We have been going non stop since December, a fact to which my aching muscles will testify. It seems such a long time ago since we started the winter work, and it is nice to reflect on its completion.
First of all came the fence – fencing the boundary to Betty’s Wood and repairing some gaps in our main fence. Then came the snow, which held up the work until just before Christmas. However we managed to get in 700 trees to make a new hedgerow along the fence and connect our piece of ancient woodland with another small copse.
While there was a frustrating wait for our Forestry Commission woodland creation grant to be approved, we got on with this year’s coppicing. We love trees and don’t like cutting them down, but this isn’t just cutting trees down. This is part of active management of the wood that will actually prolong the life of the trees you have cut, as well as provide a sustainable source of wood, and a brilliant new habitat for everything from ground flora to insects to birds and mammals. Last year’s coppice has already grown 8 feet and provides that lovely dense bushy habitat that some birds love, together with improvement in the condition of the young oaks that we have selected as future standards.
We had to break off the coppicing in order to plant the trees when the paperwork came through. This weekend we planted another 325 mixed trees to finish off Betty’s Wood, and also cloned another 80 or so willow into the wet area by the first of our new ponds. We started at the end of January with the tree planting and the pond digging, and now we have over 4500 trees (including those in the hedge) as well as five beautiful new ponds.
Then in a race against time, we completed the coppice this weekend: felling three hawthorns (one of which we had started a few months ago), cutting the logs, piling the brash and then putting deer fencing or tree shelters around all the coppiced stools.
Looking forward in November it seemed we had an impossible job: just the two of us with whichever volunteers came along on the day. And come along they did – we nearly always had one helper, at least for part of the day, and sometimes up to eight. They turned out in bad weather, and I think we had pretty bad weather – it seems to have been raining for the whole of February at least. They turned out in their own time, fuelled by home-made cake and the knowledge that they were changing the landscape and helping wildlife.
Looking back now from March, it still seems like we achieved the impossible. I thought it would take us years before we really noticed the difference, but yesterday I noticed a robin exploring one of the brash piles as a potential nesting site (as well as perching on the chainsaw and eyeing us up). Best of all, a pair of mallard flew in onto one of our new ponds – there isn’t anything for them there yet, it is just a huge muddy puddle. But they dabbled around, and had a swim, and this gives me great hope for the future – in a couple of years when the ground is colonised by reeds and grasses, and the pond is full of life, this will be brilliant habitat for water birds, ground-nesting birds and waders alike.
Achieving the impossible? We hope we did. Now we are going to have a little rest!