It is lovely to picture the traditional woodsman, plying his or her trade with an axe, a bowsaw, a billhook, a slasher and maybe a scythe to mow the clearings. Then shaving the green wood and turning it into useful items for sale or personal use.
The fact is, we would love to be able to do that, and a lot of the time we do: I’m hoping to take delivery of a shave-horse and pole-lathe, we use the axe to split small logs and pallets into kindling, we use billhooks when coppicing, and we try and do most of the work ourselves, rather than through contractors. We are off grid, and use solar panels for electricity, and collect rainwater.
The other fact is that we have 20 acres of land, and there are two of us, and we have to make compromises: using a tractor, a quad bike, a 4 x 4 and trailer, chainsaws, water pumps and occasionally, a generator.
And many of my readers don’t know that I have cystic fibrosis as well – until quite recently I was well enough to run fitness walking classes in our woods, and even to complete the Hawkshead fell race, and a half-marathon, as well as a 100km bicycle ride, all after the age of 50. But at the age of 53, my lung function, despite my best efforts, is declining, and walking around the woods is becoming an effort that, on some days, I can’t sustain for very long. Hard physical work is often beyond me, even though I do my best with the coppicing, logging the fallen trees with my chainsaw while Stephen works on felling the next one. Carrying my camera round the woods is becoming more difficult. Even getting dressed in all the clobber you need to stay warm and safe when working with a chainsaw on a winter’s day makes me breathless. Sometimes, I regret to say, I have to drive round, or ride the quad bike – the unthinkable alternative being that I can’t see the woods at all.
So it is that we appear rather industrial in our approach to the woods – we have to use machinery and non-traditional methods to get the job done. We don’t camp out there or hold camp-fires very often because the smoke makes it hard for me to breathe, and the damp affects my chest, not to mention the difficulty of sterilising nebuliser equipment while out in the great wild woods.
It is a trade-off. Without the equipment, we could do stuff, but we wouldn’t get enough stuff done, particularly as Stephen is the one who does most of the doing these days. We could not have coppiced the area we promised to do under our management plan. We could not have planted 5000 trees, we could not have mowed our meadows using a scythe, we could not have weeded around all 5000 trees to stop them being choked without using chemicals, and we could not have made the progress that we have for the benefit of wildlife.
But here’s the thing – we still like the traditional way of doing it too. We love and appreciate wildlife as much as anybody. I love the feel of wood, and working it by hand. I love sitting there, with my camera, watching and photographing the birds, and capturing the beauty of the breath-taking landscape, trees, flowers, birds and other creatures on my camera. I love being outdoors. I love doing as much work as my lungs will allow, making myself breathless walking up the slope to the top of the woods. I love the sights, smells and sounds of the woods, the feel of the breeze on my face, and the patter of rain on my jacket, and the sounds of water rushing through the ditch.
So, we are traditional people who manage things in a fairly industrial way sometimes – but we hope the results from this approach justify the means. Without the industrial, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the traditional either.
* Please note, Stephen is not demonstrating the recommended safe method of driving a quad bike!