Monday, 23 September 2019

Summer in the woods

It's been a while since I wrote a blog, things have just been so hectic this summer... so now there's a lot to catch up on!

Let's start with the wildlife. We've had the trail camera set up deep in the woods, and I was delighted to find a Buzzard had landed in front of it (presumably just missed a squirrel or something?), and then took off!


Staying with birds, we'd left a nest box stored in our shelter, and some Great Tits decided to use it right where it was! When the youngsters fledged, one got stuck amongst the various things we have in there, but fortunately we were there at the time, and I rescued it to rejoin its family as they started moving around the woods:
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We've also had a pretty tame mouse taking interest in food dropped around our fire pit, so we put some nuts out to see if it would pose for a photo:
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This one is just weird - it's a Giant Horntail, several times the size of a normal wasp, but completely harmless - the dangerous-looking 'sting' is actually used to lay eggs inside pine trees. They'll struggle to find anywhere to lay though, they arrived on some Larch brought in for milling by a friend of ours in the wood next to ours.
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A less pleasing bit of wildlife is the squirrels, whose numbers seem to have exceeded the food supply again, judging by the damage done to this Hornbeam and other trees:
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The key project over the summer has been building our composting toilet. A day on my friend's sawmill yielded a useful pile of wood to build with:
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We'd not always milled both edges of the planks, to maximise width, so a bit of shaping with a draw knife was sometimes required.
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But pretty quickly a floor started to take shape:
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The next step was building a frame to support the 'bench' on which you would sit while using the toilet:
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This was then clad using planks for the top and off-cuts for the front:
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Walls were next, again using off-cuts where possible to help it blend in a bit with the surrounding trees:
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Here's one of the two cubicles finished, we've added a toilet seat to this, and at present a tarp over the front, as we still need to build a door...
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Finally, away from the woods, there's been some lovely days down at the coast, here's a couple of scenic photos from Pett Level and Winchelsea Beach:
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More alarming was a huge number of dead fish! But apparently this is normal - Mackerel literally chase the Whitebait out of the sea in a feeding frenzy...
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Finally, here's a great demo by Dungeness Lifeboat, showing how they land the boat at high tide - basically ramming the shore at over 20 knots!

Mike

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Sunday, 26 May 2019

Composting toilet build

It's been a while since I last found time to update this blog, as there's been a lot on, including building our composting toilet - more below on that. The sad bit is that one of our cockatiels, Tom, passed away - there's a memorial video of him here. We've also been involved in the Extinction Rebellion action on the climate emergency - I've livestreamed from some of the actions here. The coppicing was completed in early February - here's a video walk-through of the area:


Winter seemed to come and go, with things warming up enough for sap to flow from the stumps of coppiced Birch trees, and then cooling enough for that sap to freeze:
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I spotted the first Bluebell open on 29 March:
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About the same time as the Wood Anemones were in full bloom:
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A month later, Bluebells had entirely replaced the Wood Anemones in that spot, which was where we'd coppiced just over a year ago:
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Elsewhere in the woods the wild boar had been busy digging up grass to look for food:
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and I tried taking some arty photos of woodland scenes:
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The building of our composting toilet in the woods has also been keeping Tracy and I busy. It's not done yet, but here's the story so far... This is the space we picked for it, away from the 'camp' but not too far, and no significant trees to fell to clear a space for it:
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The first job was to put in the main structural posts. We used a post-hole digger to create holes a couple of feet deep for these, the posts are peeled sweet chestnut (thanks to Tracy for doing lots of peeling, plus help from some visitors too!):
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Then we had to come up with a way of holding a horizontal pole against the posts so I could use a transfer scribe to mark them out for making a joint:
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It would have been easier to do this with them lying on the ground and then stand the frame upright, but it would have been rather heavy... Then some careful chainsawing was needed to shape the pieces of wood to fit together - once again, the precise speed control and lower weight of the battery chainsaw (a Husqvarna 536LiXP) came in useful:
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Here's the end result, including a little step at the bottom and a matching notch in horizontal pole, to take some of the weight:
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This was repeated for the next row of posts, and then the poles fixed into place using stainless steel bolts and large square washers:
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More similar work put the next layer of poles in place, which extend forward to join some more posts, which will form a handrail around a platform in front of the toilet cubicles:
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Then it was on to the roof - we bought some timber for this bit, as we didn't have long enough straight pieces of our own to use. It involved quite a bit of clambering around to get it done:
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The roof was completed with some corrugated panels, coloured green so as not to stand out too much visually:
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That's as far as we've got for now - we want to use our own sweet chestnut to make the floor and walls, so we're waiting to get some time on a friend's sawmill. More to come on this later in the summer!

Mike

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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Wild boar, rain and coppicing

Let's start with the fun bit - a compilation of video clips of wild boar recorded on our Bushnell trail camera. Most animals ignore the camera, but one boar actually saw it, and rapidly changed direction!


Coppicing got off to a slow start this winter for various reasons, but we got a lot done over the past few weeks. Fortunately the rain we've had has been mostly overnight, though that did mean I had to unblock the culvert on arrival one day. Always satisfying to get that water moving again though!


Here's the area we've been coppicing before we started:

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We've done 99% of the cutting using our new battery electric chainsaw, a Husqvarna 536LiXP. While slower than the petrol one, it doesn't produce toxic exhaust fumes right in front of your face, it's quieter, there's no starter cord to pull and it doesn't burn fossil fuels. It can cope with trees up to about 12", which covers a lot of what we're coppicing:

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We've made reasonable progress now, the large stool in one of the photos above is down, and yielded some useful pieces of wood as well as firewood:

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We've also got several stacks of wood ready to start seasoning now as well:

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Meanwhile, in the wayleave over the hill from us, National Grid's contractor has come in with a large machine that's eaten everything:

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Although this looks dramatic, it actually results in a really good habitat a few years later. They don't do it to the whole area in one year, so wildlife has some chance to get out of the way.

I'll leave you with a scenic woodland photo, hope you have a great 2019!

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Mike

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