Winter Light

Glade in the mist

Glade in the mist

As the seasons change, autumn brings not just a change in colour, but also a change in the quality of the light. Summer light is bright and harsh, and the golden hour is either very early in the day or very late. As winter approaches it changes completely – now the sun is low all the time, with long shadows and a wonderful pastel, watery quality. The golden hour is at a civilised hour. The weather is interesting too – storms, clouds racing across the sky, and by way of contrast, perfectly still mornings and evenings with frost on the grass and mist rising in the river valley.

Don’t get me wrong – I love all the seasons, including summer – but winter light is probably the most photogenic.

These are just a few shots of the woods in winter light – low light through the trees, mist, stormy skies and mist rising at sunset. Perfect!

Mist rising at sunset

Mist rising at sunset

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Storm approaching

Storm approaching

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Mist and golden trees

Mist and golden trees

Main path in the mist

Main path in the mist

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

In Praise of Restraint – Autumn in the Woods

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

I keep going on about Autumn, but I make no apology for it.  It is my favourite time of year.  The spring flowers are magical, and the Summer meadows glorious, but there is nothing quite like the fungal smell of autumn in the woods.  What I particularly like is how oak trees don’t “shout” about autumn like many other species.  Maple and cherry have been particularly loud this year – flaming orange and yellow, and stunning reds lighting up the trees along the roadside.  Almost all the trees in the ancient part of our woods are oak, which takes a more restrained approach.

Some are still quite green right now, others have a gentle yellow tinge, and others simply go brown at the edges and fall.  Against this restrained backdrop, the yellow of field maple, willow and hazel, and the shocking reds of spindle, cherry and some rowan leaves, as well as a gentle pinks and purples of elder can stand out.  Betty’s wood in particular with its greater variety of young saplings shines out in orange, red and yellow against the darkness of the old oak trees.  Oak provides a pastel and gentle canvas against which the other species can stand out.

Yellows in Betty's Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Yellows in Betty’s Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty's Wood

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty’s Wood

On the forest floor, things are changing too.  It hasn’t been very wet this year and the fungi are yet to get going, but we have seen some amazing hyphae on one of our fallen logs.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

The lichens are also coming into their own, forming a miniature forest with the various species of moss, topped off by the fallen leaves covered in dew in the early morning.  The grass also shines with dew, giving the woods an autumnal feel, and a softness that is missing at other times of the year.

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

The leaves are gently falling now and autumn is in full swing.  There is no sadness – nature is beautiful all year round.  Winter is round the corner, and with it the milky low sunshine and stark beauty and form of our lovely trees.  The turn of the seasons is something I really treasure.  For now, I will enjoy the restrained beauty of an oak woodland in the fall.

 

Farming Today

Presenters, producers and owners at Alvecote Wood.

BBC Radio Four Farming Today at Alvecote Wood

It has been too long since I updated this blog – and too many other things have got in the way.  But last weekend we were invited to take part in the BBC Radio Four Farming Today programme feature all about woodlands and forests.

The presenters and producers were extremely nice people.  They visited the woods, along with the Chairman of the Royal Forestry Society, and we recorded the whole programme from the woods, including links to other segments recorded on other days.

We were keen to point out the multiple uses to which woodland can be put, as well as its value for wildlife, and the importance of management.  Leaving it alone generally results in one or two species becoming dominant.  In order to maintain a variety of habitats, particularly in smaller woodland that has been affected by human activity in the past, you need to do some management.

The programme is available as a podcast and on iPlayer if you live in the UK.

Alvecote Wood on Farming Today.

Bugs (and weevils)

Curculio venosus - an acorn weevil

Curculio venosus – an acorn weevil

Bugs are often overlooked and ignored, and often misunderstood as well, but are really very beautiful and spectacular when you get in close. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful collection of several species of shield bug as well as two species of weevil on one small patch of nettles at the woods.

Shield bugs are flat bugs with a back that resembles a shield, and sucking mouthparts which extract sap from plants. They are also called “stink bugs” because they exude foul smelling and tasting fluid when threatened to deter predators.

Hairy Shieldbug

Hairy Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug

Dock Bug

Dock Bug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Weevils also have a bad reputation as plant pests, with different species specialising in different plants. In our case, in an oak woodland, we found an acorn weevil, looking like a truly alien being – a bit like StarBug from Red Dwarf!

This set of photographs shows some of the variety and beauty of these overlooked creatures.

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells

English bluebells. To me the are the English countryside in spring. We are so very fortunate to have a lot of English bluebells at our woods, concentrated in two main areas, but with patches scattered throughout the whole woodland.

This week they have really started to come into flower, just a little bit early this year thanks to the mild March and April that we have had. There are two main areas – an area we call The Plantation because of larch that was planted there, and the bottom part of the woods. Both of these areas have bluebells with bracken developing later in the year.

Over the last two years, the exceptionally mild winters have meant we had no frost under the trees, and this has led to brambles taking over, particularly in the Plantation area, because they have not been killed off by the frost. Letting them get a head start in the spring means that they dominate the bluebells, and last year the display suffered. This year we have cut back the bramble to allow the bluebells to recover.

We have not been disappointed by the display!

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bracken among the bluebells

Bracken among the bluebells

A Tour Around the Woods

Our woods are probably at their most beautiful during the spring. This week we welcomed the Royal Forestry Society here on a visit, and I filmed some video as we went round, adding some stills and a commentary afterwards. This really gives you a feel for the woods and their wildlife. It lasts about 11 minutes, but in reality it takes about an hour to walk round.

The feeling of spring

Primroses

Primroses

Early Mining Bee on Willow Catkin

Early Mining Bee on Willow Catkin

Spring is here at last, and what a welcome thing it is. It started when I was cooped up in a hospital room for two weeks, watching the crocuses on the balcony bloom in their tubs, and the first small tortoiseshell butterfly flutter past my window. But I could not go out and enjoy it.

Coming out of hospital, the first thing I noticed was the wind on my face. Cold, for sure, but very welcome, and something that had been sorely missed.

They seemed almost imperceptible at first, the signs of Spring at the woods. It was very subtle. One week, you could see through the understorey, through the woods to the fields beyond. Then a few days later, you couldn’t. Just a few buds bursting here and there and the woods were transformed once again.

Birch Leaves and Catkins

Birch Leaves and Catkins

Daffodils

Daffodils

The daffodils came out in great numbers, followed by the lesser celandine, primroses and cowslips. This last weekend the first bluebell buds appeared, the blossom was profuse on the blackthorn, and the first cherry blossom also came into flower. Snakeshead fritillary are also in flower, and the smell of wild garlic hits you before you see the emerging leaves.

Cowslips

Cowslips

Ladybird on the edge of a leaf

Ladybird on the Edge

Within a few days, tiny green leaves were all over the birch trees, like little jewels, backlit by the sun. Catkins cover the willow trees, leaf buds bursting, early bees feasting on the pollen. Comma, small tortoiseshell, brimstone and peacock butterflies are everywhere in the sheltered parts of the meadow. Chiffchaffs are calling. The first blackcap is in song.

Surprisingly, for most birds are still building their nests, we even have a robin feeding her young, the nest precariously perched in an empty log bag thrown onto the top shelf of our log store.

Robin Feeding Young

Robin Feeding Young

This is the feeling of spring. The wind on your face. Some warmth in the sun. Frantic bird activity, flowers on the woodland floor, and the delicate sight of new leaves and catkins. A feeling magnified by my release from captivity. A glorious feeling. A joyful time of year.

Blackthorn

Blackthorn

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

Comma Butterfly

Comma Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly – shame about the background but lovely butterfly all the same.

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

A Day with the Tree Surgeons

First tree showing weak area

The first tree showing the weak area

Yesterday, we had Mike Daniels and his team from Arborcare, come to the woods to deal with two large oaks. Both of these needed to be pollarded for safety. It was a privilege to spend the day with these lovely guys, watching them at work.

The first tree had a branch fall off leaving a large scar a few years ago. This was healing, until it was seriously eroded by hornets, leaving a very unstable situation with a heavy branch on a weak base. The other branch of the tree had a crack (not easily visible). Both branches were overhanging a path used by visitors, so something had to be done. The aim was to preserve the tree and the habitat, but make it safer.

The second tree was again, very hollow and weak, and overhanging a path. We tried moving the path but it didn’t work out, so the tree needed reducing. This second tree may not survive, but it will remain as standing dead wood and fantastic hollow habitat for birds.

None of the brash was wasted: most of the holly brash from our coppicing, together with all the brash from this pollarding work was chipped to surface our paths. The rest was left as habitat piles.

Brash chipping going on the path

Brash chipping going on the path

I am totally in awe of people who can do this wonderful work. The photos show some of the process and the skill involved.

Our thanks to Mike, Paul, and John from Arborcare, and to Keith, who turned up to help us. We were all working flat out all day – I was helping to cut up the branches cut down and stack the logs and brash, and the others were chipping the massive pile of brash and delivering it to our paths.

A wonderful day.

At work high above the ground

At work high above the ground

Removing a branch

Removing a branch

Removing the top of the tree

Removing the top of the tree

A new pollarded oak

A new pollarded oak

Climbing the adjacent tree

Climbing the sound tree next to the weak one that will be pollarded

Swinging across

Swinging across

Phew!

Phew!

Cutting more branches

Cutting more branches

Gradually cutting back

Gradually cutting back

All done, and Mike lets himself down on the rope

All done, and Mike lets himself down on the rope

Coppicing the Hedge

A huge tree casting a lot of shade

A huge tree casting a lot of shade – and it’s supposed to be a hedge!

Over the past three weekends, we have been working on a very overgrown hedge between Alvecote Wood and Betty’s Wood. In particular we have been working on several very large holly trees, about 40 feet/15 metres high. These had been cut about 30 years ago, but the hedge has not been maintained since then. In consequence these trees have grown huge, and were cutting out a lot of light on the southern boundary of the wood. Behind the trees was some poor sycamore scrub and some bramble. We tried to get hazel established here, but it was just too dark. Nothing would grow.

So this year we decided to coppice back this holly hedge, removing three enormous holly trees (some with up to eight stems each), a couple of sycamore, hazel and hawthorn to open this area up and let in light.

We have also cleared the bramble, and plan to plant this area up with some hazel, birch and cherry, and also encourage oak seedlings to grow between these trees.

The photos tell the story: before, during and after.

There are also two videos showing how Stephen felled a particularly awkward twin-stem holly.

Felling the large holly

Felling the large holly

After, hedge is coppiced and a lot of light coming in

After, hedge is coppiced and a lot of light coming in

Shows the light coming into the area

Shows the light coming into the area

Apologies that the first clip of this video is out of focus.