, particularly during the July heatwave, when I also mulched it with some partially rotted wood chip.
In June Brian said he wanted to train two of his lads for their felling assessment, and asked if he could use our woods. I had already marked up a load of trees to take out so this seemed like a good opportunity. I agreed on condition that he trained me too. I also said he could take the timber we felled for his firewood business and we fixed on the first week of July. It was hot every day and it felt even hotter wearing gloves, boots, helmet and chainsaw trousers. Brian taught us basic chainsaw maintenance in his workshop and then we went out to learn and practice the various felling techniques. We put all the saws, fuel, breaker bars, wedges, water, packed lunches etc in a trailer and drove it down to the wood with a little Kubota tractor. Felling was hard work but I got the hang of it and we managed to thin out about a quarter of a hectare. I was using a Husqvarna 141 with a 15″ bar and on the last day when I was about to put it back on the shelf Brian said I could keep it. I have used the saw a fair bit since then, both in the woods and working with Dean. We stacked the brash in neat piles and one of my jobs for the winter is to burn a lot of it. During the heatwave a fire was deliberately started next to the right of way and it was lucky someone spotted it and put it out – so leaving big piles of dry brash around is probably not a good idea.
At the beginning of October we went to the woods with a load of English bluebell bulbs to plant. My mother chose a slight hollow near the picnic table and I cleared away the young sycamores to allow more light in. Once the bulbs were planted I surrounded the patch with old chicken wire to avoid disturbance (I read somewhere that badgers eat bluebell bulbs but it may be a myth). By then the light was starting to fade and I realised that the chicken wire was almost invisible, so I surrounded that with some brash to stop people or animals running into it. When I went back a few days later I was surprised to see a small camouflage tent set up near the picnic table. There was nobody there and I left the tent alone but picked up the beer bottles that were scattered around. The tent was still there last time I visited but I couldn’t see any signs that anyone had been back. I haven’t decided what to do about it yet.
Meanwhile, in Hatfield there has been an attempt to breathe new life into a Friends of Hatfield Woods volunteer group. The Countryside Management Service (CMS) are involved now, and I joined a group of volunteers in Oxleys Wood on Tuesday October 29th, the day after a storm which brought down a lot of trees in the area. We built a fire in a clearing and burned a load of brash that had previously been left by council contractors. I also went and fetched my winch to pull down a big ash limb which had snapped in the storm and ended up balanced precariously against the trunk. Through the CMS I learned of a free woodland management training workshop which is being delivered by Good Woods at Marston Vale Forest Centre in Bedfordshire on November 23rd. When I signed up I mentioned that I have my own piece of woodland and was informed that Good Woods is also providing free woodland management support to 200 woodlands across the South East and East of England. It turns out I am eligible and will in fact be looking round the wood with an advisor in the morning.
Ware Park Wood seemed to weather the storm OK. There were quite a few broken branches but the only tree that came down was a large sycamore which snapped off about five metres from the ground. The crown came down mainly in the neighbouring wood and I could see that the trunk was quite hollow and rotten where it snapped. Luckily nothing came down on the road or right of way.
I still haven’t spent a night at the woods but have been thinking I might invite a few friends to camp out for the Winter Solstice. The exact moment will be 17:11 GMT on Saturday December 21st but the celebration at Stonehenge will take place at sunrise on December 21st so we would camp on Friday night and be up for sunrise. OK, that is about as much detail as I have time for and I think I have covered most of the significant stuff – I will try to post more regularly in future.