Woodland Working

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Working in the same wood five years ago.

After several days away, it’s been a pleasure to get back to work on the Chayne. I headed up last night with the chainsaw to tackle some of the worst areas of fallen sitka spruce which have swirled and tumbled like pick-up-sticks in the wind over the past few years. This was partly deliberate, as felling other trees elsewhere provided an opening for the wind to ply its trade. I want to fell this entire wood and replant it with scrubby broadleaf trees in due course, and to begin with I imaged that any fallen spruce was a good spruce. In reality, the tangle of tumbled timber is turning out to be a nightmare, and many of the collapsed trunks are now beginning to bend skyward, simply adapting to a more horizontal lifestyle.

From my perspective, this outcome was initially far better than the status quo. A broken canopy and lots of variety in the structure of the wood drew in black grouse, goshawks and long eared owls (a particular delight) within a few short years. Clearfelled areas attracted roe deer, which had been a major ambition since the outset – I have only seen them once or twice, but the damage they are causing to my newly planted birch trees suggests that they are more than just occasional visitors.

The problem is that the more these trees twist and tumble into a vast ten acre bird’s nest, the less accessible it is becoming for me to replant and maintain. Already there is a bristling of stubbly self-sown sitka scrub, and this will need to be pruned and held back over the next few years otherwise we’ll be back to stage one. I would quite like a scattering of small sitkas in the wood (which is lucky, because there is no way of avoiding this), but if I physically cannot reach these little buggers behind their fortress of fallen timber, they will easily reset the clock and I will end up with something less interesting and dynamic than the awful monotonous rows I started with.

I spent a few hours last night tidying up fallen trees and brashing them into piles so that the ground can soak in some sunlight. Elsewhere in the wood where the ground is clear, fireweed and brambles are already colonising, providing a nice little fuzz of activity to boost ground-lurkers like breeding woodcock and blackgame. In one area, I ring-barked fifty spruces and let them die. Not only did they take an extraordinarily long time to turn brown and the needles to come off, but now the swishing atmosphere of dead timber overhead is decidedly eerie. A pay-off is that the under storey is now reviving, and there are screeds of blaeberry and honeysuckle starting to emerge. All this will be replanted in due course and the work could all have been done in a couple of days by a proper harvester, but carrying out the work myself is not only excellent exercise, but it also allows me to see the changing face of woodland as a habitat for wild birds.

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