One of my first projects on the Chayne was to fell an acre of mighty spruce trees which had been planted in the 1940s to form a windbreak. As is often the way with spruces, these trees had grown into monsters, providing little shelter for livestock and simply shading out the undergrowth below into a rabbit-frayed carpet. The trees had outlived their original purpose, and since I dropped them in their tracks, they have been fuelling my wood burning stove for the past six years. I have kept one or two standing because they attract crow’s nests, and there are two really nice granny scots pines which provide a lovely, distinctive silhouette on a hill that is defined by wide open spaces.
When I say that the trees were monsters, it’s worth noting that one particularly vast spruce produced a stump that was four feet wide when it fell, and even now there are still many tons of firewood to be had. Of course felling these trees produced a prodigious quantity of brash and litter, and while some of the branches were as thick as ten or fifteen year old trunks, the majority was simply made up of serrated twigs and the kind of whippy branches that catch you in the eyes.
In my enthusiasm and naiveté, I simply stacked all this rubbish in a heap and told myself that it would soon rot away. Not so. The great heaps slowly simmered down into round-topped pancakes and then did no more. Some of these piles were chest-high, and they took up two thirds of the area I had tried to clear. I have long cherished the ambition to replant the wood with a mixture of juniper, scots pine and holly; the kind of dense, thick-bottomed stuff which comes in handy when you’re a blackcock and the snow is down. I even had whimsical ideas that this blend should be threaded with honeysuckle and brambles, and I decided that 2017 would be the year it should finally happen. Seizing the day, I hired a wood chipper and set to clearing out the brash and litter in a massive assault combining axes, chainsaws and fire. Progress turned out to be heavy-going, but there is now a good area cleared to be replanted next month.
As a comment, the big piles of brash were much loved by the local rabbit population, and the depths of those heaps were riddled with holes and burrows. My dogs spent an uninterrupted seven hours digging for rabbits as we worked to clear some space, and against all odds, they even managed to catch one. But this is an unwholesome home for a rabbit – dank, dark and miserable. Rabbits in this wood are frequently so riddled with liver fluke that I refuse to eat them, and their population booms and busts with the seasons. It’s interesting to think that this kind of lifestyle in the soaking gloom might be contributing to their parasite burdens.