Winter in the Woods


Winter can be a frustrating time in the woods.  There is so much to be done in the dormant phase between November and March, but then a lot can get in the way of doing it.  This year has been no exception.  First of all, we had the weather that froze the ground and made planting all but impossible, and other work very cold and unpleasant.  Then we have had frustrating waits for planning permission to start making our new ponds, and for the paperwork to filter through in order to get approval to start planting the main phase of Betty’s Wood.

Weather – we are obsessed with it in this country, but for a good reason.  The coldest December since records began, transformed the wood into a place of sheer beauty and magic.  Snow lying on the ground was complimented by the most beautiful frost coating of the trees in the freezing fog.  We could see tracks everywhere:  foxes, rabbits, hares, stoats, squirrels, pheasant and deer.  We could see clearly where a fox had jumped over our new fence.  New birds came into the woods seeking food and shelter including snipe and willow tit.  The whole landscape was transformed into something the like of which we have never seen in our three years as owners of the wood.

But with the beauty came frustration:  the ground was frozen solid, and even when the surface thawed, the ground underneath resembled permafrost, and was certainly not suitable to plant young trees.  700 trees for form our hedge arrived just in time for the big freeze and on the day of planting the ground was solid:  not even a pickaxe could make a suitable hole.  We had to heel the trees into our vegetable patch, that we had fortunately prepared just a few weeks beforehand.  The area was sheltered, and slightly warmer thanks to a liberal application of rotting compost and chicken poo.  This meant we could dig trenches and heel in the trees.

Fortunately, just before Christmas, we had a window of a few days to dig them up again and plant them as the surface thawed.  A lot of very hard work by us and our stalwart volunteers meant that all 700 little trees are now in their permanent home, and the hedge is complete.  We just hope that the trees have survived their less than perfect introduction to life, and the hedge sprouts come the spring.

In the absence of the relevant pieces of paper saying we can go ahead with the ponds or main planting of the remaining 3300 trees, we have started our work in the coppice.  There is another area to be cut this year, and we have made a good start on this over new year weekend, with about one third of the work completed, and some useful hazel poles and pea sticks created for sale in the spring.  We have also cut about 200 willow sticks for planting in the hope that we can clone some of our own willow into our newly created woodland.  We were encouraged to see lots of self-set hazel seedlings growing at the edge of the coppiced area, and now they have more light they should do very well.  Unfortunately Stephen’s chainsaw broke at the end of the day, and we are now awaiting a part before we can do more work.  More frustration!

The cold weather has also led us to suspend our nest box survey until it is warmer:  the boxes are often used as roosts for small birds in extreme weather, and we don’t want to disturb them or put at risk their survival.  It will need to be completed soon, though, as birds are beginning to sing their territories, and will soon be building new nests.

In the meantime we continue to enjoy the winter beauty, and hope that we can complete our ponds and tree planting before the end of February.

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