We do a lot of the work at the woods ourselves, together with some fantastic volunteers, who give up their time and work hard to help us improve the woods for wildlife. We are generally quite capable, able to do our own coppicing including felling the trees, manage our own young trees, sort out our own paths and rides and glades, mow our own meadows, manage our own ponds, do our own dead-hedging – in short, we do a lot of it ourselves. We didn’t buy the woods so we could bring in contractors and other people to do the work for us. We take pleasure in doing the work ourselves and that is what we do.
But sometimes, just sometimes, we need the help of professionals. This year, we were doing some thinning in the area of the woods we call the “plantation”. It is so called because it is clear that at least some of the trees have been planted there. In particular the larch trees, which don’t occur anywhere else on site, which are not native to the site or area, and which are now of an age and size where they need to be felled to allow other trees to develop properly, to let in light to the forest floor, and to reduce the risk of importing Phytophthora ramorum infection into our oak woodlands.
We thinned out some other trees too – some rather poorly-developed oak, willow and hawthorn trees now shaded by the canopy, some dead trees, a very badly formed ash, and some holly (to let in light). We were left with these enormous larch trees, over 40 feet high.
We could fell them ourselves, but the problem with larch is that they have a long, straight trunk and then a very bushy canopy. Bringing this bushy canopy down without removing the branches first risked damaging the young trees in the area that were few in number and that we very much wished to leave undamaged to become the next generation in the woods.
So we got in the tree surgeons for a day. Now this costs money, but we felt it was worth it for a number of reasons. First, we got the larch felled without damaging the other trees. Second, the tree surgeons we use are also chainsaw and tree surgery instructors. This means we can get training, and we can do some of the work under their supervision (although we don’t do tree climbing). We develop our skills, we help them out which helps to cut costs, everybody is happy. We can also get other jobs done while they are there, using their chipper to chip the brash and line the paths with chips, something that helps improve their condition and reduce the muddiness.
So it was that before 8am, we arrived with the three tree surgeons and their equipment to start a busy day. With a cold wind blowing, we needed to wrap up, and were thankful for our padded chainsaw trousers and gloves. We watched with great respect as these very skilled guys climbed our larch trees, took off the limbs with a small chainsaw and then came down, leaving a lovely straight trunk for felling.
The surgeons then guided Stephen to help him improve the precision with which he felled these very large trees, allowing him to make the cuts. They also watched my chainsaw technique as I tackled the very difficult task of cutting up a larch that was felled with branches on, as well as a very twisted ash tree, that had both fallen together. I tried not to feel the pressure, as I tried to assess the task, decide which ways the stresses in the wood were working, and make the cuts cleanly and correctly using good and safe technique. It isn’t easy to work when you are being watched so closely, but I managed a good job, only getting the bar stuck once (and that wasn’t predictable and the instructor confirmed that as I had tested the weight beforehand). I was complimented on safe handling of the saw, safe starting, using techniques such as leaving a leg on the branch in case it rolled towards me, and generally doing a good job.
We also had to fell a dead sycamore that was next to a path, and hence a risk that needed to be dealt with under our tree safety policy. We needed to do this without damaging some hazel saplings planted nearby. Again, it was a pleasure to watch the guys climbing and how they carefully removed weight to ensure the tree fell in the correct direction. We managed to bring the tree down precisely onto the path, and were left with the task of cutting it up and stacking it before it got too dark, as well as chipping the brash – we just got done in time.
We really valued our day with the experts. They are lovely guys, so skilled and so willing to teach us – just as we are hungry to learn. We were totally exhausted at the end of the day and are full of admiration for these skilled people, who will work just as hard the next day, and the next, and the next! Yes, money can be tight, but there is a lot to be gained from having the experts visit your woods, do some work, and help you learn.
With many thanks to Mike, Paul and John from Arborcare (http://www.treesurgerytamworth.co.uk/index.html) for their hard work, skills and patience during their day at the woods.