Monday, 7 July 2008

New chainsaw!

Well, with Tracy doing her chainsaw training in August, we were going to need two saws anyway... so while we were at the shop getting her protective trousers and boots, we got a saw as well. Got the Husqvarna 570 - didn't see much point in having two saws the same size, so this one's bigger than the one we already have! 70cc as opposed to 50cc, and will run up to a 32" bar, compared to 20" on the smaller saw. Tracy will use the smaller one, and I'll use the bigger one - it's about 50% heavier, so I shall be building up some muscles no doubt...

There are two reasons for getting the larger saw, both in the future:
- so that we can do occasional chainsaw milling of some of the trees we fell to make use of them in various ways. (The 346 would struggle for milling, as it;'s a smaller engine)
- so that I can fell larger trees myself in future, after doing medium size tree felling training (no definite plans here, but having a saw that can run a longer bar is the first step).

More on it later in the week, when I've had a chance to play with it, doing some logging! :-)


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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Sunshine between the showers

Well it did rain most of the day, but the sun came out in the evening, and a quick check on the radar image on the Met Office website confirmed that there was likely to be a couple of hours before the next shower, so we jumped in the car and nipped up to the wood.

First thing we saw was a medium-sized oak branch had come down in the wind:

Also, in Sweep Wood, we had a slow wander along the path my Dad had marked out, and saw some interesting trees. There were several naturally regenerating chestnut and hazel, and also a couple of oaks, which was nice to see, though it made us want to fell the coppice there to give the oak a better chance! What was interesting was finding a young hawthorn and what I'm pretty sure was a beech - I'm only doubting my judgement because there are no large beech trees in sight, so I've no idea how a seed got there.

Anyway, we'll keep an eye on them - the beech was up to about 8 feet, racing for the light as it's overshadowed by the chestnut - the beech is known as a shade-tolerant tree. If it keeps growing like this I'm sure it will produce some lovely timber in about 100 years, and along the way plenty of nuts for animals to eat and also some offspring!

In an earlier post I included a picture of some chestnut coppice cut last winter in another wood, here it is again:
I commented that ours is less well stocked, here's an example from one bit:
and here's part that's a bit better:
There's also a notable difference between the stools, such as this poor one:
and this pollard that's growing like crazy:
I guess when we come to do the layering we'll use the stronger stools to create the "cloned" new trees.


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A visit to Ben Law's wood

Yesterday (Saturday) we went out for the day to visit Ben Law's place - Prickly Nut Wood, over in West Sussex. You can read more about him on his website:

He was having an open day for the Small Woods Association, and although it was an 80 mile drive for us, it was well worth it as we learned a lot - his wood is similar to ours in some ways, and he's been managing it for many years. It would take me too long to write a detailed article, so I'll simply put in the pictures from the day with some explanation...

The visit started with a 3-hour tour of Ben's woods, with lots of explanations and many chances to ask questions on management, wildlife and anything else.
The woods were beautiful:
One thing I noticed immediately was that the stocking rate was well above what it is in our wood:
On asking Ben about this, he thought the reduced number of chestnut stools was probably due to our oak standards not being managed for many decades - they should have been periodically felled and new ones planted. At least we've made a step in the right direction by thinning some of the oaks. Ben's advice was for us to use layering (see last section on this page) in winter 2009/10 to increase the stocking rate.

One other thing I'd like to encourage is some chestnut standards for nut production. I was amazed to see the size of some of the chestnuts in Ben's wood:
We have some larger stools that are healthy, so perhaps we can single some of them, allowing the best stem to grow into a mature tree.

Unlike our wood, Ben's is partly on a hillside, which makes extraction harder, though at least the entrance is at the bottom of the hill.
Here's a ~2 acre coupe Ben cut last winter, looking similar to our area, just a lot bigger!
And here's an area that was cut the winter before - so this is what our cut area should look like in a year's time! Apparently this is where nightjars like to nest, so it's good to always have a patch that's around this height.
Ben also showed us some areas where the coppice has been neglected. As you can see, the trees self-single and grow large, with little of the ground-level plants that so many species of wildlife need to live in.
Ben was asked why he's not cut this section yet - the answer was that he doesn't cut a tree until he knows who he's going to sell the produce too. Once the right buyer or market is ready, he'll cut this section and bring it back into cycle for timber production and biodiversity.

One of the keys to bringing coppice back into management is having a market for the wood, unless you have the spare cash to just get the work done without selling anything! Charcoal burning is one way of turning otherwise low-value wood into a high-value product, although the demand for charcoal depends on how the summer weather turns out... Here's a large kiln waiting to be emptied:
Back at his base, we had lunch in his outdoors kitchen:
We al admired Ben's house, which he managed to get planning permission for after 10 years of living in caravans and under canvas. It's largely built from materials from his own wood, with strawbale and lime walls for good insulation. It's heated by wood stoves (naturally), with solar water heating, mini wind turbines and solar PV panels for electricity, using a large battery bank to store power for use overnight. Water comes from a spring, and composting toilets are used. So the house is totally off-grid, for both energy and water. He does have a backup diesel generator that sometimes gets used in the winter though.
Next to the house is the workshop:
This is where Ben actually makes a living - turning the trees he's felled into useful products.

A highlight for me was the demonstration of a "logging arch". The pictures speak for themselves, I want one now!
I think I would also like some big cant hooks like these. Not sure about a sawmill though - perhaps hiring one for a day is a better option for now...
Another handy tool was a debarker:
Ben doesn't only produce wood though, he also grows food. We saw a stack of logs impregnated with spores for mushroom production, and also several small orchards, such as this one nestled amongst the chestnut:
That's all for now. It's been raining all afternoon, but is drying up now, so we might do an evening trip to the wood to consider our plans in the light of what we learnt yesterday...


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Friday, 4 July 2008


I was up in the wood to do some work on Thursday (see earlier post), and saw more butterflies than I ever had before in one day there!

The area I was working was where we'd seen the White Admiral last weekend, and as I was in the at spot for several hours, I saw a lot more of them. At one point there were three at once, chasing each other around! It's exciting to see that we've created a habitat for them - they were not to be seen in our wood at this time last year - especially as they are a priority species on the Biodiversity Action Plan. I got some better pictures of several of them:
However, the first butterfly I saw in the wood was before I'd even dumped the stuff I was carrying. It was fluttering around a clearing we'd made felling birch on the ride edge almost a year ago:
Here it is: the Speckled Wood:
While I was working, there was a small orange and brown butterfly zipping around, but never stopping for me to get a photo. However, while on a break I wandered over to our entrance, and caught one on the ground - it's a Meadow Brown
Nearby was another as yet unidentified butterfly:
I also saw (but did not get to photograph) a Brimstone, what was probably an Orange Tip and something small and blue!

Of course, there were other insects around too, such as these dragonflies:
The very first blackberries are now beginning to ripen:
and something strange has happened to our pond - the green foam has gone:
This happened to the smaller downstream pond too, so maybe it's just a stage they go through? There are still plants growing in it, so we will wait and see what happens...


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Clearing windblown trees

I had Thursday off work this week, so while Tracy was busy in meetings about training people in woodland management, I was in our wood doing some of it! There are a number of chestnut stools in our wood that have blown over in the past, before we bought the wood, and I spent today clearing some of them up.

But first, some pictures of an interesting piece of machinery that our contractor had left at the wood:
Basically, it can cross-cut a log, split it, and load it into a trailer or truck!

You can see the teeth on the circular saw for crosscutting here:
and here's the splitter in the foreground:
stored behind the splitter is the driveshaft, which in operation would link a tractor coupling to this point:
Anyway, back to the work I was doing. There are several reasons to take down windblown coppice stools:

  • safety - if they are hung up in another tree they can potentially fall at any time and injure someone
  • returning them to health - if they are still alive, then felling the stems and settling the stool back in the ground will sometimes allow the tree to recover
  • ease of working - windblown trees are in the way when coppicing.
There is a potential downside in that a dead tree is a useful wildlife habitat, but this is less of an issue for chestnut, which is durable and rots very slowly, so is not much help to wildlife anyway.

No felling license is required for windblown trees, and as the majority of the ones I dealt with were already dead, there was no downside to cutting them in the summer either. A few stems were alive, but in such as state that I thought it best to deal with them right away and give them a chance to get a bit of new growth in before the summer is gone. I was focusing on the areas where we expect to coppice later this year, to save us time in the winter.

Here's a typical windblown stool, where all the stems were long dead:
After clearing all the stems, I found that the stool itself was completely uprooted - we'll have to think about what creative use we can put it to...
Here's another dead one after cutting the stems - very satisfying work to do!
This one was a bit more tricky, as I wanted to preserve the honeysuckle (I only get rid of it where it's interfering with regrowth on coppiced stools):
It worked out OK, I was able to avoid cutting the honeysuckle and trail it over another nearby tree:
At the end of all this I had quite a pile of logs, all thoroughly dry as the trees had been dead for several years:
I'll be saving some this to convert to charcoal, as it should be ideal for that, and the rest will make great camp fires when needed.

While doing all this work, I saw the most butterflies ever in a single day at the wood. See the post on them here. I also saw a small lizard, but didn't have my camera with me.


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