Over the past few weeks we’ve been working in an old, unmanaged wood on my parents’ farm. The trees are an odd mix of sycamore, hazel and a bizarrely enormous leyland hedge which serves as a safehouse for every roosting woodpigeon in the parish. From my perspective, the whole mixture could do with some hands-on management, not only to up the quantity of available firewood, but alsno to create some interesting new possibilities for conservation.
Although we have no dormice in Galloway, I love the kind of short-rotation coppice wood favoured by those fantastic little guys, and reading around the subject has led me to all kinds of other biodiversity benefits brought about by careful rotational management, not least for our thriving population of red squirrels. Guidance online has explained that woodland managed in a variety of different stages is best for squirrels, so it’s hardly surprising that they seldom stay long in this even-aged place. If firewood and conservation weren’t enough, the prospect of a roe deer or two in the larder has breathed enthusiasm into a side project which is taking on a life of its own.
The first job has been to fell some of the massive old sycamores and let some life into the understorey. The ground is littered with tiny ash and holly seedlings trying to come through, but rather than rush into the sky, they cower in the shade and inevitably fall foul of the deer and the rabbits. Now that we have begun work on a substantial “glade”, I hope that they can get a headstart next summer. In the meantime, I’m really keen to coppice some of the hazel which is similarly stunted by the shade, and in due course it will hopefully provide a wealth of useful wood.
I took this photograph (above) today from a tall beech tree where I hope to build a high seat over the winter. I know next to nothing about deer management in woodlands, so this first experiment should be extremely interesting. If nothing else, spending time in the woods is an excellent balance to my life in the hills, where trees are usually foul, prickly affairs. It’s refreshing to have a whole new habitat to explore, and I find that I’m already getting carried away with ideas of making charcoal and building owl boxes.