Monday, 7 May 2018

UK Bluebells


 Somewhere deep in my subconscious I had assumed that bluebells were  - well - English so I was quite startled to see from a friend's Instagram photos that they are doing well and are a common sight across the Channel in Brittany. A quick Google  made it clear that although 50% of the world's hyacinthoides non scripta grow in Britain, they have a range that extends from the UK across western France, Netherlands and Belgium and down the Atlantic coast to northwestern Spain. They are all over the UK, apart from the far north - Hebrides and Orkney.  With that Atlantic distribution it's clear they don't like their winters too cold, and prefer the milder Gulf Stream climate. This year's cold spring has apparently delayed bluebell flowering, although looking back at this blog, in Old Copse they are probably only a few days later than last year.

Bluebells mean a lot to us because they are a clear indicator of how the work we are doing to thin the plantation and clear the bracken makes a difference to the ground flora.  We can track the changes by watching how the bluebells march across the newly created spaces from year to year, advancing through the wood from the ride towards the pond. Front runners appear in single figures, and are joined by new ones each Spring until there is a clump, and pretty soon the clumps join up to form a carpet  that conquers all the empty brown space .  This year, the first few bluebells managed to reach  beyond the Pond side of the cabin. Hurrah! -  and the deer don't eat them -  Double Hurrah!

 The most abundant bluebell displays can be seen in the northerly 15 acres (OC2)  of the birch wood . The southern 15 acres (OC1)  is less diverse ,  increasingly so the further south one walks, where there are no bluebells at all in the birch wood, or any deciduous trees apart from birch, except along the roadside edge. We don't know why this is so. In the northern 15 acres  there are a fair number of  other deciduous trees such as beech, oak, rowan, hazel crab apple, cherry, and hawthorn. There is only 1 large Scots pine  present as this part of the plantation was destroyed in the 1987 storm, and birch quickly colonised the space. The absence of pine means there is no thick layer of  pine needles to suffocate ground flora, and light levels have attained a good balance, resulting in  very little bracken and hardly any bramble, except for around the edges. So  the bluebells are thriving. This is what we are aiming for in the rest of Old Copse.

Herbie, full of the joys of a bluebell Spring, and the scent of fallow deer.

 Brimstone butterfly feeding on a bluebell

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter Sunday in the wood

A quiet day in the wood. And I mean that literally. There are road repairs going on to the west beyond the pond and the traffic has been diverted. With no passing cars and no fishermen (presumably at home for the holidays) there was just us and the usual woodland inhabitants. Standing still on the top ride in the space of just a couple of minutes I saw a dozen tits feeding in the top of a birch, a buzzard circling overhead and could hear a woodpecker drumming on the golf course and a tawny owl hooting and hunting towards the north.

So just a usual day checking out that all is ok at Old Copse. We loaded a van full of firewood, squelching through the mud to the bottom gate. We mended some tree guards and staked some young trees growing in the wrong direction. We checked out the wild daffodils. There are now six clumps growing up on the slope towards the seat. There are definitely some new arrivals since last year, possibly helped by all the rain.

Up in the top wood we discovered this new hole - which I think is fox, rather than badger. The track to it is new, and you can see where he has been crushing the bluebell bulbs as he goes to and fro.

And as it's Easter there has to be chocolate. These bunnies came to the wood with us.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Everything changes, everything remains the same

The snow has melted, the first day of Spring has come and gone and suddenly winter is over.
After the late February and mid-March snow the wood looked flattened and brown with collapsed bracken, and it was difficult to recall the lush green growth of Spring and Summer. Yet even in the snow the wild daffodils pushed through and the hazel catkins have been blooming by the road since February.

Wild daffodils (taken Mar 15th) showing early buds
Every spring I seem to be writing about the daffodils - like this post from last year or this one from 2016. This is because for me the daffs are the truest and most regular sign that the cold is on its way out and once again the wood is about start a new cycle. I can even put my finger on the date Spring arrived this year: 22nd -23rd March was the definite tipping point, the pivot between dormancy and potential. On the 22nd the day was chill and grey, and all looked flat and just - waiting. On the 23rd, the breeze was a couple of degrees warmer, a weak sun appeared and a faint green could be seen on the tops of the goat willow.

What is noticeable this Spring is how the wood has responded to the additional light from thinning the plantation and efforts on bracken control.The bluebells have extended their range by a further four metres or so into the areas which have been cleared of bracken. A variety of grasses,  ferns,  moss, bilberry, heather, figwort and wood sorrel are also appearing in spaces where there was once just bracken.

Almost impossible to find a way through the collapsed bracken

Contrast the dead bracken with the patches of green growth here, and many other places where bracken has been removed

 A surprise patch of wood anenome appeared last Spring. Before I had time to take a photo, the flowers had gone,  presumably eaten by deer. We hope they might re-appear this Spring and also  hope that the same fate isn't in store for the several clumps of  flowering primroses that have found a home in the dappled birch shade, in the entrance and parking area.

Woodland wildlife is starting to move too. The fishermen report lots of toad activity at the edge of the pond. The cold weather has meant the toads have been late emerging from hibernation, but are now evidently making up for lost time. The males have been leaving their hidey-holes in piles of leaves and logs, and have come down to the pond to wait at the edge of the water for their potential mates to arrive.

We saw two big buff tailed bumble bees  - possibly queens as they tend to emerge earliest - crawling over the moss in search of nectar and pollen. And the tawny owls are getting up earlier and earlier, starting calling from lunchtime onwards. Presumably they found little to eat in the snow and are now hunting as much as they can  - another species determined to get a move on. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

More snow!

Just when we thought we'd  missed the chance of snow this winter, there was a further wintry blast on Saturday night. Not nearly as much snow as in 2009 (see link in previous post) but better than nothing. Overcast and bitterly cold in the wood, it was warm and cosy for lunch in the cabin. Here's  a few pictures:

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Herbie the Snowdog

Somewhat  disappointed to have missed the snow excitement while away abroad basking in  sunshine and warmth. Watching  storks attending to their shambolic nests , and  swifts and swallows gathering before they make their long journey back to an English Spring  was some compensation for missing this 'extreme weather event'   but it  would  have been great to see the log cabin in the snow.  It last snowed in the wood during the winter of 2010/11 and before that in 2009 and the cabin wasn't built until 2014 . Let's hope there won't be too many years before the next snowfall. So, sadly there are  no snowy Old Copse photos  - but  for all Herbie fans here he is having a fabulous time  at Ditchling Beacon. He seems to have enjoyed his first snow experience as much as he loves  visiting Old Copse.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

More Winter planting .

Now the marathon roadside hedge planting is finished, we've returned to a focus on the interior of the wood. We have about 5 weeks  left until the end of the planting  'window', so we're concentrating our efforts on the track through the birch, which was cut in 2015 to enable timber extraction during the Scots Pine thinning operation. We aim to create a structurally diverse, shrubby woodland edge habitat along the entire length as it winds through the birch. We've begun with some hazel planting.  We'll also try pollarding some of the birch behind  the hazel and other shrubs we'll be planting, though the results are hit and miss. Birch don't always like being pollarded and instead of sprouting new shoots, they just die off, which is disappointing. Maybe we could  plant some sallow (willow) and pollard that, as we've had great success with willow pollarding elsewhere in Old Copse.

Looking north through the birch track.

As usual we'll have to protect everything we plant with tree tubes. Although there is still plenty of evidence of deer in the vicinity, their damage to the woodland appears to be reducing slowly, possibly because the deer stalkers have made them more wary, but we can't risk exposing new planting to the chance of deer depredation. However, tree tubes aren't perfect. While creating a micro climate which aids growth, they can also lead to an unhealthy damp atmosphere in which disease can develop. Mesh tubes are better, but deer can easily nibble the leaves that grow through the mesh.

One of the 'scallops' we've created along the track  which we'll front with hazel and other shrubby plants.

Bare root plants are surprisingly cheap, but tree tubes/shelters and stakes are expensive, so we have been using as many recycled tree tubes as possible. We've found a good source of these not far from us, in a young wood which hasn't been very well looked after. While some of the trees have grown well and burst out of  their shelters, there have been many failures to thrive, or the tubes have simply fallen down, dislodged by deer. The ground is littered with them, and many of them are re-useable.  So we collect them, take them back to Old Copse, give them a good scrub, and they're ready to use. It takes time to do this rather than buy them new, but we feel it's worth doing. It saves money of course, quite a lot when you're planting in the many hundreds, thousands even, but also because it's always good to recycle if possible. The tubes are starting to break down, but they're still strong enough to deter nibbling deer. Plus, the woodland we retrieve them from looks a lot better without  them lying all over the ground, slowly disintegrating.They are pinkish coloured rather than green like the new ones, but it doesn't seem to matter what colour they are, and oddly enough the pink ones blend into the woodland better than the green.

We were planting on a mild, mostly sunny day, and it felt like Spring was on its way, though still only January. Evidently other woodland inhabitants agreed, especially mallards  on the hammerpond making their first appearance for a while, sizing each other up for the forthcoming mating season, though some have been paired off since Autumn.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 almost gone: 2018 plans

Winter late afternoon at Old Copse

Another year just about over,  it's  time for reviewing the plan made in December 2016 for the following 12 months. Though many forestry concerns continue to do a whole range of forestry work, including felling,  throughout the year, we do most of the work of felling and planting at Old Copse  between mid  November when plants become dormant,  and  March, when the bird nesting season begins, so it 's a busy few months, especially while the days are short.  By  March 2018 we will have planted  over  1,250  native trees and hedging plants.  Next year we're looking forward to learning  about  bee keeping.  In May, an expert bee-keeper will be moving  20 of his beehives into Old Copse, so fingers crossed for a bumper crop of Old Copse woodland honey.

This is what we did  in 2017, or  aim to complete by March 2018: (OC1 is the southern 15 acres, OC2 is the northern 15 acres.)

  1. Finished broad-leaf  tree planting in the OC2  thinned  scots pine plantation.
  2. Finished 'halo' thinning around existing broadleaf trees in the OC2  birchwood. 
  3. Woodland edge hazel planting along  the bluebell track which runs S/N and E/W   through the  OC2  birchwood.  Scheduled for Jan/Feb .
  4. Finished holly thinning in OC2.  but after review decided  there is a  further small amount of  selective thinning/pollarding to do.  Scheduled for Jan/Feb/March. 
  5. Finished planting a mixed hedge along our border (OC1 / OC2) with the road.   After review,  we decided  to order an additional 100  hedging plants to fill in a few remaining gaps. Scheduled for Jan/Feb 2018

Some of last season's broad leaf planting in the pines

In addition, essential  routine work throughout the year -  in no particular order :

  • Creating  and maintaining  paths, tracks, rides, scallops,  glades and grassy habitat.
  • Pollarding the south half of the willow shoots in the OC1 willow grove, together with  a  small amount of  birch removal . 
  • Involving neighbouring land owners in deer management plans.
  • Applying for funding for general management and specific projects
  • Monitoring and reducing  the grey squirrel population.
  • Protecting and/or transplanting  regenerating broadleaf trees, shrubs and ground flora.
  • Managing the spread of bracken and bramble.
  • Processing firewood. 
  • Cabin maintenance and improvements .
  • Ride and track  drainage.
  • Checking boundaries and collecting roadside litter

Lastly,  and  importantly,  making time to enjoy the wood, its wildlife and visitors.

2017 has seen the completion of our biggest projects - the big plant following the big thin. The wood has largely recovered from the onslaught of large machinery: grass has grown over the tide of mud on the ride and the scars and tracks have settled down and are barely visible. In 2018 the work will be maintaining what we have achieved,  monitoring our new trees as they (hopefully) grow beyond their tubes, and looking after our newly planted roadside hedge during its first season.

'Little House in the Big Woods'

                                                                  HAPPY NEW YEAR