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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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