There is something very pleasing about watching professionals who really know what they are doing. We are very lucky that our tree surgeons (Mike Daniels, Paul and John from Arborcare) are such brilliant guys, very professionals and so very nice as well. We have had the pleasure of their company at our home and at the woods in the last couple of weeks.
Yesterday we spent the day at the woods getting so much done. We had been steadily progressing with cutting our first area of coppice, and preparing the ground in a new clearing to be planted with new coppice trees, to replace bramble and elder scrub. With the very welcome help of several very hardy volunteers, we managed to be almost ready for the tree surgeons to arrive.
We had a number of oak trees with some dangerous-looking branches overhanging the paths. We don’t want the woods to look like a park, so if there are branches that might fall overhanging areas without paths that is fine – we leave them to fall, and in the meantime the dead branches are good habitat for a huge range of wildlife from lichens and mosses through insects and fungi to bats and birds. But, if we have a branch overhanging the path, we simply don’t know whether it will fall, and we had to remove some of these. There was also a tree which had in the past been struck by lightning. The top was hollow and it swayed and creaked alarmingly in the wind. Standing as it did, at a good viewing point for our lower ponds, we needed the top of this tree to be removed so it did not fall on visitors who had stopped to admire the view.
The tree surgeons also had a marvellous heavy-duty chipper to cut the smaller branches and brash into wood chips. In the course of our coppicing work we had generated a very large amount of brash. The logs and poles we have cut and kept to be turned into craft products, seats and to be dried for firewood. But there are a lot of twigs on even the smallest tree. It is customary to burn brash, but we also have some pretty muddy paths in the wood, thanks to our clay soil, so wood chips make an excellent mulch to cover the path and reduce the muddiness. It is an excellent and very eco-friendly material, with zero miles to travel and which we can get for free from waste products of our own wood. So we just needed to chip it.
At the crack of dawn (it felt like that, anyway!) Mike and the guys turned up, and after some discussion surrounding getting a heavy chipper and a pick-up down a muddy path which a few days before had challeneged (but not defeated) our Land Rover, we set off to start work.
These chippers are serious bits of kit – very scary, despite all the safety cut-offs and other features that prevent you being dragged in a chipped along with the bits of tree. But they do work very impressively, and after a safety briefing, donning a chainsaw hat and visor, and a demonstration, we got stuck in to moving our piles of brash. We had some help from three volunteers during the day, and that meant that Stephen could complete the felling of three large willows, and thus finish off our coppice cut for this year. Meanwhile the muncher steadily munched its way through our brash pile.
We had the pleasure of watching Mike climb trees to remove branches, and to remove the top of our creaking lighning-struck tree. It all looks so easy, but it obviously isn’t. The ease with which these guys wield chainsaws is awesome – they are simply very talented. But most of all, it is lovely to see the pleasure and sometimes the reverence with which they regard the trees on which they are working. These are venerable old trees, not garden ornaments, but wild ent-like creatures that were already old before the first bicycles or motor vehicles made their way down Robey’s Lane. So it is quite special to be working on them, in this lovely woodland environment.
It is also brilliant to get advice from the guys on how we are using our tools – to know we are felling correctly, and that Stephen is using the chainsaw safely and correctly. One of the highlights of the day was when Stephen felled a very difficult sycamore. It was guaranteed to get hooked up on branches of adjacent trees, no matter which way it was felled. We had already dealt with three large sycamores, and this was the fourth and hardest to fell. We don’t mind a few saplings, but once they start producing seed, they need to go, as we don’t want the wood turning into a sycamore wood over the next 100 years. Under guidance from Paul, Mike and John, he took it down in sections until it was possible to bring down the crown of the tree safely and harvest the wood for various craft projects and firewood. They didn’t have to teach him how to do that, but it was brilliant that they were prepared to do so.
So now we are (almost) ready for the arrival of our new saplings in the next 10 days. These will form a new area of coppice and eventually we can cut these and harvest the logs and poles. In the meantime they will provide new areas of habitat for the birds and other creatures. It is an exciting time for the woods – the first real management it has had in a long while. We hope that it is appreciated by the wildife there, and that we provide the rejuvenation that it needs.
So, thanks to our wonderful friends, we have a wood that is safer, we have learned a lot about felling trees, and we have a pile of home-grown woodchip to make our paths more pleasant. We just have to put it in the trailer and spread it! Work goes on at the woods, but it is a pleasure to do it, particularly in the company of our friends, and guys who really know what this business is all about.