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

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Source of Inspiration

Recently we attended  a party to celebrate the projects funded in 2017 by Sussex Lund, including the planting of a loose wildlife hedge at our roadside boundary. The Fund, set up in 2016,  aims to  'support small-scale practical projects that improve the ecology and landscape of the High Weald'. A list of projects funded (including Old Copse) can he found here. Guests at the party were an interesting mix  of people devoted to  the preservation and restoration of the High Weald landscape.  Statutory and voluntary organisations, also  private owners of  large and small pieces of Wealden landscape were well represented. We talked to many people with expertise in countryside ecology and conservation.  We are sure they will prove to be valuable contacts in our continuing work at Old Copse.  The celebration was at Wadhurst Park, whose restoration and management  is an inspiring example of what can be achieved. The Park covers 1,703 acres (689 hectares) of ancient Sussex landscape within the High Weald AONB.

It was dark when we arrived at Wadhurst Park for the party, so we look forward to returning next year to explore the estate.

Underland Wood, Wadhurst Park Estate

Here is an extract from 'Wadhurst Park Estate History and Progress:'

 'When we came' (in the mid seventies)  ' almost all the fields were intensively managed pasture or ex-arable.The old coppice woods were unmanaged, and hedgerows had been grubbed out. We converted the fields to organic grassland; we created hay meadows;  fenced wood edges out of fields; re-established coppicing; and planted or naturally regenerated broadleaf woodlands. We developed wetlands; planted,laid and widened hedgerows; made glades and rides in our woods ; and opened up overshadowed ponds'  

'Since the beginning we have seen nature respond. Butterflies thrive in the floriferous meadows and along woodland rides and glades. Our amphibians are prospering in the chemical free environment , while small mammals flourish in the long grass and shrubby hedgerows. Between 2011 and 2016 , the number of bird species on the estate rose by 37%, from 52 to 71 . We have rare dingy and grizzled skipper butterflies , spotted flycatchers, nightingales, turtle doves, and lesser spotted woodpeckers. We also have ten species of bat , a thriving population of dormice and many other small mammals that support breeding raptors , such as kestrels and buzzards.'

To discover more about conservation work at Wadhurst Park visit

 Old Copse is only a tiny fraction of the size of  Wadhurst Park, but our overall aim - to manage for conservation - is really no different at all, just on a much smaller scale. At Wadhurst Park they can make positive changes on a truly landscape scale, linking together and improving all of the varied habitats in the 1,700 acres. So I've been thinking about what difference the much smaller projects make - ours and the other 28 modest projects given money by the Sussex Lund: a hedge here, some laurel removal there, a new fence or an access path. We are all dotted about in the High Weald, reflecting that both land ownership and interests in conservation are fragmented. The RSPB can recreate hundreds of acres of heathland, as they did in West Sussex. The Woodland Trust can take over large swathes of ancient woodland - as when they purchased Brede High Woods in 2007. So can our smaller projects make any difference beyond our own boundaries? Do we make any difference on a wider landscape scale?

At Old Copse we've only got control over 30 acres. Yet Old Copse is important to a lot more people than just us: the fishermen, the dog walkers, the deer stalkers, all the people who live round about who are familiar with the wood or who just pass through. England, especially the South East,  is a small crowded country and there is always someone keeping an eye on what's going on. And they're all interested in what's happening at Old Copse. In a small and local way we can show that improving a wood for conservation is possible without being a big organisation or having loads of dosh. And I suppose that's the spirit of funding the other 28 small projects. They show the people connected to them that improvements are possible. At Old Copse we don't have control of 1,700 acres, so we have to work by example -showing what can be done on a small plot and trying to influence and encourage our neighbours to join us in our efforts.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Planting continues

On our 2017 woodland management planning list one job was to plant an informal shrubby hedge
along our roadside boundary.  So, many thanks to Sussex Lund  who very kindly provided the funding for this project.  We'd expected to have some Plumpton Agricultural College Countryside students to help us with this work, as they'd  helped in the wood last year.  Unfortunately, just a few days before the planned date, we heard that this wouldn't be going ahead because of the planting position adjacent to the road. The ever present issue of  'Health and Safety'  had raised its head  and  Plumpton  had decided, rather late in the day, that it was too risky for their students to be on a roadside verge.  This was rather disappointing both for us and  the students, as they were looking forward to getting out of the classroom and putting theory into practice.

Getting a few more planted before the sun goes down.

 It also meant a quick re-think, as we needed to drum up a few volunteers at very short notice.
 Three deer stalkers came up trumps,  so it was all hands to the pump, or rather the planting spade, as we worked as fast as we could to get the plants into the ground. This was fairly hard labour, as there is a lot of sandstone in the ground at the roadside edge. 500  specimens -  Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Alder buckthorn, Guelder rose, Crab apple, Dogwood, Field maple, Spindle, Wild cherry and  Yew , ( all except the Hazel and wild cherry sourced from the excellent Special Branch tree nursery at Stanmer  on the outskirts of Brighton)  were sorted and bagged into mixed bundles and  wheel - barrowed  to where the planting holes,  marked by bamboo sticks, were being dug.  After snugly tucking them into their places, the final task was to protect them with spiral rabbit guards,  which require a certain knack to get them round the plants effectively.  When it was getting too dark to see, the remaining plants were 'heeled' into a  trench,  and covered with damp soil to protect their roots.  We've planted  about half, and practice has speeded up the process, so the second half shouldn't take quite so long to do.  At the end of a long day we were glad to limp off home exhausted to much needed hot baths, nursing sore backs and assorted aches and pains, but also with a  feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.  We aim to get them all planted during our next few visits to the wood, and will certainly finish the job by Christmas.

Looking at Old Copse from the other side of Hawkins Pond. A perfect  late  Autumn  reflection.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Autumn roundup: late mushrooms, beech trees, Great Egret............

Mushroom foray

The West Weald Fungus Recording Group led by Dick Alder paid us a visit on 16th November. We  thought their chances of finding many specimens were fairly low this late in the season. Mushrooms had been early this year, and particularly abundant during late August to early October.  But we were  wrong.  While too late for ceps or purple web caps, the group still managed to find 55 different species, which was a surprise to us, though not to the expert visitors.

Ling and Mark, enjoying their introduction to Autumn fungus in Old Copse.

Growing our own

After planting out the best of the home grown oaks in the wood, there were still 30 or so that were  too small. Some of them were getting a bit pot-bound  so a  raised bed in the wood,  well protected from deer, seemed like a good idea. In deeper soil they'll have room to stretch out and start growing properly in the Spring.

Rare visitor

One of the mushroom group arrived early and was lucky enough to see a visiting Great Egret at this spot

We didn't see him, but here's a library picture of what we missed (credit RSPB)

Autumn photos

Old Copse is beautiful at this time of the year. The beech trees really stand out.

A decaying birch stump. First comes the moss, then the fungus.

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 the pond adjacent to Old Copse, 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 118  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  through Old Copse looking for  hazel  poles to use for tree planting  stakes. We walked to the boundary of the wood and continued  through a narrow band of woodland  . The wood was clearly ancient woodland,  with a stream running through it, a tributary of  the 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