This weekend has seen the major work programme for this winter draw to a close with our tree-planting for this year now complete. As it happens, I have also been preparing a presentation for the Newton Regis Women’s Institute on the woods, and this has given opportunity to reflect on the progress made over the past two years since we took ownership.
What about tree-planting? Well, in January 2009 we planted 600 trees to make a roadside hedge and used the remaining trees to form some thickets in areas of the wood without shrub cover. All but 15 of these trees have survived, and grew last year, and ultimately this will provide a very valuable habitat for wildlife, not to mention a good food source, as the tree mix contains hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel and rose, together with field maple. At present the hedge is still small, but as it grows taller and thicker it will look good and provide shelter and food for a whole range of creatures.
This last weekend we completed the planting of 400 more trees – this time hazel with a bit of ash and field maple, in the body of the woods. Most of these trees were planted in an area that had been cleared of dense bramble and elder scrub. This area had contained a polytunnel that housed pigs some years ago. We are now re-planting with native species so that we can turn this area into productive coppice and provide a new habitat for wildlife. Bramble and elder are good habitats too, but the wood has too much bramble overgrowth and not enough scrub, so this is a good way of establishing a scrub layer. Eventually we are also hoping that the oaks surrounding this clearing will have seeded the ground, and small oak saplings will emerge – they had no opportunity before as the bramble had shaded them out. Now we will manage any seedlings that emerge, thin the coppice as it grows, and allow some of the oak and ash to become canopy trees in due course. It will take time, but we have made a start.
Some other trees were planted in an area cleared of dense bramble around a dead tree that fell in the frost. In combination with clearance of sycamore in this area, we hope to transform the balance back to oak/ash/hazel rather than sycamore and bramble, which was there before.
The remaining trees were used to fill in some of the gaps in the area we had recently cut to establish new coppice. This will ensure a good, dense under-storey with the pre-selected canopy trees growing out above it, and therefore establish an area of coppice with standards, rather than an area of tall, un-thinned trees in poor health and without room to thrive.
Finishing this work earlier than anticipated, we also completed our nest box survey. Two years ago we put up 19 new nest boxes for a variety of species around the woods. Last year, we were unable to survey them, so the survey was overdue. There were 15 nest boxes with holes in the front of various sizes, and ALL of these had been occupied, mostly by blue-tits, although one had a wasp nest in instead. The open-fronted nest boxes had not been used, although there are plenty of robins about. We hope that robins and flycatchers will get the message and start using these as well.
A kind neighbour had also made us 5 more nest boxes and these were placed in new locations around the wood, we hope in time to attract blue tits to nest there this year. He has made another 7 with smaller holes too, which we need to put up this week.
I was stunned by the 100% occupancy of these boxes – I had seen 3 or 4 of them in use, but to know that all of them had been used was really encouraging. We have also got a constant stream of great tits and nuthatches coming to our seed feeders. The future is looking good for birds at Alvecote Wood.
Most of what we have to do now are small jobs, including work on our forest garden based on permaculture principles in the area near our building. This winter has seen huge progress – on access roads and tracks, on coppicing, on clearance of sycamore, on drainage and bridges and on tree planting. In a few weeks, the wood will be a different place – green, leafy and thriving. Our spring and summer tasks will take over – mowing, brush-cutting, planting herbaceous plants, tending the garden area and most of all, enjoying it. That is, after all, what owning a wood is all about!