Sunday, 3 January 2021

Final days of 2020 in the woods

December 2020 brought colder and murkier weather, but it was still good to get up to the woods, especially as pretty much everything else around is closed as we're in Tier 4 restrictions here due to the (mis)management of the pandemic.

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The weather did also allow for some atmospheric photos. I tried processing this one two different ways in Lightroom:

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You may remember in my last post I talked about the Hornbeam we'd been felling. Well, I'd not got round to splitting it, so that occupied quite a bit of my time in December. It's a tough wood to split, especially in long lengths, so I tend to use a chainsaw to put a slot in one end and then drive steel wedges in with a sledgehammer:

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As well as the coppicing, we've also done a few firewood loads for customers:

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We spent Christmas Day in the woods - not just because we were in Tier 4, it would have been our first choice anyway! Fortunately we had a nice sunny day:

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It was of course chilly, but a fire dealt with that

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and we cooked dinner using the rocket stove made by Greenway Grameen in India.

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We got straight back to work after Christmas, felling the final stem of a large Holly tree that was overhanging a neighbour's barn. I'm pleased to report that our battery electric chainsaw, a Husqvarna 540iXP, had no problems dealing with it:

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We had one more larger tree that was also near the barn, a Sweet Chestnut, and as with all the others we used the Tirfor winch to safely fell it, as shown in this video:

Before long we had it in pieces, some of which will be used to make outdoor furniture for the Community Garden in Rye.

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There's still more to do, and we've both spent time staring up at trees wondering where to start!

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Once some more coppice is cut, these Holly trees on the border with a neighbour's garden will need to come down, as behind them is a larger Sycamore that will have to be felled. That's a few weeks away yet though...

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Finally, on New Year's Eve I went to work in a friend's woodland nearby, and we had a great day for it!

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The main job was dismantling some windblown coppice stools, and a bit of winching too.

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That brought the 'interesting' year of 2020 to an end. More coppicing and other woodland activity to come in 2021, and hopefully better news on the pandemic front...


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Saturday, 5 December 2020

Felling Hornbeam and a Dusting of Snow

It's getting a bit colder here now, and there was actually a dusting of snow in the woods when I was there yesterday:

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Of course, this is nothing compared to what was there 10 years ago! And it's also a far cry from the jungle we faced here back in September:


The main job during November was felling this row of Hornbeam, which included multiple stems on a couple of stools - presumably a seriously overgrown hedge from many years ago. They border a garden, and we were wary that they might fall the wrong way in a storm, so we felt it was best to coppice them. Maybe we'll get a nice hedge here in future...

We used the Tirfor winch on most of them, which you can see here, attached as far up the tree as I could get it using a ladder:


Here's a view from the other end of the steel rope, courtesy of my friend Ben, who was helping that day. As you can see, we had the rope running through a pully to offset the winch a bit.


Trees like this always take up much more space on the ground than you'd think they would, but at least Hornbeam is easier to clear up than Holly!

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Over the course of a couple of days we progressed along the row, with help from Kitty and Dominic as well as Ben, until we reached the final stem. This was one of the taller ones, and also leaned in the wrong direction and over a neighbour's garage!

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So, the winch was of course used again, and this time with a pulley attached to the tree to increase the effective power of the winch:

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After a bit of work with the chainsaw and the winch it was safely down, with no damage to the fence behind it:

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Although much of the Hornbeam will be used for firewood (and it is really good firewood!), the butts of a couple of the stems have gone to Dengate's Farm Still, as David Dengate is busy turning bowls, and after some seasoning that's what these lumps will be used for. The image below shows two sections split in half to reduce cracking while they dry. It also made it possible to move them, as they were far too heavy to lift on my own in once piece!

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We still have three more big trees to come down (Holly, Sweet Chestnut and Sycamore) and some more coppice to cut, so there'll be more news to follow in due course....


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Friday, 27 November 2020

Start of coppicing 2020

We took a year off from coppicing over the winter of 2019-20, as we'd cut so much wood the preceding two years, but this winter we're back in action again. And for the first time, we're cutting trees we've cut before! Back in 2009, we were working in exactly the same part of the woods; here's links to a couple of blog posts from October and December that year. We're cutting here again because some of the trees we left back then that border a road or neighbouring property were getting quite large, so we felt it was time to take them down rather than risk them falling the wrong way during a storm. 

Almost the first thing to do was to fell an Ash tree, which had been relatively small in 2009 but had since grown to tangle with a telephone line. After using a pole saw to trim the branches around the wires, it was straightforward to fell with a rope to encourage it in the right direction. It was also the first decent-sized tree we felled with our new Husqvarna 540iXP battery chainsaw, and it did the job very well!

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Rather than use it for firewood, the bottom five metres of the tree went to a friend at Dengates Farm for turning into bowls, like these.

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With the Ash tree down, we had space to build a rack to store logs in, and start felling some more trees.

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We try to avoid having fires to burn up brash these days, but given the relatively confined space we were starting in, we had to have one fire near the start to create enough space for us to work. Leaving the brash in piles to rot rather than burning it reduces pollution, creates habitat for various creatures, and is also less work.

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With the volume of brash in our way reduced, progress accelerated:

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This view is looking back along the footpath towards the road, and to the left of the path in the distance is some Holly, which had grown a lot since 2009 and was leaning over the road and a power line - a potential recipe for problems in a storm....
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So, we got to work with the winch and chainsaws, and now there's a gap where there hadn't been for a long time! It was a shame to take down a large Holly tree, as it was really good habitat, but the proximity to the road made it necessary, and it will regrow too - but we'll try to keep it at more of a shrub size in future, rather than letting it get large again.

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It was the same story moving along the bank, where the wood borders a farmyard:

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One bit there was a bit tricky, with stems so tangled that they could not be felled individually. So these three came down in one go, using the winch.
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You can see the grey sling in the next photo, which held the stems together as they fell, and was also what the winch attached to:

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I did of course have to spend some time working in a water-filled ditch again, just like I did 11 years ago!

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Here's a view looking back towards the road, the people who live opposite have commented on how they enjoy the light that's now coming in to their homes! Of course, the trees will grow back, but at least they'll get a few years of extra light.

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You can see the effect of that light from further down the hill here, creating some atmospheric photos:

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That's all for now, back with another update soon.... Mike

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Spring and Summer 2020 in the Woods

Well, 2020 has been a very different year. To be honest I've not felt like writing a blog for most of it, in February and March because I was worrying about the coronavirus pandemic and why the UK government wasn't taking timely action, then in April and May because I was helping with Rye Mutual Aid, then after that because I've been feeling what some people call 'covid lethargy', where the big picture of the pandemic leaves you feeling that it's not really worth doing anything. And then in the past couple of months we've both been really busy with work and coppicing, but now I finally have a rainy day when I'm not at work, so I thought it was time to do a recap of the Spring and Summer of 2020 in the woods.

Talking of rain, the year got off to a wet start, and in early March a blocked culvert under the road led to this flood in the woods on the access track. 
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A little before that, the Bluebells were sprouting nicely in mid-February, again quite early due to unseasonal warmth over the winter, presumably due to our changing climate.

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Before they got round to flowering though, there were some other flowers to come out first, such as Primrose:
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And the usual carpet of Wood Anemone:

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Then, by late April, there was an amazing carpet of Bluebells in the area we'd coppiced in 2017-18:

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The other thing that was doing well in late April was this wild apple tree. As we'd coppiced the trees to the south of it in 2018-19, it's had extra light for some time now, and it really showed in the volume of blossom on it:
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As we moved into May, our friend Jim told us he'd spotted a Pheasant nesting in the woods, and we managed to sneak this photo of her. She's very well camouflaged though! We did later see a Raven attacking the nest to take the chicks, but I guess it had offspring that needed feeding too...

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May does seem to be one of the greenest times in the woods, especially in an area that's coming into its second year of growth after coppicing:

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It's a similar picture over in Sweep Wood, with third-year coppice regrowth on the right here:

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There were still plenty of foxgloves along the footpath there, and I was pleased to capture this image of a bumblebee leaving one of them, as it was taken with my phone rather than my DSLR!

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We got some practical work done as we headed into summer, such as rebuilding the ends of this culvert, which had collapsed a bit. Given that we first built it back in 2007, I guess this isn't too bad! 

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The culvert takes quite a battering each winter, as it does tend to get clogged with all the debris that comes down the stream, leaving me having to unblock it:

Summer also provided some woodland food, and our friend Rich brought some 'Chicken of the Woods' (Laetiporus), an edible fungus, for us to eat. It was really tasty! 

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The apple tree I mentioned earlier also produced a copious crop of apples, though these weren't any good for human consumption, other than for amusement by offering them to people who'd never tried them before!

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Back in Sweep Wood, the area we'd coppiced in 2017-18 was looking great in the summer, with a wild diversity of plant life, including thistles that were taller than I was!

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July was good month, part of the summer respite from the pandemic in the UK, and a long-planned camping trip actually went ahead. We made a few changes to keep it covid-safe, such as everyone having their own tent and there being plenty of hand-gel to use. As the virus mainly spreads indoors, a camping trip in the woods was probably the safest way for friends to meet up.

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August brought swarms of dragonflies, so I spent a while with my DSLR capturing images of them in flight. I think this is an immature male Migrant Hawker, based on what I can see here, but I'm not 100% sure.



I had another interaction with insects over the summer, when my friend Johnnie came to help move logs. Unknown to us, there was a wasp nest buried in one of the log piles, and as we removed logs some of them tumbled and the nest was torn in half! As a cloud of wasps exploded into the air, my first thought was that I was really sorry for the wasps, but this was quickly followed by "RUN!" We got away with just one sting each, and I managed to get a cover back over the two halves of the nest in case the wasps could keep using them for a while. The logs weren't moved until much later in the year...

Here's pics of the two halves of the nest:

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And here's where the logs all ended up eventually, stacked up in an easy-to-access location so we can convert them to firewood as needed over the winter:


Finally, here's a few videos we recorded over the year. First, three wild boar on the trail camera:

Then an owl, also on the trail camera. Do watch to the end (it's just 1 minute), and you'll see the owl fly away:

And lastly, a comparison of our new electric chainsaw (a Husqvarna 540iXP) with the old one (a 536LiXP). They both use the same batteries, but the new one is much faster and also more efficient, getting more work done on a single charge:

That's all for now, more to follow soon on the coppicing we're doing this autumn/winter.


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