Monday, 21 July 2008

A busy weekend

Wow, that was hectic! After Alex visiting on Friday, we went to the SWOG meeting Tracy had organised on Saturday, and then on Sunday tried out some electric bikes in London and carried on up to Oxford to catch up with various friends and visit our old church in the evening.

The SWOG event was very worthwhile, and Tracy will be posting a summary on the SWOG website later. For now though, here's a quick summary:

Nigel Symes, RSPB Woodland Advisor and author, told us about the disturbing loss of species of birds known as "woodland specialists" - i.e. they only live in woodland. These included the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Hawfinch, Redstart, Willow Warbler, Woodcock, Lesser Redpoll, Willow Tit and Tree Pipit. These species have all declined significantly, some drastically, since about the late 80s or early 90s. As far as the RSPB can tell, the main reason for their decline is the progressive cessation of woodland management since the 1940s, with a time delay before the effects became apparent.

The RSBP recommended strategy to help these birds includes:

  • Coppicing, with well-spaced standards
  • Thinning of standards/plantations. Oak was referred to as a "heavy shader", eliminating the habitat near ground level that some of these birds required. Example pictures were shown where oaks were too closely space and so had grown tall and thin, but by thinning these out more light reached the ground and the remaining oaks were able to develop healthy crowns that provide a better all-round habitat.
  • Ride and glade management, for example coppicing on a short cycle along the edges of rides.
  • Improving the woodland edge, by creating a buffer zone of scrub between fields and woods.
  • Managing deer numbers by a combination of fencing and shooting, to allow the shrub layer in the wood to develop. Example photos were shown to illustrate how the rapidly increasing numbers of deer can decimate a shrub layer, leaving nothing for other wildlife - presumably because their natural predators (wolves) are long gone in the UK (thanks to us)...
  • Increasing humidity, by reducing drainage, maintaining and enhancing existing ponds and streams, and enhancing the woodland edge to prevent wind penetration.
David Plummer, wildlife photographer, gave an excellent talk on badgers. He's been watching them in his wood for some time now, and has had guests to watch them too. He illustrated his talk with excellent pictures, all taken by himself. The interesting thing when it comes to watching badgers is that they have very poor eyesight, but excellent smell, so as long as you sit downwind you can get really close! To find out more about David's badgers, and also his photography training courses, visit his blog and photogrpahy website.

Alan Sage, woodland manager and craftsman, spent the afternoon explaining the practicalities of managing woodlands, covering far more than I can write about here, and answering questions from anyone who asked. He's worked in coppicing and other forestry activities for many years, and specialises in using his craft skills to produce valuable products from the wood he manages. His key message was that it is possible for any woodland owner to make some money from the produce of their wood, and that this money would enable them to manage the wood better for biodiversity and enjoyment. A great many woods are neglected because the owners do not have the time to manage them, or the money to pay someone else to, and the biodiversity suffers as a result. Therefore, helping people get woodland products to market can be a big help, as well as displacing unsustainable materials such as metal, plastic concrete, brick and fossil fuels. To find out more about the training courses and other services offered by Alan, visit

OK, so that was quite a detailed summary!

We went up to the wood today (Monday) to do various things, and I have some pictures, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow to post them...

Bye for now, Mike

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