Small Woodland Owners Group Meeting

This weekend we were excited and privileged to welcome the Small Woodland Owners Group to Alvecote Wood.  This is a wonderful group of people from all walks of life who own or manage small woodlands, and which gives owners the opportunity to learn from each other, solve practical problems, learn from professionals and experts, and best of all, visit each others’ woods.

A lovely place to camp

There is a certain amount of trepidation involved in getting ready for one of these meetings and we found ourselves asking a lot of questions.  Will the wood look OK?  How do we cater for everybody?  Will we have the camping area ready?  Will people actually turn up?  What will the experts think of what we are doing?  So we got on with the preparations, while still trying to water our little trees.

We needn’t have worried – everybody who came was very friendly.  We had seven people camping overnight, including ourselves, and the the main clearing made an excellent camping venue.  Dinner in the local pub was very convivial and quite a lot of beer was consumed.  It was wonderful and enlightening to spend the evening in the company of real woodland experts, including those responsible for looking after some of the major forests in Wales.  After months of drought, the rains finally came, and the heavens opened on those walking the half mile back to the woods.  Thankfully, we all made it, and all tents remained watertight – we certainly slept well knowing we had respite from tree-watering, at least for a while.

The rain and wind was too much for our gazebo, however, which turned itself into scrap metal overnight and thwarted our plans for an alfresco breakfast.  So it was we took to the building and rustled up a fry-up of bacon, eggs from our chickens, sausages, black pudding and bread.

The building was then turned into an impromptu lecture theatre – it isn’t every day that you get to sit on a tractor and watch an expert presentation.  And what a brilliant presentation it was – from Alistair Yeomans of the Sylva Foundation.  This organisation is responsible for the MyForest web site, which provides a range of web tools for woodland owners and managers, including a neat way of producing an inventory and management plan for your woodland based on the Forestry Commission template.  But it isn’t only the geographical and inventory tools that are potentially useful – small woodland owners can market any spare produce ranging from a few beanpoles, a small quantity of firewood, a single log or pieces of wood for wood-turning and crafts right up to commercial quantities of timber and coppice products.

An unusual lecture theatre

After coffee and biscuits, Alistair took us into the woods and demonstrated the use of the MyForest inventory tools.  This included how to survey stocking density, recognise tree species, measure diameter at breast height (DBH) (which does involve some tree-hugging) and use a clinometer to estimate height.  We looked at different areas in the wood and how we could use the tools, as well as studying individual trees to see how we could use the tools to record the “form” of the tree.

Alistair, demonstrating the use of a clinometer
I see no ships!
We did a lot of walking and looking at trees
Tree-hugging is not compulsory – measuring DBH
We try and decide on what “form” to record for this grand old hazel
Let them eat cake

 Lunch was al fresco and involved eating a certain amount of cake.  Stephen then led a walk and talk around the woods, discussing what we had done since taking ownership to manage the woodlands, maintain and improve habitats and introduce new ones.  As well as discussing drainage and ponds, we also looked at the coppice, and had a walk round Betty’s Wood to see what we had achieved by planting 4000 trees during the winter of 2010/11.

Looking up at trees – we did a lot of this – this time in this year’s coppice
How to tell your greater duckweed from your lesser

Marching through the late bluebells
Discussing the planting of Betty’s Wood
Looking at the new wildlife ponds
It was THIS big – Stephen talks about the planting plan

In glorious sunshine, the meeting ended, and we struck camp.  It was brilliant to have met so many wonderful people, who had travelled so far to visit us, including Rich from Kent and Nigel and Elaine from Somerset.  At the end of it we sat, exhilarated and exhausted, drinking tea and reflecting on a wonderful weekend.

The newly-constructed TreeBog, complete with tasteful Engaged sign

And as a slight post-script – our alfresco TreeBog, constructed especially for the weekend from pallets, available timber and a tarpaulin, seemed to be much appreciated by all.

We hope we can host another meeting in the future, and in the meantime, are looking forward to keeping in touch with all our new friends.

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