Thursday, 16 November 2017

Landscape scale changes

We know our 30 acres of wood in detail. Old Copse is just one tiny part of Sussex, and its beauty and interest stems from its connection with the land that sits around it. The deer that pass through, the badger, the birds, aren't bothered about property boundaries. The ducks and geese fly from our pond to the neighbouring Hammerpond and back several times a day. It's never clear what sets them off. They just take off in their V formation, wheeling and honking overhead to fly over the ridge to the adjacent pond. The fallow deer move up into the depths of the forest to have their young, then return to hole up in the birch during the day and browse on the neighbouring fields at night.The badger that was caught on the trail camera  a few weeks ago, probably lives in the sett we found half a mile away, and the barn owl seen hunting in an Old Copse glade could have come 3-4 kilometres - so could be roosting in Leonards Lee, Slaugham or Sedgwick Castle - all within range as the owl flies.

The other side of Old Copse, across the hammer pond, is a narrow strip of ancient woodland. Beyond this, until earlier this year, was a golf course that had been there for twenty years - the junior sibling of the 100 year-old neighbouring course. Occasionally we heard golfers, and picked up golf balls that had sailed beyond a tee, into the woodland. During the early morning, and at dusk, fallow deer were often to be seen standing about on the closely manicured greens or galloping down the fairway making their way north to a neighbour's land. .

Having met with the new owners of the estate we knew of their plans for a large vineyard. So we weren't surprised when the former golf course was ploughed and planted  with vines earlier this year.  Now the first phase is complete and there is a sturdy fence enclosing the entire 25 acre planted site, to keep out the deer and rabbits . We mused on what effect this new development  would have  on the local wild life. The new fence means that the larger animals - deer and badgers - can no longer cut across the golf course. In order to reach the wider shelter of the forest or the fields to the north they are all forced to go through Old Copse or the band of woodland on the other side of the pond. Consequently north-south deer traffic has increased - a development of great interest to Mark the deer stalker who has put up a deer seat at the narrowest point where the two routes converge at the stream.

Newly planted vines on the former golf ourse

As the new vineyard lies just outside the SSSI (site of special scientific interest) that surrounds the pond, we also wondered about the effects of the new land management. It could be positive. The golf course was always kept mown short, with manicured greens. We don't know how they intend to manage the land between the vines, but surely we will see greater diversity, more wild flowers and more shelter for small mammals - and therefore better hunting for predators. Will there be run off from fertilisers or greater water use? Natural England, who monitors the site assured us there was nothing of concern. However, if the vineyard isn't going to be run on organic principles, (and perhaps it is, we don't yet know) then perhaps there is some cause for concern.  We'll keep an eye on it as the vines grow on in their first full year, and as the next 20 acres of planting takes place to the south.

The new fence that surrounds the new vineyard

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Badger! part 2

Recently  we decided to walk  north through Old Copse looking for  hazel  poles to use for tree planting  stakes. We walked to the Northern boundary of the wood and continued up through a narrow band of woodland  between two fields . The wood was clearly ancient woodland,  with a stream running through it, a tributary of  Frenchbridge Ghyll that runs through Old Copse. It looks as if it hasn't been touched for years.  A  jungly tangle of undergrowth, fallen trees, and standing deadwood peppered with woodpecker holes.  And suddenly, there it was,  right in the middle of the woodland,  an extensive badger sett with over a dozen entrances, and  a couple of badger latrines. There was extensive evidence of  recent  scraping and digging, and a network of narrow paths. We seem to have found the home of the badger captured on the trail camera recently and put on the blog earlier this month .

A fine well-constructed entrance.

Beautifully round with a neat track in 

This entrance is obviously well-used

Badger latrine - someone's eaten something that disagreed with them. 

Recent sightings:

A few days ago  as I sat on the cabin deck with a cup of tea, I saw a Sparrowhawk flying east to west towards the Pond . One of the deer stalkers  visiting the wood  recently saw  Little Owls, Tawny Owls -   and  most thrillingly -  a Barn Owl, drifting over the tussocky grass in  a clearing south of the cabin. We're so pleased that a Barn Owl has taken to visiting Old Copse. We know of a Barn Owl who was nesting in a tree a couple of miles away  - perhaps this is the same one.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Planting Season begins

This  Autumn/Winter, we'll be planting  a 600 - 700 metre informal wild-life hedge along the roadside boundary, (see blog entry 7th August) and continuing to plant trees and shrubs in the main body of the wood. We expect to reach a total of 1,000 trees and shrubs planted since last November/December. This includes what I've been  growing in the garden from seeds, seedlings and cuttings taken from  Old Copse, a few collected from nearby woodlands during last winter, and a few donated from a bit further afield. This Autumn there are 75 fine specimens to plant out. They've been growing in pots, so can be planted out at any time, but I thought we'd get them in the ground before we embark on the roadside hedge planting later on.  I'm especially fond of these plants, having nurtured them so carefully, and I'll plant them near to the cabin where they can be kept an eye on . There are oaks, beech, wild cherry, alder buckthorn, alder, hazel, wild rose, and sallow. We've found that there is a fairly high failure rate among seedlings we find in the wood and protect in situ with tree tubes. They seem to do much better if lifted and potted up to grow on at home, then re-planted in the wood when they've got going, and gained some  strength. I wonder if it's because they appreciate the care and attention they get at home.

Old Copse has a good layer of composted material , with a clay and sand sub-soil. This bit is mostly clay

A nice Alder specimen planted in a damp spot, with a wire cage for extra protection

As well as planting, we're experimenting with cutting the grass on the main ride and other  parts of Old Copse,  to try and enhance the ride habitat . The cut  material is raked off  to gradually reduce the fertility of the soil . Reducing fertility inhibits the spread of the common,  more vigorous species, so allowing the rarer species which can grow in less fertile conditions,  space to grow and flourish  We're doing a bit at a time, and will monitor the results. Many species make regular use of edge habitats for feeding due to higher productivity of the herb layer and larger invertebrate populations. It's important to do rotational cutting and/or mowing  because  a greater number of species inhabit the first 10 metres of any woodland edge or ride edge,  than inhabit the remainder of the woodland.

A lot of this type of tussocky grass has come up on the Ride this year. Have yet to identify. 

Part of the Ride after it's  been cut

  Plenty of winter bedding for  mammals

Sunday, 8 October 2017


A ring at the doorbell by the postman (postperson?) with a parcel is always welcome, and the other day was no exception. I signed for an extremely well wrapped and sealed box sent by  I managed to open it to find a cornucopia of exciting prizes, as can be seen in the photo. Old Copse Blog had won in both the Blog and the Woodland Building categories in their Woodland Awards 2017. So, two awards!  Not quite like winning the Lottery or the Turner Prize of course, but most welcome and appreciated all the same. We're looking forward to reading the new woodland books, trying the two new Japanese Silky saws. One each!  - jotting down 'nature notes', or something anyway, in our respective sturdy new notebooks. Oh, and framing our certificates, which might find a home in the cabin.

I'm wondering how many woodland blogs were nominated. My guess is, very few, not least because I've not managed to find many over the years. I've visited Alan Waterman's knowledgeable  Ninewells Wood/Catbrook Wood Blog since he started it in 2013, but I hadn't come across Joanne Hedger's Raiswood Blog before, so will enjoy following that. I found one or two others that either weren't very interesting, or faded out quickly, perhaps after the novelty of writing a blog wore off, or just that life got in the way.

So perhaps our award was partially for persistence and longevity, having kept the Old Copse Blog going since 2009.  It was begun purely as a record of restoration work in what was initially 15 acres, (OC1) , before an adjoining 15 acres, (OC2) were added in 2012. A diary, meant for us, and those friends and family who might possibly drop by to read it now and again. The ongoing work of restoration and management of 30 acres of partially PAWS woodland continues to be documented, and added to with people, wildlife, and the simple pleasures of being in the wood and seeing things change. I hope that Old Copse Blog will encourage other wood owners to start one for themselves. It's  easy to forget all the hard work done, changes effected , and good times had, over the years, so it's great to have some sort of record as a reminder.

As for the Woodland Building Award, well, we love our log cabin which fits so well and unobtrusively into the woodland, and makes Old Copse just perfect. It well deserves an award, and I feel I can say that without boasting because, a) it was my grandson's idea, and b) a small team of fantastic Polish craftsmen built it from Scots Pine felled in the wood.

Here is what the Awards panel  said about the Blog, and the Cabin :

' A blog maintained since the first entry (“New 0wners” ) on 10 September 2009: “We are determined to manage our wood for for conservation and diversity – learning a lot and at the same time having a lot of fun.” The entries (mainly short, sometimes more of a photoblog) contain a good mix of well-researched information and history and practical experience (e.g. about rhododendrons), plus wildlife observations, supported by copious photographs, many of them excellent. Example: “Purple emperor behaviour: thugs of the butterfly world, they will attack and see off creatures much larger than themselves, including birds and dragonflies. Lurking in the top of an oak waiting for something to invade their territory they will shoot out and scare them away. Often drunk on fermented oak sap, they also like to fight among themselves and will swoop and wheel in a distinctive movement, swooping and swerving at an astonishing speed...” The blog records the year of woodland management (planting, clearing, projects) and sets out a Management Plan (30 December 2017) for the coming year – with useful comments on the value of such plans. It also contains the story of their cabin, which won an Award for the best Woodland Buildings/Shelters (see below). All in all, an impressive blog for its clarity of information and purpose, excellent to read and browse through, and inspirational.'

'This is a traditional round wood log cabin. The story of the construction is told in their blog, starting 21 February 2014, continuing through the spring of that year. “Last year we obtained 'permitted development' approval to build a small woodland structure that would give us somewhere to shelter in bad weather while carrying out forestry work, and also provide a social focus and a place to enjoy the wood in considerably more comfort than squatting on a wet log under a flapping tarpaulin.” The sequence includes an excellent photographic (and video) record of construction, and shows how the cabin blends in with the woods. Because it proved difficult to locate builders with experience in log cabins, they found “a small group of Polish craftsmen from southern Poland who had the skills needed to build us a log cabin in our wood using our timber.” Hence they have ended up with a traditional Polish log cabin: “Ours is the first ever in England.”

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


We have long suspected that Old Copse must form part of a badger's territory but until now have seen no evidence - apart from tracks in the snow many years ago. So very exciting to catch a glimpse of a badger on the trail cam by the willow in OC1.  He squats and marks the spot before trotting off - so must be intending to return - or at least let other badgers know that this is part of his territory.

Badgers have a range of 30-100 hectares. We know there is no sett in our wood, and we assume that it must be somewhere to the north. Wherever it is, we are happy that its whereabouts are unknown, and even if we found out, we would keep it a secret.

Here's a nice shot of a fallow deer from the same trail cam - just not as exciting as the badger..

Saturday, 30 September 2017


We're strimmin ' strimmin' 
I wanna strim it with you
We're strimmin' strimmin'
And I hope you like strimmin' too
                                                                                   (thanks to Bob M)

Well, brush-cuttin' rather than strimming actually, with the new multi- tool, which has changeable heads that can do a multitude of woodland work. The problem with most bits of machinery is that they're not really made for lightish weight women under 5ft 4ins. The fuel tank adds to the weight, and the harness that supports it need a lot of adjusting to make it comfortable for the smaller person. But no doubt we'll  get used to it with a bit of practice Thankfully, starting it was easy.

First task was to tackle the timber storing area where the cut Scots Pine was stacked prior to collection during the Big Thin of late 2015.  After the logs, tractor, lorry and assorted machinery left, this space was a deeply churned up, rutted mudbath. It was difficult to imagine anything much growing there, but within 18 months a veritable meadow had appeared complete with grasses and wild flowers. It gets a lot of sun, and this summer found it buzzing with bees and butterflies. Keen to encourage this, and to maintain the grassland flora, we waited until the vegetation had set seed, and then today cut it all back. We'll remove the 'arisings' (woodspeak for the cut vegetation) when we next visit, and wait to see what the result is next Spring/Summer.  Autumn/winter is the time for attending to this as it allows a full life cycle of plants and associated insects to be completed.

Next brushcutting job; the bluebell track through the birch.

George and Herbie off to investigate  what Sarah is doing.

Then, at the Ride edge, Sarah had a go at cutting back some tussocky tall grass,  and bramble that was spreading onto the Ride. Increased light levels have encouraged thuggish bramble, which though valuable for wildlife  can quickly take over and smother more delicate plants. We hope that judicious removal, combined with an ongoing programme of tree and shrub layer planting will in time, control its spread by shading it out.

The verdict after this first attempt, was that the rough vegetation needed the brushcutter head. The strimmer head just wouldn't have made the cut. Though I'm interested in trying out a push along cutter (aka a reciprocating scythe mower) that can tackle rough terrain.

Fly Agaric (Amanita  Muscaria) pushing its way out of the earth 

A fine patch of them in a sunny spot  on the edge of the wood

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tree planting: growth update

We regularly check the progress of the trees that were planted last November/ December, to see that the tubes and stakes are still upright and secure from rampaging deer.  There have been  very few 'failure to thrive' saplings, and of those that have flourished in the 8 - 9 months since they were planted, the Hornbeams are winning in the growth stakes, closely followed by Sweet Chestnut. They've all burst out of their 1.5m tubes and some are now over 2m high. The hornbeam whips were 80cm-1m high and 2 - 3 years old when planted. So they've grown between 50-70cm in 8/9 months. Not at all bad, and perhaps due to a summer with lots of  hot sunshine and regular downpours.  The Wild Cherry are also growing fast, and some have reached the top of their tubes.  Not surprisingly the oaks and beech lag behind but even these have made slow but steady progress, and look healthy when we stand on tiptoe and peer down the tubes. The beech are in mesh tubes and can be seen easily. Other trees doing particularly well are our three Plymouth Pear specimens.

These seem to be very easy to grow.  On average they reach 6m high and 4m across in 10 years and 25m x 20m when fully grown.  Ours appear to be growing at a much faster than average rate, in their first season at any rate.  They grow in full sun or partial shade and can tolerate any aspect or soil. The leaves provide food for many small moth caterpillars and the nut-like seeds are eaten by wood pigeons and the uncommon and elusive hawfinch. There were two Hornbeams in the entire 30 acres until  many more were planted last winter.

Flourishing hornbeam sapling with improvised tube extension 

Wild Cherry 
These can grow 35ftx25ft (11m x 7.6m) in 20 years, with a full grown height of 60ft (18m) Its Spring flowers provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees, and the berries are eaten by birds including the blackbird and song thrush, as well as mammals such as the badger, wood mouse, yellow necked mouse, and dormouse. The foliage is the main food plant for caterpillars of many species of moth, including the cherry fruit and cherry bark moths, the orchard ermine, brimstone and short cloaked moth. There was one sizeable group of these in OC2, plus a few scattered individuals, and the new plantings will help distribute them better across the wood.

Sweet Chestnut
These are also fast growing,  long lived, and stately trees, usually growing to around 8 metres  after 10 years, and 35 metres  when fully grown, They can live for up to 700 years. We only have one mature specimen in the wood.  The flowers provide an important source of nectar and pollen to bees and other insects, and red squirrels eat the nuts - sadly we have only grey squirrels but I think they would enjoy chestnuts too. A large number of micro-moths feed on the leaves and nuts as well.

Plymouth Pear
This is a rare wild species of pear which was discovered in Devon in 1863. It's not a native to our wood, but is one of a small number of non local trees which we have planted for interest - and also because it's one of the rarest trees in the UK. There are only c 15 trees left in the original spot where they were found in hedge banks around the city of Plymouth.

Alder Buckthorn 
Mature trees can grow to a height of 6 metres. The outer bark is dark brown but the inner bark is bright yellow when exposed. It is the food plant of the brimstone butterfly whose caterpillars eat the leaves. Its flowers provide a source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects and its berries are eaten by birds. It is 'widespread but rare'  says The Woodland Trust.

Alder buckthorn growing at the edge of the ride

 Quite a few of these were planted and protected last winter, since nearly all of the naturally regenerating ones were being enjoyed by snacking fallow deer. But to our surprise  numerous alder buckthorn have survived deer depredation this year.  Some of this success must be down to regular and well organised deer management, but also we think due to the large amount of brash left as a result of our Big Pine Thin of late 2015. Deer like an easy meal, and are reluctant to negotiate large amounts of woodland 'rubbish'  in order to reach a tasty morsel.  This has helped protect new growth, and now it's coming up all over the Northern end of the wood, where the majority of  felling took place. It's very welcome as it provides excellent shrub layer/understorey which we're very short of at Old Copse.