Coppicing for Beginners

We have just returned from a coppicing course in the beautiful Malvern Hills. In 1884 an Act of Parliament was passed to protect the area from ‘Encroachment’ and the west side of the hills in particular, with its sweeping views out towards Wales, is still absolutely lovely.  The woodsman who was running the coppicing course has been granted a nine year lease to manage one of the woods on this western flank of the hills. It is divided into eight sections – or coups – each roughly half an acre of Hazel coppice with Oak standards. One coup gets cut down each year on a rotational basis.

Here is the coup he cut last year and so the small Hazel coppice stools are currently only one year old:

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But we were going to be starting the cutting of the eight year old coup:

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This is some of the equipment we were using:

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The poles with the hooks at the end were the ‘Slashers’ used to clear the undergrowth around the coppice. Loppers were then wielded to continue the clearing of the ground. Once we could get at the coppices, they were cut with bow saws, although I personally much preferred using a pruning saw.

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A Japanese pruning saw that we bought off him
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Demonstrating different styles of bill hooks – he uses these mainly for cleaning up the cut coppice poles to turn them into saleable products such as hedge-laying stakes, bean poles and pea sticks.

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Cutting just a few stools of the coppice very quickly created a large clearing in the coup. Managing the coups on a rotational basis like this ensures that there is always one part of the wood which is in the right phase of development to be used by the great variety of species that thrive in coppiced woodland.

I had intended to take many more photos but unfortunately it rained for most of the day and I had to keep my camera out of the wet.

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There is something very calming and good for one’s mental health about spending an entire day working outside in the wood. We had no shelter from the elements – the lease prohibits any tarpaulin to be erected – but somehow that didn’t matter when you are either working hard or warming up by a ‘comfort fire’ with a hot cup of tea.

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This fire stand was made by a blacksmith to the woodsman’s design

 

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Tea making in the wood

In just one day we have learnt a lot and now return to Kent with new-found confidence to tackle the overgrown Hazel coppice in our own wood. We are also bringing some other ideas back with us such as this large heap of rotting coppice poles. Apparently a fantastic numbers of Beetles have been seen emerging from this:

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We have always had a thing for Ring Ouzels. In fact, twice we have gone out with a nature guide onto Dartmoor specifically to see them, driven on by the knowledge that a few pairs nested in remote valleys on the moor each summer. However, on both occasions, we were unsuccessful and we have since learnt from our guide that, sadly, Ring Ouzels now no longer nest on Dartmoor. They do still breed in upland areas further north in the UK but they are in steep decline and are in a whole lot of trouble.

We did eventually see one very briefly on Dartmoor two years ago – a beautiful male as he migrated through – but that is the only glimpse we have ever had.

So, how jolly exciting is this then?:

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The feathers look more like scales on its tummy
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The classic Ouzel white bib is only partly formed on this juvenile bird

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This is a first-winter juvenile Ring Ouzel on its way out of the country on migration but we presumed it stopped in for a drink with us just as it was getting dark the day before yesterday

But then it was back yesterday as well, same place, same approaching-dusk sort of time. Hopefully it spent the day  fuelling up on all the berries that are dripping off the hedgerows at the moment:

Trail camera

Trail camera

We all know that it won’t be back a third time, but I have set up my mobile hide and will spend a couple of hours in there with my camera this evening just in case.

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Poor weather has stopped the bird ringer spending as much time in the meadows as he might otherwise have done but he has now caught and ringed two Firecrests. Much rarer than Goldcrests, these little birds have a black eye stripe and a more intensely-coloured crest. The Firecrest below was already ringed:

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When the bird ringer subsequently went through his records, he discovered that it was he who in fact ringed it on 27th October 2017 here in the meadows. Two years later, here it is again in the very same place.

Getting on towards the end of October and there are still bands of Swallows swooping over the meadows. They have got a long way to go and it is getting late in the year- they surely need to get a move on:

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We have been seeing a lot of the Green Woodpeckers recently. Perhaps they are more active now that the soil is softer and they can more easily probe it for ants.

Trail camera

Trail camera

The softer soil also makes it more easy for Badgers to dig for worms, of course:

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I think the photo below has wonderful composition and would make a good painting, if only I had any skill in that area:

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I have finally got  a photo of the faces of all three of the female and young Badgers to confirm that none of them are the adult male, Scarface, who has a heftier skull. Therefore, I can now confirm with reasonable confidence that the sett currently contains four Badgers once you add in Scarface.

Trail camera

Last summer I harvested seed from the Kidney Vetch that was growing in the meadows. Kidney Vetch is the larval food plant of the Small Blue – a rare Butterfly that we have a little colony of here. Kidney Vetch is a short-lived perennial and has a tendency to have some very poor years which then lead to subsequent crashes in Small Blue numbers. It all seems very precarious and I have an on-going project to greatly increase the bank of Kidney Vetch growing here so that every year there will be lots available for the Small Blue caterpillars to eat.

I germinated the harvested seed and, throughout this summer, have been growing the plants on. Now they are ready to be planted out into the meadows:

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The plants have gone in by the wild pond which seems to be a bit of a focus for our Small Blue colony. Fingers crossed that next year will be a good year for these lovely, tiny Butterflies.

We have recently acquired a small load of York stone from a local garden centre that was closing down:

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This stone has now been made into a Reptile refuge in the Ant paddock where we have always seen a lot of Lizards:

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It is very charming to see mossy tree stumps in the regeneration area of the wood being used as comfortable perching posts by the Squirrels who must be carrying these spiky Sweet Chestnuts quite a distance because there aren’t any of these trees in this area:

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Pretty much every mossy stump had a Sweet Chestnut husk on it – I must put trail cameras on a couple next autumn to try to catch them at it. It is a time of great plenty for Squirrels in the wood at the moment and here is one with a Hazelnut:

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All this rain has meant that this autumn has become a fantastic year for fungus around here. I am busy photographing it to try to work out what it is but am finding it difficult. One of the reasons for this is that it often looks very different when it first comes above ground to when it has been up for a while. Here is a clump from a week ago that has come up near the entrance to the wood

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Now, a week later, this same clump looks like this:

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So, even though I don’t necessarily know what these Toadstools are, they are lovely things and I will finish today with some more that have recently appeared in the wood:

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