Blog - Woodland Activities
Making walking sticks – from stems picked out of the woodlands
Woodlands.co.uk is 'republishing' this blog, as contact details for the Jones family are now available and several people have expressed an interest in having a walking stick 'custom made'. The blog originally appeared in 2014. Contact email address is pj451324(at)gmail.com Peter Jones and his sons make walking sticks on a serious scale using sticks they come across in the woods, where they do their forestry work. They use chestnut, silver birch, oak and hazel. But they avoid using willow, as it goes brittle once it's aged. Apart from finding the right stick to work on they need a steamer for bending the tops of the walking sticks and a good supply of sealant and varnish for protecting the finished sticks. "Honeysuckle makes the best twist sticks" advises out Peter Jones, who comes across a lot of twisted stems in Kent and East Sussex. As a result, he is able to trade these with fellow stick makers in more northern English areas - they give him carved tops for walking sticks in exchange for good twisted shanks. But even among twisted sticks there is variety: the slower growing trees such as holly and oak twist more slowly whilst the fast-growing chestnut twists quickly. Though he also corrected me pointing out that the maker of walking sticks should really be called a "stick dresser" Read more...
Of owls and dormice
Dave and I bought our lovely wood in Kent in 2019 because we wanted to surround ourselves in nature and have somewhere our children could visit to decompress from their busy lives. In due course, we hope our as-yet-unborn grandchildren can come and explore amongst the trees to root them firmly in the natural world. One day, we wish them to become the custodians of this beautiful space. But it was more than that for us. Dismayed by on-going news of threatened wild spaces, we wanted to play our small part to protect, cherish and encourage the biodiversity that calls our wood its home. Understanding how the wood ticks throughout the year was a steep learning curve for us and one that we shall still be climbing for many years to come. We have dug several small ponds, put up bird feeders and a large number of bird boxes, as well as clearing some glades and coppicing the hazel through the winter. Trail cameras have been sprinkled liberally around, all the better to find out what the wildlife is up to when we are away. We have found that there is a thriving population of Hazel Dormice in our wood and there are several badger holes and fox dens. [caption id="attachment_37873" align="aligncenter" width="640"] A Hazel Dormouse that has made a nest in a bird box[/caption] Green Woodpecker nest in the same hole in a cherry tree every year and this spring we have the thrill of a pair of Tawny Owls setting up home in one of our owl boxes. [caption id="attachment_37874" align="aligncenter" width="623"] A Tawny Owl hunting for worms on the woodland floor[/caption] White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies glide majestically through the woodland glades in August and Woodcock and Redwing fly in from distant lands to spend their winters here with us. We feel that the wood has given us so much - the joy of a deeper understanding of the woodland habitat, a space to clear our heads, bountiful aerobic exercise, and, in a small way, the opportunity to give a little bit back to the world.
Tree Planting Spades
So, you’ve decided to plant some trees and are wondering what tools you’ll need for the job. Whether you’re planting a select group of ornamental species, a bountiful orchard of fruit and nut trees or a new broadleaved woodland, there is one key aide which will take you a long way – the humble tree planting spade. This is a short guide to what you might find on the market and the differences between various spades. Spade or Spear? Most tree planting tools will fall into one of two categories: Spades - those shaped like a traditional spade with a curved head and a flat cutting edge at the bottom. They will look similar to a normal garden spade but much smaller. Spears – those with a flat face and a point at the end, designed to create a slot in the ground when pressure is applied to the tread by foot. Spades can be used to dig holes for planting and move soil around, making them more versatile tools, whilst spears are excellent for planting cell-grown* or bare root* stock, but are somewhat limited to this sole function. If planting larger trees with established root systems (root-ball* trees), then a spade is definitely the tool for you, as the slot created by a spear would not be sufficient to house the root system without causing crushing. In contrast, for those looking for an efficient method to plant lots of small trees quickly, for example when establishing new woodland for carbon offsetting purposes, then a spear should definitely be considered. Comfort is key Like many things, it often comes down to personal preference and what you feel most comfortable with. There is no right or wrong tool to use, as long as the tree is planted in a way that does not damage it (for example by burying the root collar) then you’re on the right track. Planting trees is a wonderful thing to do and as much as possible, you should work with tools that make the process a pleasure, which hopefully means you’ll spend more time doing it! Other factors to consider An often-overlooked detail is the length of the shaft and handle, which for those who are slightly taller or have the odd back pain, can make a big difference! A nice long handle will take the strain off those sensitive back muscles, as well as offering a bit more leverage which can be of assistance when planting in heavier soil types. The materials and quality of construction is also important; try wherever budget allows to buy once and buy well! Some cheaper tools made from inferior parts may not stand the test of time, or worse still let you down when you’re out in the field with a bag full of whips. A solid wooden handle (or better still stainless steel) with a galvanised steel head is a good option, ideally with a double-riveted socket which will provide greater strength. Where to buy and how much? Tree planting spades are available to buy at most garden centres and agricultural supply stores, such as Mole Valley. They are also widely available to buy online from specialist tool suppliers. Whilst you could pick one up from as little as £20, and pay up to £100 for the very best, you will be able to buy an excellent spade for around £30-£35. Bulldog Tools are a reliable supplier and would be a good option to consider. Do what works for you! Planting trees is good fun and of benefit to the planter, the wider community and the environment. A communal activity and a great form of exercise, the more trees we can all plant, the better! This means that you should use a planting spade (or spear) which is comfortable to use and gets the job done. If possible, try out a couple of different designs and manufacturers (borrow from a friend or neighbour where possible) before making the decision, but always remember they are in essence doing the same thing – making a home for a tree where it will live for many years to come. *Tree types Bare root trees – Produced by sowing seeds into outdoor beds. During development, seedlings are undercut to encourage a healthy root system. When ready, the trees are lifted and shaken by a machine to remove the soil, revealing the ‘bare’ roots of the tree. They can only be lifted and planted during the winter months when they are in a state of dormancy. A cost-effective option. Cell grown stock – These trees are developed in a compost ‘cell’ or ‘plug’ and can be seen as an intermediate option between bare root and pot grown. When removed from the cell, the fibrous root system is contained with the compost which remains on the roots. More expensive than bare root but generally has a higher success rate and can be planted all year round. Root ball or pot grown – These trees are the most developed and largest of the three options and are delivered with a significant ball of soil surrounding an advanced root system. The root ball will be encased in a biodegradable material. Great for those who want more established trees from the offset, although there is a price to be paid for this benefit.
Sorry, you’ve bought a woodland?
That’s the most common reaction among friends, family and colleagues when mentioning our latest project. So I thought it would be fun to share a little about why we have in the hope it will help others who may be considering it. We’ve always had a love for the outdoors; I grew up practising my Scout skills on Dartmoor and Exmoor and my wife hiking and living on the North York Moors. Fast forward 19 years and with boys of 8 and 11 we had spent days and days during Co#%d outside. We’d chat about the environment, ecology, camping and escapism amongst other things. I’d dreamt of owning a woodland for years and we could now think about making it a reality. I must confess that it’s taken a year or so of convincing my wife that rather than having money sat doing nothing in savings, thinking about a camper-van or extending the house - it would be much more prudent to leave something for future generations and critically much more fun to learn about and apply our ideas from those Co#%d chats in our own woodland and more so to share some of that with our family and friends. What blew me away in the process was how much the boys would help. The ideas were flowing; camping, hammocks, making fires Bear Grylls style, bird/owl/bat box making and installing, planting new trees, wildlife trail cameras, dens, bird hides, benches, swings, obstacle courses, tree houses, a pond, a zip line, a zip line over a pond! You get the idea. The boys’ ideas have spurred us into investigating and learning about the interconnectivity of many of these ideas; bracken control by digging a pond to encourage a new natural wetland habitat, new wildlife, opening an area above for bats and birds, the potential for new mammals, creating an area for relaxation and quiet reflection. We might also be creating entrepreneurs as the boys have realised they could earn some pocket money by selling poles or netting kindling or even one day carving spoons. They’ll keep us on our toes that’s for sure. And how about something for me? Apart from the gadgets I’ve been secretly buying, the latest project is a compost loo with a view - made from old pallets. Ticks off the categories of environment, sustainability, ecology and escapism all in one hit. And we’re only at the beginning, what else might come in the future? Four weeks have rolled by since the purchase, many of those same friends and family now say things like “it’s so great how much the boys are into it!”. Isn’t it just?!…and in reflecting on the title of this post; no, we’re not sorry at all! Far from it! To track our progress and time as a woodland owning family please follow us on Instagram @grange_close_wood. Jethro.
Home to roost : an owl box.
In late winter, it’s good to put up new nest boxes and clear out existing ones, in time for the breeding season. In Ellekers Wood, as part of our management plan, we've been making lots of new boxes for birds and bats. Bats are currently having problems finding food to eat, plus many of their natural roosting places have disappeared. Building a bat box offers them :- somewhere safe to roost, a place to raise their pups and Sleeping quarters during the day. Our biggest boxes are the two tawny owl ‘chimney boxes’. Tawny (or brown) owls (Strix aluco) ‘own’ the classic owl hoot. They will nest in large gardens with trees, but woodlands are good for them. Their diet ranges from worms to rabbits. Tawny owls like a north east facing entrance, with a clear route. Our boxes are made from 1" thick, rough sawn larch planks. We followed the RSPB design. Each box is approximately 800mm long (measurements / specifications available here). Fortunately, Dan has a head for heights and he has installed the boxes in mature oak trees at a height of approximately 6 metres. The tawny owl typically makes its nest in a tree hole where it can protect its eggs and young against potential predators. They will occupy / nest in smaller cavities than barn owls and the design of the box reflects this. As tawny owl chicks start to explore their surroundings before fledging, it is important that the boxes are placed with easy access to nearby branches, so that they can climb over. As with many species of birds, tawny owls are sensitive to disturbance when incubating their eggs, and should not be approached as they can be aggressive. It is important that consideration is given to the siting of any box [embed]http://youtu.be/RfXIHXCyTNk[/embed] Full details of RSPB nest boxes for various birds can be found here : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/nestboxes-for-owls-and-kestrels/
On buying a woodland
Recently, woodlands.co.uk asked me some questions about ‘buying a woodland’. So here goes : How did you find your woodland? As a local, I found the woodland by walking with my partner and our dog. My partner’s family lived in the village for a number of years. Were there surprises you found in the first few weeks of owning your wood? The biggest surprise for me in the early weeks was the expansiveness of my woodland, every time I would visit I would find something different. This could be a different tree species,a path or a bird. Did you set up a campsite and how did that go? One of my goals was to camp at least once a month, starting with my first month of ownership in January! Camping has given me the opportunity to spend more time in the woods, not just mornings / afternoons and appreciate the peace and quietness. How have you managed the woodland? Management so far has been cutting overstood hazel coupes for regeneration and collecting good firewood for home. Rotten or poor-quality wood has been collected and stacked for wildlife habitats, especially oak! The hazel rods have been for craft activities ,with the brush piles being left for insects. What are your future plans for the woodland? Future plan for the woodland is to introduce different native species of tree. I have around 20 saplings I have potted on at home, that will eventually be moved into the wood. With the regeneration of hazel, the crop I intend to use to create deadwood hedges for protecting young trees from deer. How have various members of the family got involved in the woodland? All of my family have visited the woods and helped in some way. Whether it be firewood, coppicing or bringing food to have with a hot drink! What practical projects have you done or planned for your woodland? How did you do these? My partner and I both enjoy wood craft such as pyrography and woodturning. A lot of oak limbs that have come down during storms have been used to make presents for friends and family, and decorations for our home. What advice would you give to someone buying a small woodland? My best bit of advice would be to wait for the woodland that has what you want. Woodlands come in all shapes and sizes; and getting the right patch can make your experience a lot more enjoyable. In terms of flora, what have you learnt in the woodland? I have learnt that woodlands like mine (broadleaf) provides a home for hundreds of plants, flowers and insects. The humid conditions in oak woodlands provides ideal conditions for rare / hard to find flowers such as orchids and so many types of fungi and lichens. David
Detectorists, using metal detectors, becoming … detectives
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.
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.