Coppice Revisited

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For the love of squirrels

It was extremely satisfying to revisit my hazel coppice work this morning to find significant signs of progress. The leggy trees were cut down to stumps in the autumn and we spent significant time opening up a gash in the high, shady canopy of mature sycamore trees to let the sunlight in. It’s still too soon to tell what effect this opening will have, but the stumps are already responding with a few minute crimson buds to suggest that the process of regeneration has begun.

Elsewhere, the woodland floor was a carpet of emerging bluebells, and their fresh, sour scent hung in the stillness beneath trilling peals of laughter from a green woodpecker. My botany is generally poor, but I spied dog mercury and wild garlic between the rising flowers, and galaxies of flowering sorrel peeped out from the shaded corners. Above them all, clumps of fiddlehead ferns curled up like speechmarks to punctuate the busy landscape.

It is a sign of my towering ignorance that I have lived for over thirty years on this planet and never really noticed wood anenomes before this spring. The flowers are stunning; each one a work of art against a collage of rich, bulbous greenery. In my defence, this oversight may be a matter of balance. Blackthorn is currently putting on such an extraordinary froth of white blossom that the effect has been quite startling in the dark, wintry landscape. I don’t ever remember the blackthorn blossom having been so absurdly prolific before, and I notice it everywhere I go. Perhaps the same applies to the wood anenomes, which might have been lurking on the peripheries of my vision for some time before finally stepping into the spotlight.

All this work on coppicing hazel has been carried out to introduce some diversity and excitement to an otherwise boring wood. I had hoped that in time these woods would provide useful habitat for our red squirrels, and bringing these trees into coppice rotation should pay dividends in the future.

I took the photograph (above) of a squirrel from the kitchen window this morning. Their business has become noisy and conspicuous over the last few weeks. Flashing, white-tummied tussles rush through the scrubby thorn trees, accompanied by girlish squeals of fury or delight. A drey is beginning to grow in the branches of the old scots pine below my office window, and the fuzz of activity is growing to a fever pitch.

Leaving the woods this morning after visiting my coppices, I looked again at the trees where my high seat will stand. A blackcap sang scratchy little tunes from inside a cage of dead ivy, and a flight of jackdaws came pealing overhead. Something tells me that I will enjoy sitting out for deer in this wood as the summer comes on.

Minute crimson buds show that regeneration has begun


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