Coppicing

This year's coppice

This year’s coppice showing the cut stems and large amount of light coming into the area

Coppicing is a traditional form of woodland management.  It seems counter-intuitive to cut down trees when you are trying to preserve ancient woodland but this is exactly what is needed.

First of all, a lot of species do not live very long unless they are coppiced.  By coppicing I mean cutting the tree down to allow it to sprout again from the base.  Hazel, in particular, thrives upon coppicing, living many times longer if it is repeatedly cut and allowed to regrow than if it is just allowed to grow and decay.  Other coppice species include ash, sweet chestnut, sycamore (not in our ancient woodland!), oak, willow, birch and alder.  Shrubs such as hawthorn, crab apple, holly and elder also coppice well.  In fact most trees will coppice provided they are not too old when cut, and provided the stems are protected from browsing while they are regrowing.

Our great ancient oak trees are not suitable for coppicing, but a relatively large area of our woodland has young, scrubby trees growing fast and crowding out each other and the light.  It also has an un-managed hedge boundary between the main woods and Betty’s Wood that can be revived by coppicing.

We started coppicing in 2009-10, cutting an area of predominantly willow, hawthorn, oak and a bit of hazel.  Since then we have extended the coppice area.

The photos here show a sequence:  the top photo is what an area is like when it has first been cut.  It looks bleak and empty, but it is not.  The key thing is that we have let in a lot of light to the area and this will stimulate both regrowth and regeneration.  At this stage we can do some targeted planting if we want to improve the diversity of the area.

2 and 4 year coppice

Coppice from 2 (foreground) and 4 (background) years ago showing regrowth

The next photo shows coppice that was cut 2 years ago.  It is regrowing quite strongly.  You can see we have protected the stumps (called coppice stools) using a combination of stock netting and chicken wire to prevent browsing of the new shoots by deer and rabbits.  This is essential – browsing can easily kill a regenerating coppice stool.  You can also see that there is a lot more ground flora in this area. A lot of woodland plants rely on coppicing to thrive, coming up periodically in the cleared areas to benefit from the light.  As well as some bramble, we have a patch of violet in this area, and the bluebells are spreading into what was once a sterile piece of ground.  Finally, we get natural regeneration happening – willow and birch seedlings are thriving because they have access to light, and where they come up, we provide them with protection.

4 year coppice

Coppice cut 4 years ago showing strong re-growth

Above we have a piece of coppice that was cut four years ago.  The regrowth on the willow, in particular, is over 10 feet/3metres, and the poles are 3 to 5 cm diameter at the base.  The hawthorn and oak are regrowing more slowly and will be cut less frequently.  There are some young oak that we are leaving to grow up as specimen trees or “standards” in our “coppice-with-standards” system.  We have also done some planting to increase the amount of hazel and ash in this area.  The regrowth will result in us being able to cut it again at about 7 to 10 years, and thus have a sustainable source of wood for craft, habitat and firewood.

We do the work ourselves.  It is not always straightforward as you can see below with a sequence of photos from the past weekend.

Hooking up the winch

A difficult twin-stemmed holly needs winching down

This year we are, amongst other things, clearing a patch of holly.  This has been slowly invading the coppice area and the problem is that it cuts out the light, particularly in the spring, which holds back regeneration.  Holly springs back very quickly, usually from root suckers, so we are not destroying this patch of holly, just reviving it, and allowing the coppice to thrive too.  However coppice species often have multiple and quite inter-twined stems.  This particular holly was separated at the base, and had welded itself together higher up, which mean both stems had to be felled together.  The area was confined, and the holly got “hung-up” rather than falling straight down.  we had to set up a winch to roll the tree away from the branches that were holding it.

Setting up the winch

Setting up the winch

We were using another, larger tree as a winch point, and you can see in the foreground the log pile, a brash pile (leaves and smaller stems) and behind that a habitat pile.  About 1/3 to 1/2 the brash will be left as habitat piles for birds and mammals to nest in, and the rest will be chipped to provide a good, dry surface on our paths and they will eventually rot down.  The log pile will be used mainly for firewood but the straighter stems may be used for rustic furniture making and some green wood turning.  We select wood that has crevices and particularly wood that is already a little bit rotten for the habitat pile.  Very large logs usually come from fallen branches, and we use these as sitting logs around the woods, and they provide habitat as they gradually decay.

Felled holly tree

Felled holly tree

We finally managed to fell the large holly (about 40ft, 13 metres tall), and here it is on the ground.  The smaller stem is underneath slightly to the right and cannot be seen in this photo.

Felled holly

Felled holly showing just how much light is now coming in.

And here are the final results.  You can see just how much more light is being let in.  The ring of stumps around the large oak are all holly, and you can see just how much it was dominating the area.  We still have to cut the hazel in the hedge in the background, and then our coppice will be open to the sun and ready to regrow strongly.  There is a lovely standing dead tree in the background too, providing excellent habitat for wildlife.  We leave our standing deadwood as habitat, and have no plans to fell this old tree.

In future we will extend our coppice along Betty’s Wood boundary to refresh the boundary hedge.  We always leave joined-up canopies as a route for dormice (although we have no evidence that they are present despite a survey for them), and never fell old trees with holes and hollows that are good habitat for owls, bats and other creatures.  The younger trees, however, should respond very well and the whole woods should be rejuvenated.  The coppice only comprises about 1/5 of the woodland.  There are other areas and plenty of other habitats being managed in different ways.  We have some areas planted with young trees that will become coppice of the future in the ancient woodland and in Betty’s Wood which was planted in 2010-11.

Coppicing is part of the way in which we try to ensure that there is an excellent variety of habitats in our woods – we also have mature ancient trees, wood pasture, wildflower meadows, hedgerows, dead hedges, thickets, areas that will become continuous cover forestry, and wet woodland, as well as eleven ponds.  The wildlife has already responded and we hope to report more and more species making their homes in our woods in the future.

Untimely Signs of Spring

Salix caprea catkins starting to emerge - very early!

Salix caprea catkins starting to emerge – very early!

The winter has been extremely mild with very little sign of frost, and because of this, we are getting very early signs of spring at the woods.  On today’s walk, with temperatures in double figures (about 10 Celsius), I saw a lot of evidence that an early spring is happening – worrying evidence, in that we could still have a harsh winter come upon us!  First of all, I found willow catkins Salix caprea starting to emerge on some of the young trees in Betty’s Wood.  Not yet generating pollen, but not far off, and there are similarly advanced catkins on alder and birch as well.

These daffodils near our entrance are emerging early too

These daffodils near our entrance are emerging early too

Near the entrance to the woods we have a lot of naturalised daffodils and these are emerging rapidly too.  This is not the only clump – most of the daffodils are well advanced and looking good to flower early.

These hazel catkins are mature and releasing pollen

These hazel catkins are mature and releasing pollen

Finally, the hazel catkins, which have been around since December, are now mature and starting to shed pollen.  These are in the main woodland, but Betty’s Wood also has mature hazel catkins.  And I have hay fever already!

Last year spring was very late thanks to the harsh winter, this year it is very early.  There are other signs of spring all around – leaf buds looking ready to burst on our cherry and rowan trees, great-spotted woodpeckers drumming, great tits and blue tits singing their territorial songs.  We haven’t had enough frost to kill off the brambles, which have continued to grow all winter – worrying for the bluebells that rely on the bramble dying back in the frost to emerge into the light in spring.

But it is still winter, and the large flocks of fieldfare and smaller flocks of linnet and siskin are still feeding in our meadows and the adjoining fields.  Winter may still hit hard – last year it snowed in early May – so we will be interested to see how these early signs of spring develop.

 

 

Has Owen Gone Off-piste on Offsetting?

A very good discussion on the potential fiasco of biodiversity offsetting. The Government consultation seemed to imply that ancient woodland would be excluded from offsetting, along with a few other habitat types, but the latest from the Secretary of State suggests that it could be included. The problem is that 100 new trees cannot replace one ancient tree, nor can 100 acres of new woodland replace 1 acre of ancient. The Woodland Trust blog clearly explains the problem.

Photo of the Year – RESULTS!

Common Blue

Photo of the Year 2013:  Common blue roosting at dusk

Happy New Year, and thank you to everybody who voted in the poll for our photo of the year.  It was a very close vote in the end but we have a winner – and it is the photo of the common blue butterfly roosting at dusk.

Runner up was the sunset shot.

Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

Runner up: Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

And in third place was our lovely white bluebell

Photo Number 6:  Rare white English bluebell

Third Place: Rare white English bluebell

I’m hoping for another wonderful photographic year at the woods in 2014.

Our Photo of the Year 2013

There have been some fantastic photographic moments at Alvecote Wood during 2013, and I would be really grateful if you could vote to help us pick the best image from 2013 from the shortlist.  Compiling the shortlist has in itself been quite difficult, but I’ve tried to pick images that speak to me of the beauty of the woods, but that also showcase the wonderful variety of plants and insects that live there.

Shortlist

Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

Photo Number 1: Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

Photo Number 2:  Emerald Damselfly

Photo Number 2:  Emerald damselfly in golden evening light

Common Blue

Photo Number 3: Common Blue butterfly roosting at dusk

Photo Number 4:  Translucent bluebell

Photo Number 4: Translucent bluebell

Photo Number 5:  Southern Marsh Orchid

Photo Number 5: Southern Marsh Orchid

Photo Number 6:  Rare white English bluebell

Photo Number 6: Rare white English bluebell

Vote

Photographic Yearbook 2013

There is just so much to photograph at our wonderful woodland wildlife site, Alvecote Wood.  Every year, I try to produce a photographic yearbook that highlights the beauty of this site through the seasons – light and colour, insects and birds, flowers and fungi and the stunning views that are to be seen there.  Our yearbook for 2013 is now available via the Blurb bookstore, featuring images from the wood throughout the year, as well as a few images from other places that we have visited.

There is a hardcopy version, as well as an e-book and pdf version, all available via Blurb.  We only make a small amount from each sale, but every sale will help to support our conservation work at Alvecote Wood, so please do consider purchasing a copy.  A full preview is also available by clicking the badge below.

2013 - A Year in Images
2013 – A Year …
By Sarah Walters
Photo book

Alvecote Wood in 1650

Map of Alvecote in 1650

Map of Alvecote in 1650

We know quite a lot about the history of our woods.  We are pretty sure the area has been wooded since Domesday, and that they were included in the original land grant to Alvecote Priory in the 13th Century.  We also know that its unusual shape dates from at least as far back as 1805, from the sketches for the first Ordnance Survey made at that time.

Recently, I was put in touch with a gentleman in Australia, who was researching the history of villages in and around Shuttington and Alvecote.  One of the documents he had been researching was the deed of sale of the Priory holdings dated 1650.  This was interesting because it gave quite a lot of verbal detail about the fields, meadows, lanes, coppices and woodlands in the Alvecote and Shuttington area, including their relative geographic locations, and their acreages.

This information filled in some of the gaps, and had the potential to give me information about the size and shape and location of the woods in 1650, so I decided to research this further.  As well as the deed of sale of the Priory holdings, I also consulted the “Green Book”,  old maps including the original Ordnance Survey sketches of 1805 as well as the first series OS maps themselves, a book on Woodlands in Warwickshire and a book on the Domesday geography of the counties of England, including Warwickshire.  Finally, I sought a copy from the National Archive of the original enclosure map of 1805 detailing the 19th Century enclosures, but which also named some of the fields from the original mediaeval enclosures that were also named on the 1650 deed of sale, although did not extend as far as Alvecote Wood.

Then I had to attempt to work out the geography of the Alvecote area in 1650.  Geographic reconstruction was not easy:  the deed of sale did not distinguish between East, South-East and North-East, for example, so I had to allow some licence to translate the four point compass to eight points.  In addition, it is very easy to get quite confused because of the 19th and 20th century modifications to the geography of the area, and in particular by the West Coast Mainline railway and the Coventry Canal, which run through the area, and which obviously weren’t there in 1650.  It is hard to train your eyes to see past these features as if they were not present.

Eventually, I decided to tabulate all the fields, pastures, meadows (leasons) and woodland with its geographical neighbours and size in acres where mentioned in the 1650 deed of sale.  I then added things onto a sketch map in the following order:

  • Put onto the map the roads and lanes, including those that no longer exist but which were present in 1805.
  • Put in what I would term to be “hard” geographic features:  the River Anker has not changed course substantially since 1650; the Parish boundary is a hard boundary, since fields, woodlands, meadows and pastures and indeed, land holdings very rarely crossed this boundary.
  • Put in other water courses that are known or marked on older maps:  this includes a water course running along the Parish boundary on the West of Robey’s Lane.  These may have been canalised or placed in a culvert during subsequent years, but their course will have changed little.
  • Considered what I know about the quality of the landscape:  whether it is damp or dry (from my own experience, and reports from farmers);  whether it is high or low-lying;  whether it is marked on early land-use maps as woodland, meadow, arable or pasture, and any other information I could find.
  • Considered modern place and field names:  Priory Park, for example, is a go-karting track, but was it the same as the Park marked in the 1650 sale document?  The answer is no.   Likewise the Green Lane south of the B5000 is on a Parish boundary, and likely to be a very ancient feature because of both name and location.  Anything name Wood House or Wood Lane would be a clue as to the land type at the time.
  • Finally, I placed the field names and sizes mentioned in the 1650 deed of sale on a sketch map of the area that did not have the Canal, railway and other modern developments in place (such as the diversion of the B5000 which took place in the 1970’s).  I took account of the relative field sizes and did not try and put something into a space that was either too small or large.

What I ended up with was more-or-less the only possible map that fit with the geography of the area.  This has a number of interesting features.

First of all, Alvecote Wood (that is the portion we own on the East of Robey’s Lane) was almost certainly its peculiar shape a lot earlier than we thought.  It was already a strange shape in 1805, when the Ordnance Survey sketches were made, but we thought this shape had been forced by the location of the canal that was built in the late 18th Century.  However, from the description of Hill Field and Wood Field (Close) it must have been close to its existing shape at the time of its sale, the shape forced by the Parish Boundary rather than the canal.  It pushes its history as a known and continuously wooded area back to 1650.  In the UK, woodland is defined as ancient if it has been wooded since 1601, so this pushes documented woodland on the site very close to its definition as Ancient Woodland which would require it to be wooded since 1601.  It is unlikely it was clear-felled between 1601 and 1650, particularly with the unrest of the Civil War, therefore it is very likely to be true ancient woodland by documentation as well as by inference from the trees and flora, its location on a parish boundary, and the mention in Domesday of substantially greater wooded areas than are currently present in the parish of Shuttington.

It has been heavily modified by grazing through the 20th Century that we know of, but is likely to have been grazed before that, resulting in the modified flora, and absence of some ancient woodland indicator species.  Most of the oak trees date from 1800 to 1900, being between 100 and 200 years in age:  it is likely that mature trees were felled for timber during the 19th Century, probably for pit timbers given the expanding local coal industry during that time.  Oak trees that were saplings at that time are now mature, but there is little oak regeneration due to grazing through the 20th Century – most of the younger oak trees are now 15-20 years old, dating from the cessation of grazing on the site.  There are few stumps on site, but this is not surprising, since they will have rotted away over 100-200 years since they were cut.  The documentation, together with residual flora and trees on site, do support the assertion that Alvecote Wood is true ancient woodland, and that the site has probably been wooded since Domesday (11th Century).

The whole area was historically much more wooded at that time than it is now – hardly surprising, but this provides evidence.  The woods as described clearly extended on both sides of what is now known as Robey’s Lane, but which must have had another name at that time, and it is easy to imagine walking up this heavily-wooded lane in an enclosed tunnel of trees towards the road between Tamworth and Polesworth  (Hermitage Hill, now the B5000), connecting with a track to Wilnecote that is now a Green Lane.  This is supported by modern names Woodhouse Farm and Wood Barn.  These woods probably joined up with woods in Amington to form a larger wooded area, as indicated by residual woodland in early Ordnance Survey maps (Amington Frith, Glascote Coppice).

Some areas that were pasture were also probably at least partially wooded (wood-pasture) rather than completely devoid of trees.  In addition, the fields were smaller, and their boundaries are likely to have been hedges, possibly with some emergent trees, so the whole area would have looked much more wooded than it does currently, where only isolated trees exist to mark the former woodlands, and hedge boundaries of fields that have now been merged.

There are some inconsistencies in the information that I was able to obtain.  For example, the Gostells Leason in the 1650 sale was only 4 acres, a small piece of land, but the Gostells in 1805 enclosure map were a large tract of land, probably 20 or more acres, although located more or less in the same place.  Bridge Close, from the description in 1650, cannot be north of the River Anker, and yet in the 1805 map it is placed north of the river.  However the correspondence between the 1650 descriptions and the 1805 enclosure map is generally very good.  Unfortunately the map does not extend far enough south along Robey’s Lane to include the area that is currently Alvecote Wood.

Researching the history has been extremely interesting.  I may have got some things slightly misplaced on the map, but it gives a very good feel of what the area looked like in 1650, and gives us, and our woodland, a connection with times much further in the past than we had previously been able to go.  These tracts of ancient woodland are precious.  It is becoming harder and harder to walk in the footsteps of people who lived here hundreds of years ago yet still be in a landscape that is the same as the one they walked through.  Our woods are one of those few remaining places in the area, and it behoves us to look after them very carefully indeed.

References

  1.  P Edden and H Jones  The History of Alvecote Pub Warwick 1968
  2. Cassini Maps:  Past & Present Maps series – Tamworth – 1834 to Present Day. Cassini Publishing Ltd 2007
  3. Sale of Alvecote PRO State Papers SP 320/74 1650
  4. 1805 Enclosure Map of Shuttington – from National Archive E13/1187
  5. Ordnance Survey Drawings – from online collection at The British Library http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/ordsurvdraw/l/002osd000000024u00218000.html
  6. Wager, Sarah J. 1998. Woods, Wolds and Groves: the woodland of medieval Warwickshire (British Archaeological Reports British Series 269).
  7. Darby, H. C. & Terrett, I.B. 1971. The Domesday Geography of Midland England (Cambridge University Press, London).
  8. Old Maps Online:  Maps of Tamworth from 1805 onwards available to browse on this site including Boundary Commission maps 1832 and 1868, first edition OS maps, Land utilisation survey of Great Britain 1937:  See http://www.oldmapsonline.org/#bbox=-1.735814,52.604502,-1.638139,52.651599&q=&datefrom=1000&dateto=2010

Making a longbow

Measuring the longbow

Measuring the longbow

My first attempt at archery was not a success.  This was largely due to my being ambidextrous, and therefore using a right-handed bow, only to find later that for archery, I am left-handed.  Not a good start.  A little while later, while visiting a friend, I was able to use a longbow, and instinctively used it left-handed.  It felt much better.

Since we have our own woods, and a good supply of hay bales to use as targets thanks to our wildflower hay meadows, I felt that I would like to do a bit more archery.  I could go out and buy a longbow, but I fancied attending a course to learn how to make a longbow.

The course I attended was at Greenwood Days, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border (http://www.greenwood-days.co.uk/) .  The tutor was David Cotterill, who is a very experienced bowyer, and the course lasted for three days.

It turned out that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew with this course.  Although it is aimed at beginners, and I have some experience of green woodworking (and in particular, wood-turning), the other students on the course were much more experienced and confident woodworkers than me:  three local chippies, one chap from a green woodworking club and another whose hobby is making drums for very illustrious clients.

The course started with us selecting an ash stave to work into a longbow.  Most longbows are made from laminates, which combine wood with very good compression, stretching and core strength properties, something that only occurs naturally in yew.  Since yew is hard to come by, ash is a reasonable compromise, as it works quite well in both compression and when stretched, and is both strong and reasonably springy.  We were looking for nice straight grain, and absence of flaws in key parts of the bow, particularly in the bow arms.  I was drawn to a piece of wood that had some character as well:  in retrospect, this turned out to be a mixed blessing.

We were given a good pattern as to how to mark out our longbows for working, and the old adage “measure twice and cut once” seemed to be very wise.  In fact we all measured a great deal more than twice, in order to get the rough shape of the sides of the bow, handles and front.

Longbow-making is one of those areas where power tools are not likely to speed the process very much.  We started off gently removing wood with axe, followed by draw-knife and spokeshave.  The key is not to remove too much too soon, so care and precision which can only be achieved by use of these hand tools is order of the day.

We started off by removing the bulk of the front of the bow, and then shaping the sides of the bow – this took most of the first day, and I found it to be quite hard work.  This was not helped by the piece of wood with “character” that I had selected.  There was a knot where I wanted to put a nock for the string, as well as another flaw in the wood in the area marked out for a handle, and this made working quite hard.  It also turned out to be quite a tough piece of wood in general.  This was a lesson learned.  Character is all very well, but it really is better to go for bland, particularly for your first longbow!

On the second day we worked the belly of the bow, and shaped the sides.  This involved shaping the handle, and profiling the sides to the required shape, as well as chamfering off the edges to make it smooth.  We also had to create the nocks for the bowstring using a knife and files.

Longbows after two days work

Longbows after two days work

Once this was done, we learned how to make a bowstring, although not all of us made our bowstring on the second day.  This involved learning the skills of making rope, splicing and also how to “serve” the string using a special tool to wind a thread round the area of the string where the arrow will be nocked.

Tillering the longbow

Tillering the longbow

The final day was taken up by tillering the bow.  This is the process whereby the bow is trained to bend in an even way throughout its length.  To aid this, small amounts of wood are shaved off the bow to ensure the arms of the bow bend evenly along their whole length, and the bow is made to the correct heft for the strength of the user.  This is quite a scary process – all your good work can be undone in a moment if too much wood is taken off, or an un-noticed flaw in the wood gives way.  It is done by stringing the bow, then attaching a hook and pulley to the string and gently pulling on it, to train the arms of the bow, note where they need attention, and try and get the bow to draw to full length.  These corrections are made gently with a spokeshave  and cabinet scraper.

This was where I got seriously behind.  My natural caution had led me to produce a bow that was much too hefty, and I had to remove a lot of wood from the bow to make its use possible for a short 50kg woman.  I also found a flaw in one of the arms of the bow and with the help of our tutor, David, we decided that I should not make the arms draw symmetrically, but leave the flawed area rather inflexible, in case it should break.  Yet again, my mistake for choosing wood with “character”!

So while the others finished off their bows, and went off into the woods to shoot some arrows, I was left scraping and shaving.  It was not until the last few minutes that I achieved full draw on my bow, and that was at a draw weight of 44lbs – still rather hefty for me.  I was not able to finish it off to a fine finish, or finish the ends of the bow above the nocks.

On the plus side, the bow will settle to a lower draw weight after use.  I was able to finish it off at home, and plan to add a leather handle.  Being busy working at our woods, and on other wildlife sites, over the last couple of weeks, I have not been able to shoot the bow yet.  But I have now got some arrows, and plan to have a go just as soon as we get a bit of good weather.

I learned lots of skills on this course, although I’m not sure I would be confident to have a go on my own yet.  I think it is difficult to tutor a course like this because the gulf in skills between me and the others was so evident and because I was getting so far behind that I was watching demonstrations of something that I would not be doing myself for half a day, which meant that Dave had to patiently tutor me all over again when the time came.  But I would definitely recommend making your own longbow if you are at all interested in woodworking skills, archery, or both.  The best part is that you have a bow that you feel very connected to in all respects.  I know mine isn’t technically the best bow in the world.  But it is mine.  I know all the quirks of the wood.  I will feel much more pride in shooting this bow than a bow that I have bought.  That alone made the course worthwhile.

Fellow student with his completed longbow

Fellow student with his completed longbow

Making a Dulcimer

Finished product

Finished product – mine is on the left with birch-leaf holes.

Last weekend I was very privileged to be able to attend a course where I learned how to make an Appalachian dulcimer.  The course took place at Greenwood Days, which runs courses in a wood on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border, just outside Ashby-de-la-Zouch.  I had attended courses there before, so knew what to expect of the venue, which is very well set up, with two good shelters for eating and working the wood, as well as a central area for shave horses and pole lathes.

Cutting out the shape

Cutting out the shape

The tutor was Brian Crosbie, and an excellent tutor he proved to be.  The dulcimers we made used 1.5mm marine ply, since this could be bent to shape without steaming.  We were provided with a jig, and the end block and head pre-made, since these were best made with electric cutters, which were not available at the site.  The rest was up to us, though, and we set to.  The first thing we needed to do was glue the sides to the head and tail blocks and then, using a stretcher, mark out the shapes for the front and back.  These had to be cut with craft knives (box-cutters) to produce the final shape.

Glueing-in the liners

Glueing-in the liners

We then glued on some liners (small narrow strips of ply) to the inside of the instrument to provide a basis for glueing on the front and back, and hold them in place using the hi-tech method of multiple clothes pegs.  While these were drying we also designed and cut out the sound holes for the front of the instrument.  Traditionally, the dulcimer uses a heart-shaped hole.  Initially, I fancied trying a scroll-shaped hole, such as is found on a violin, but opted in the end for a lovely birch-leaf shape as we were in a birch woodland, and it just seemed appropriate.

The front and back were then glued in place using elastic bands to provide the pressure, and we turned our attention to the neck (fretboard).  We had to make the recess where the instrument is strummed, as well as knock in the frets into the marked slots – not so easy when the frets are slightly curved and want to spring out again!  Eventually they went in, and we were able to offer up and glue on the neck.

Glueing on the front

Glueing on the front

Small pieces of African blackwood were used as bridges.  We cut these to size and chamfered the edges so they were the correct shape to provide enough lift for the strings.  Preliminary grooves were cut in them for the strings to pass through, and these could be adjusted later to change the action of the instrument if required.

Glueing on the neck

Glueing on the neck – frets already in place

Once everything was glued together, we could trim off the sides using a craft knife, and then sand everything down so it was smooth and looked pleasant to the eye.  Beeswax finish was applied, and we screwed in a mandolin machine-head to take the strings.  Then it was a case of stringing the instrument and tuning it – the tuning accomplished by moving the lower bridge up and down until the fretted and harmonic octave were the same.  Not so easy as it looks!

It was brilliant, at the end of two days of hard work, to sit down with a group of people and play our new instruments, the instruments that we had made.  They are relatively easy to play, as two bass strings are drones, like bagpipes (although you can change their pitch, they fit with the melody if you don’t do anything), then the two melody strings use a pentatonic scale, so no sharps or flats to think about.  Brian was an amazingly helpful and resourceful tutor, and offered support above and beyond that of the course itself.  I am inspired to try and make another one, and to learn to play the first one I made better.

Haymaking – the Video

I’ve already blogged about this, with still photos, but we have now edited and condensed 6 days of hard work into just 6 minutes of video.  I shot the video with my small camera (EOS 100D) because I was working most of the time, and could therefore only carry a small camera.  It does show the process of haymaking to encourage wildflowers.  This was our first ever attempt and we would love to thank all our friends who made it possible.