A Decade Down the Line

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Looking West through an area of spruce I felled 10 years ago

Given that this blog is now approaching its tenth birthday, it makes sense to revisit some of the work undertaken during the last decade. It turns out that I’ve covered a good deal of ground, although some of it has not gone according to plan.

One of my first acts on the hill was to try and thin out a fifteen acre spruce windbreak in order to replant it with native trees. If nothing else, this offered me some good exercise. I threw the chainsaw around and carried a thousand trees out by hand to be planted where the spruces had fallen. I wasn’t alone in this work, and a number of friends turned out to back me. I even had help from a class of students from the gamekeeping college at Newtonrigg near Penrith, and soon the windbreak was on the move.

In the pitch of my ignorance, I hadn’t reckoned on the impact of the southwesterly wind. No sooner had I thinned the wood than a good deal of it was blown over. Things began to look a little scruffy, but I worked away and tried to “tidy up” the mess. Then more winds came, and the windbreak became a ruin. I was a little embarrassed, and given the open nature of this hill, the wreckage was visible from ten miles away. I could feel the eyes of the parish upon me; “what a mess that idiot boy’s making”.

In my mind’s eye, I proposed to install a birchwood, mixed with rowan, oak and scots pine. The reality has been a tangled nightmare of windblown trees, and at first I measured my failure on how far short I had fallen. But then other interesting things began to happen. The fallen spruces were colonised by willowherb and brambles; heather and blaeberry began to resurge where light reached the ground. Many of my birch and rowan trees did very well because there were no deer in the wood, but soon the roe arrived and began to make their presence felt. So I shot the deer, and in stalking and lying out, I discovered that the wood had become home to long eared owls, spotted flycatchers and breeding woodcock. A greyhen produced a brood of seven youngsters from this messy tangle, although perhaps the stinger is that at least four of them were killed by goshawks which set up in the same wood. When I saw a blackcock picking birch buds off the rising scrub, I began to feel like I was getting somewhere – albeit by accident.

It’s not a pretty piece of work. It’s not something I’m overtly proud of, but in walking through the wood today, I found that it took me almost an hour to cover a hundred yards. I was totally preoccupied with a million little details; a mass of wild animal tracks, feathers, fungus and plants warranted scrupulously close examination, and I began to compare this walk with the windbreak I started with a decade ago. There was nothing to be seen back then; perhaps a crow’s nest and a few dunnocks around the fringes, but that would be on a busy day. Now it’s alive and twisting, and I’m keen to fire up the chainsaw and shake it some more.

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