Blog - Practical Guides

Detectorists, using metal detectors, becoming ... detectives

Detectorists, using metal detectors, becoming … detectives

by Angus, 27 January, 2022, 3 comments

When I say I get a buzz out of detecting I mean it literally: a good detector device makes a different buzzing sound for different metals.  A low note or deep buzz means it's probably iron and not worth digging up, saving the detectorist wasting time digging out old nails or fence wire.  In contrast, a higher/lighter tone means you are more likely to be finding bronze or even maybe the detectorist's dream - gold or silver coins. Today I did my first day of metal detecting with an expert detectorist, Joe Green, part of the "dynamic trio" as he and his team call themselves.  Joe took me around a woodland where he has permission to detect and we spent three hours scanning the ground and digging out finds.  In that short time we found: two old bullet cases as the wood had been used for army training in WW2 one bullet one musket ball probably dating from around 1800 CE, might be earlier two Georgian buttons one thrupenny bit / threepence, from the 1930's a buckle a worn Georgian halfpenny Less usefully we found one ring-pull, some foil, and about half a dozen discarded shot cartridges from pheasant shooting in recent years.  All the items we found were within six inches (15cm) of the surface and in good flinty/chalky soil they will usually be even nearer to the surface.  Clay soils are more difficult and objects often escape detection by sinking down over the years. According to Joe, my guide and mentor, it's a logical but probabilistic game where you look for features and ancient tracks and if you detect something interesting you should concentrate on that area as finds are often concentrated into "hot spots".  High ground is often promising and sites of ancient settlements can be rewarding.  Joe has been really successful and has found some gold and silver coins some of which are currently at the British Museum which may be bought from him.  As any detectorist will tell you, there is always a moment of optimistic anticipation between the moment when the metal detector bleeps and when you have excavated and brushed off your find.  After the tell-tale bleep it's not always quick to track down small finds and many detectorists use a small handheld device for the last bit of close-range finding, called a "metal detector pinpointer". Joe showed me how to use the detector so that the head of the device, the coil, was parallel to the ground and I swept the head in wide, overlapping arcs so that no stone is left unturned - if it's got a coin under it.  Some of these devices have larger coils which enable more area to be covered and give the coil a better reach.  For our detection we used a Deus 1 detector, costing about £750 but Joe is about to invest £1,400 to get the Deus 2. "The UK is remarkably liberal for detectorists and although you need the landowner's permission you don't have to be qualified to detect', says Joe. In France,  a detectorist needs a special license from Authorities to search an area of land, as well as permission from the landowner. In Poland, detecting is banned.   Joe adds that "you can't detect on Sites of Scientific interest, Ministry of Defence land or Historic Monuments.   Also, if you find "treasure", such as gold or silver over 300 years old - you have, in England and Wales, to give first refusal to the authorities in case they want to buy it from you for a museum.   Usually if they do buy you find, the proceeds are shared equally between the landowner and the detectorist". For my metal detecting outing I had done some armchair homework by watching Mackenzie Crook's BBC Four series called "Detectorists".  It's a magical introduction to metal detecting, the club rivalries, nighthawks (illegal night-time detectorists), and the use of detectors to find lost objects.  It also has some scenes where Toby Jones portrays a character who finds gold "treasure" which gets displayed at the British Museum. Joe has a real ear - and eye - for the metal detecting hobby and he's been doing it for 13 years.  On our outing he found a shiny city livery button which he has dated to 1825 and was bought from a London Taylor's shop.  Livery buttons were part of the uniform that was worn by servants to a particular estate / household.  May be it was lost whilst searching the area for firewood. My half day of detecting left me astonished to find just how much metal there is in an ancient woodland.   It made me realise just how much unrecorded history exists in every part of Britain and how much of life used to happen outdoors.  In our three hour session, we must have detected about 20 interesting objects over just a very small part of the woodland - in the whole wood there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hidden objects.  History may be unrecorded here but it has left traces and detectorists have an important role in exposing the past life of woodlands. Treasure may be 2 or more silver or gold coins found together that are more than 300 years old, or if they contain less than 10% gold or silver there must be at least 10 in the find for it to qualify Any object that is more than 300 years old that contains more than 10% precious metal 2 or more artifacts which are base metal (not gold or silver) that are found together.  
At last,  my own wood.

At last, my own wood.

by blogs at woodlands, 23 January, 2022, 1 comments

So!  My story begins many, many years ago when I had a dream to own my very own woodland.  Of course I didn’t believe it would ever come true, however, a dream’s a dream and one day I decided to go for it.  I sold my house and downsized in a big way so that I had funds to realise my dream.  Then the search began, three years of searching. Everything I found was too far away, too expensive, too big, too small……!! Then, I fell on one for sale with Woodlands.co.uk, just five minutes from home and 6½ acres – perfect! I will never forget the day of completion.  I was soo excited and couldn’t wait to get the key to my gate so I could officially walk through my very own woodland.  As I struggled through the bracken and brambles, which in themselves were a delight…. Little birds popping out, discovering little plants, blackberries, raspberries, self-set holly bushes, oak trees… It was just wonderful.  The majestic Silver Birch trees towering over me giving sneak previews of the sky above.  The smell was just amazing…. Was it my imagination or was the air so pure with subtle scents of the tree and plant species. I was truly in my element. My intention was to spend as much time there as possible so setting up camp was a priority, along with a pathway so as not to disturb any wildlife/budding growths when clambering through the dense overgrowth. I cleared an area for the ‘camp’ which was soon to consist of a fire pit, stumps from the larger fallen trees for seats, a frame from cut off trees to throw a sheet of tarpaulin over - should the rain come. This little secret area became a huge part of the early days at the woodland. There’s nothing quite like boiling a kettle on an open fire, cooking lunch using the branches collected.  The smell, the warmth not to mention the smoke to keep the unwelcome little bug visitors away!!! Imagine my excitement when 7 deer came strolling past for the first time which gave me the idea to have an area to encourage them to visit so that we could hopefully see them regularly. Over the next few months, pathways were developed so that all areas of the woodland could be accessed with various areas of interest including a sensory garden, allotment, orchard, natural pond, various picnic areas, deer watch area, an ‘observatory’ to shelter us in the evening / night where we hide out and watched the night wildlife (deer, rabbits, owls), and our very own 'Hartley Hare' !!!).  On clear nights, watching the stars through the telescope is just amazing… there’s no light pollution so the sights are just amazing. Then there’s the memorial garden, inspired by my sister who I lost to Covid in March 2020. And, who could have a woodland without a bit of Winnie the Pooh – a tribute to Hundred Acre Wood!!! I have put bird boxes up to encourage varieties including Tree Creeper, Blue tits, Great Tits, Sparrows,, Nuthatches, Owls and baskets for Sparrow hawks, Hobbits and Buzzards. The original disappointment as squirrels moved into the Barn Owl box and Pigeons into the Tawny Owl box soon became delight as the babies arrived. It was so lovely watching the busy parents rearing their young. Then, the following season, guess what….. yes!!…. A Barn owl nested!! Friends and family just love to visit the woodland to enjoy the magical relaxing atmosphere; to explore the pathways leading to the various little nooks and crannies to search for plants, insects and just to sit quietly, listening to the birds and the rustle of the leaves. To anyone who has never thought of owning a woodland before, just imaging the freedom, the space, the never ending discoveries of plant life, tree life, wildlife and with imagination, you can make more than one dream come true.  To anyone who is thinking of owning a woodland…. Do it!  You will have nothing but pleasure and peace, and experience an immediate shift in your mental wellbeing and, if like me you have physical disabilities, the change of pace, the air, the green will have a positive impact on your aches and pains!!!           Thanks to Lesley for the above enthusiastic account of her woodland adventure.
Walking sticks and hazel nuts : Crith Wood

Walking sticks and hazel nuts : Crith Wood

by blogs at woodlands, 13 January, 2022, 1 comments

I purchased a small woodland in West Lothian in July 2020.  It is ex-forestry commission woodland of about 4.75 acres.  It had some open areas, gaps in its planting as a result of two gas-pipe easements through it. On one edge of the wood, there is a small river, the opposite boundary is a road. The parcel of woodland is one of several side-by-side blocks with common planting, mainly of larch, but with a fair number of hazel, oak, cherry, sycamore and a few stragglers of other species. I was attracted to this woodland because it had a mixture of well established trees, but also a good opportunity to plant out the unwooded areas (that might be a third of the area). Researching gas wayleaves, I found that the distance allowable for plantings from the actual pipeline varies with the species and size intended for the trees. There are simple restrictions on heavy plant digging along the route of the buried pipeline for obvious reasons.   My main objectives in buying a woodland were twofold  to have a nearby source of firewood (I live locally), and  to add to a legacy for my adult children - an inheritance of something a little different.  As an old saying goes – buy land, they’re not making any more of it! Initially I just visited the spot many times and got used to finding out what lives there, who goes there and what happens. Dog walkers use the area a lot, and trampled grass attest to their frequency. I’ve maintained their routes by trimming and mowing. but I also came across families of deer, and many different bird species. Despite there being over a hundred hazel trees, there seemed no evidence of squirrels; as yet I’ve never seen one. But what of these wayleaves? Wild meadowland is all very well, but these were more wild rushes land. Rushes abounded and the unplanted areas were almost 100% rushes. I researched a lot about these, and was keen to find a method of eradication that didn’t involve chemicals. I found it in an old fashioned scythe. Purchasing one and learning how to sharpen it, and use it to best effect, I found that after an initial foray with a sickle bar mower, the scythe was the best tool for keeping the rushes under control. Now after some eighteen months, I’ve probably got about a quarter of the rushes left and I am working to rid the wood of the rest. I don’t let them seed, nor get enough growth to keep going, consequently they’re dying. Planting Christmas trees would allow planting closer to the pipes / wayleaves. Off to a nursery in East Lothian I went and loaded up with a thousand Norway and Serbian Spruce seedlings. I’ve since bought another two hundred, so in total planted about 1200. Over 1100 survived the drought of summer 2021. And still I’ve found more space, so intend planting several hundred more, but will vary the varieties. I have also planted some willows from cuttings along the river bank. The hazels were an attraction. With more than hundred, perhaps even two hundred, it was obvious that they’d never been pruned, so I learned about that and set to work thinning them. This has led to making hazel walking sticks as a side hobby! I was looking forward to last autumn’s harvest, seeing the signs of the promised fruit early on and the developing nuts during the summer. Judging the right day to go and harvest them and expecting to fill a 200 litre drum,  off I went.   Imagine my surprise to find the ground all trampled and not a nut to be seen! This was the first sign of “squirrels”, ones that wear wellingtons!. I imagine someone has been harvesting them for years and how would they know that these now belonged to someone taking an interest in their land?  My grandchildren have loved going “to the forest”. And their grandfather likes the quiet, the flora, the fauna and the peace, even without nuts! The above account with thanks to Geoff Crowley
Growing Osier for Basketry.

Growing Osier for Basketry.

by blogs at woodlands, 17 November, 2021, 2 comments

Along with my wife Marie, we purchased a 3 ½ acre semi ancient woodland in South Wales from woodlands.co.uk in April 2020.   The site has a gentle slope from a country lane down to the river Rhymney, we have 2 springs, a stream, a wide variety of broadleaf trees, shrubs and a small amount of pine.   Much of the site had been neglected for many years and so with help and advice from others and a great deal of hard graft by Marie and I we are bringing the site back to a sustainable future. It is a delightful place to be, family and friends all enjoy spending time there and I don’t think I have ever been to the woodland without seeing or discovering something new.   We made a decision early on that an open area next to the river would be a good place to grow willow but we also wanted to utilise some willow for basketry. We had experience of neither.   The river can breach its banks and wash over the area occasionally although this is generally very short lived.  Although the rest of the woodland will be maintained with native species, the willow area is an experiment and we decided to plant a variety of species for basketry, some of these are non-native. We read a great deal about varieties, planting and harvesting and decided on the varieties we wanted to grow.   A very useful book titled Willow by Jenny Crisp gave us a lot of helpful information and ideas.  We based our choices around colour, they range from golden brown to yellow, red, green and black. Each variety will grow to different lengths in the same year once established, some as much as 17 feet. We searched on the internet for suppliers of cuttings for planting and were very fortunate to find a supplier, https://hattonwillow.co.uk/ based only a few miles away in Caerphilly.   Hatton Willow is run by a Sarah Hatton*, she has a plantation with 1000’s of willows and supplies cuttings for planting and basketry, runs basketry classes and makes various commissions as well as the odd appearance on 'The Repair Shop' and 'Country File'. The plants are supplied as rootless cuttings, about 12 inches long in the winter and need to be planted between November and March.  You are advised to lay weed suppressant material and to push the cuttings through this into the ground. If like us you are growing for harvesting, each row is planted 60cm apart and the cuttings 30cm to 60cm apart depending on the variety. This close planting ensures that the sticks grow straight and long and can be easily harvested the following year. We ordered 100 cuttings, 10 of each variety so the area taken up is relatively small. 100 plants won’t give us enough willow to go into production but supplemented with some bought sticks will give enough eventually to make some items for our own use. Once the leaves have dropped, we will cut this years growth back, some of which will become cuttings for new plants and over the years as the plants produce more sticks, we will have more to work with. The above image shows the growth on a few of this year’s saplings. Not as vigorous as we had hoped but next year they may establish better.  With our willows in the ground, we booked a course at Hatton Willow and used some of the £300 funding provided by woodlands.co.uk as part of our purchase to fund the course.  The  session taught us how to make a trug, the courses just span a day, all materials and tools are supplied and at the end of the day you come away having learnt enough of a new skill to repeat the work,  an understanding of the material and  expanded your knowledge  and created your own hand-made basket. What Next for us?  The options are endless, willow hurdles for our allotment, Christmas wreaths, nesters for birds, green willow sculpture, who knows, we’ll keep you posted. Marie and Marcus Beard. * Sarah runs her courses at the Nantgarw China Works, a venue worth a visit in it’s own right. Osier : Willows, also called sallows and osiers, from the genus Salix,  found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Deer, damage and the pandemic.

Deer, damage and the pandemic.

by blogs at woodlands, 2 September, 2021, 6 comments

Across the UK, there are several types of deer to be found in woodlands and rural areas namely : Red deer Sika Deer Roe Deer Reeves Muntjac Deer Fallow Deer Chinese Water Deer In recent times, the number of deer has increased and it is thought that there might be as many as two million wild deer in the UK - the highest number for many hundreds of years.  Unfortunately, deer can cause substantial damage to trees and woodlands.  Their feeding can cause a range of problems, which can include [caption id="attachment_34910" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Deer damage - bark removal[/caption] Stripping shoots, flower buds and foliage from plants Damage to woody stems, where a deer has bitten part way through the stem and then the shoot is tugged off - leaving a ragged end Eating the bark from younger trees. This mainly happens in winter when other food sources are scarce In addition to the damage associated with their browsing / eating activities, there is also the damage done by male deer who rub their heads / antlers against the trunks of younger trees.  This rubbing may be for scent marking or to remove the outer skin (velvet) present on a new set of antlers.  The antler rubbing results in cuts in the bark. [caption id="attachment_34415" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Remnants of birch woodland near Loch Muick are subject to browsing by red deer (especially in the winter), so temporary fences have been out in place to allow for regeneration and tree guards in place[/caption] Deer numbers are reduced by culling in order to supply restaurants, farm shops, and the hospitality sector with venison.   However, with the onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns / restrictions  the demand for venison dropped significantly (as has price) so very few deer were culled.  Consequently, the number of deer is increasing.  Deer have probably gone through one or two breeding cycles since the first national lockdown,  and numbers are set to increase.   The increase in deer numbers not only affects the trees in a woodland but also plants of the herb and scrub layer.   The loss of plant species and aspects of the structure of the woodland means that particular microhabitats are lost so that species such as nightingales and warblers are at risk. Without careful management of deer numbers, woodlands could become much more ‘uniform’ as deer have no natural predators (in the UK).  It is important that deer numbers are monitored  as they will do significant (most) damage to woodland in Spring as there’s not much food elsewhere for them. Young trees are particularly at risk, unless they are protected.

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