General outlook

Wurthymp Wood is a 17 acre / 6.9 hectare plot, forming part of a mixed woodland 30 acre farmland project planted by others in 2006.

From January 2015 it has stood as a stand-alone woodland conservation project in a wider landscape mosaic.
The woodland is privately owned and funded and is run on a break-even sustainable basis, resources are shared with the Meadowcopse Orchard Project a few miles to the north.

The primary objectives are mixed:-
a, Wildlife habitat conservation (trees, grassland and ponds).
b, Rotational coppice woodland management (thinning, regeneration, rural craft materials and firewood).
c, Selective long-term forestry tree management (coppice with selected standard trees left long-term).
d, Community, educational and research engagement, for the promotion and understanding of wildlife and sustainable conservation in a wider landscape context.

Monday, 5 February 2018

2018 - Gossip!

I would be grateful, if the person in the village making unfounded gossip about myself, my property, its boundaries and neighbours would kindly stop.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have no business connections to anybody else.
(Such issues have been raised before and cordially addressed with a hosted visit by a small number of local residents).

I'm not sure of the motives of someone to make things up and present such things as fact to others, other than being misguided as well as somewhat discourteous. At this stage I don't consider it malicious.

I will however politely address any issues that have spread and arisen from conversations that have taken place, so that recipients have the chance of a balanced and truthful view.

If the originator wishes to discuss on here, by all means...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

2017 December at the woods

A little behind with Blog updates - shorter updates of activities and photos from the woods, together with links to similar activities elsewhere are on the @WurthympWood Twitter feed...

Winter suddenly appeared after a 'damp' mild couple of months (Two years ago, winter was almost unworkable due to saturated ground from November to February and having to leave vehicles at the gateway. The mild damp isn't great for plant and tree health with risks from pathogens).

Both here and at the Orchard Project I look after, a cold spell at the end of September seemed to start the autumn / winter season, but then a relatively mild spell gave opportunity for plants to remain in leaf or even re-bud - challenging for when the frost arrives...

Other weather challenges have been a couple of storms - high winds helping the autumn leaves depart the trees (although this is mainly a biological process by the tree...) - the extra vision through the denuded trees helps spot hazardous 'hung' lengths of branches from grey squirrel damage (they particularly strip bark about 2 to 3 metres down from the tops of the high willow trees).
This poses the risk of sizeable falling branches at some point, as well as compromising tree viability.
The worry is that they will move to the slower growing oak and ash in the woodland. Grey squirrel damage has noticeably increased in the taller trees over the last year.

It was a great opportunity to have talented Cheshire ecological botanist Joshua Styles visiting the woodland plot late summer. 
Although a bit tight for time, an incredibly detailed range of vegetation species recorded and a great help towards steering a relatively young woodland with open grassland, into a suitable direction for long term sustainable habitat management.
Mr. Styles hosts an important rare species project - The North West Rare Plants Initiative which would welcome further support...

One waits for an ecologist, then another comes along - in a wider joined up habitat context, Dr. Martin Page from Cheshire Ecology paid a visit whilst working near by. Underpinning the importance of working in a wider overall landscape habitat context with others.

Although this year has mainly been tree and plant focused on site, quite a bit of effort observing and monitoring wildlife species and populations. 
Whilst photographing trees in the storm, one of the hares on site was sheltering...

Another area of work, or rather a battle, has been invasive duckweed in the central pond in the woods.
Quite a bit of work both in a wet-suit netting and removing, pumping out and a small rowing boat has made some small headway.
Chatting to more experienced folk, it would seem the location and hedges shelter the pond from wind and allow the duckweed to proliferate (compared to more exposed ponds in the locality, where a prevailing breeze pushes clumps of the weed to pond margins).
It's an ongoing battle - particularly as the cover leads to further Eutrophication and compromising the water quality and potential for wildlife in the pond.

I did happen to spot a juvenile Palmate Newt overwintering (ironic, considering I've started to make a bankside 'hibernaculum' for reptiles), no great crested newts spotted yet. Various frogs and toads in the open grassland vegetation throughout the site too.

I've had numerous off-site visits elsewhere over the last few months - site visits, courses, conferences, trade fairs etc.
The fantastic Smallwoods at Ironbridge / Coalbrookdale, Shropshire host both practical courses and meetings for interested parties (with a great cafe on site too).
Combined with the Small Woodland Owners Group, they hosted an informative visit to two interesting woodland enterprises in Devon late summer, a long way to go, but one of the locations was friends at the Bulworthy Project near Rackenford. A fantastic sustainable productive and wildlife friendly woodland project (They also have a luxurious off-grid cabin in their woodland which makes for a relaxed Devonshire holiday retreat...)
Mindful of my 'carbon footprint, whilst travelling down south - a visit to Mole Valley Farmers for some tools and equipment (They have just taken over the troubled 'Countrywide' stores further north), together with a visit to specialist tree nurseries for my orchard project and then a look through Somerset and Wiltshire landscapes at a leisurely pace for a day or so before heading home.

Shropshire being on the doorstep, I had a wet but informative day horse-logging south of Shrewsbury.
(I've worked heavy horses before with old agricultural implements, as well as riding, driving and a brief attempt at jousting)!
I'm seriously considering the utility and low impact of a horse working tree extraction whilst coppicing in the woods (compared to a tractor or dumper).

On the subject of coppicing - how does one convince folk that selective of chopping down trees can be good? (in the appropriate circumstances).

Coppicing is arguably the most sustainable and traditional method of woodland management in the U.K. - the periodic cropping of trees, the light coming in until multiple stems regrow, gives a long sustainable cycle to woodland custodianship.
It is the main aspect behind the Wurthymp Wood long-term management plan - yes a significant number of quality trees will be left to grow on as forest trees beyond my lifetime, but meanwhile a variable under-story over a cycle of time, will let light in, the vestiges of grassland flower seeds allowed to flourish until the light is shrouded by tree canopy, then opened up again on a long repeating cycle.

Because I'm also slowly working my way through traditionally laying the roadside hedge, I might have to use a tractor and flail with regards to impingement road traffic safety.
There will come a time when an area of coppice  is adjacent to layed hedge. This has implications for the several barn and tawny owls on site and possible flight collision with traffic.
Some of the coppice edge trees near the roadside hedge are being pollarded - that is cut traditionally above animal browsing (head) height.
It means any owls foraging across the woods when passing over the pollard regrowth, are above any (particularly HGV) traffic along the road boundary regarding impact.

A bit late in the year, a visit to the talented folk at Alvecote Wood near Tamworth on one of their informative open days. Always a pleasure to visit and learn what what have been up to. 
Apart from having an established historic woodland, they are about 6 or 7 years ahead of me on organisation and management. Together with a young woodland alongside (their newer planting scheme has similar ponds and open spaces to here, which are an important consideration in an overall woodland context). Other European countries are ahead of us in recognising 'wood pasture' history with maybe the exception of the New Forest and some historic parklands.
Alvecote wood make good use of laminated QR codes for info on woodland features...

Closer to home, it's been a great year overlapping with some neighbours and locals - I hope I come across as passionate rather than condescending, but I can be a bit of a doom-monger of what can go wrong (I've spent 30 years overlapping mainly with woodland and conservation projects with groups of various levels of activity and extent and there are always things to learn and things to share), or what multitudes of paperwork / directives / guidelines (changing over time) have to be considered regarding appropriate management, long term practical and academic consensus from studies etc. - but that at least puts a hand-brake on potentially rushing into things.

The next couple of years pose some economic and political challenges.
At the moment the structured and integrated landscape and habitats guidance I work to goes back to the EU Habitats Directive and how that is interpreted and enshrined under present English and Welsh legislation. (Welsh devolved powers add a further tangent, particularly as objectives and resources begin to diverge).
That now is up in the air and various external pressures and potential changes pose a threat to landscape scale projects generally with respect to the direction things might go. 
I don't claim any subsidies (from a personal and moral perspective, the woodland has to at least break even from timber produce and be sensitively 'productive' with a wildlife balance).

At some point in 2018, I hope to host an open weekend at the woods.
An informal couple of days outlining the site objectives for trees and wildlife, together with relaxed wildlife observations etc.
I need to ensure site access is safe beyond just the footpath through the site and more easily accessable.
2017 has seen a sudden upsurge in random visitors wandering 'off-track' and actually being quite challenging if challenged.
Various reasons are behind reminding folk the site is privately owned and operated. Firstly personal safety, as it is an actively managed woodland worksite.
Next, biosecurity is a big issue with respect to native woodlands - sadly ash die-back is confirmed on site, this could affect 25% of the trees regarding viability / longevity. Although mainly an air-borne problem, people and dogs randomly walking through off track, risk spreading this tree disease - particularly to non-infected offsite locations elsewhere too.
One problem has been random walkers with dogs off-lead (Some driving some distance to the locality and parking across the access gates, with no interest or concern for site operations or wildlife). Two years ago there was seasonal grazing livestock on-site and grazing for grassland species management will shortly resume. People suggesting "Oh, they are O.K." with respect to dogs off-lead is not acceptable and is frankly irresponsible with respect to wildlife and ground nesting birds on site. 
North Wales Police have plenty of recent case incidents where this has become a problem and resulted in mutilated livestock and euthanased pets...

I really want to move the woodland site forward in a positive and informed way. I hate prohibitive  signs, but the irresponsible (and sometimes illegal) actions of a small minority have pushed a trial of a few reasonable reminders at entry points. People are welcome to visit at reasonable times, but by prior agreement and contact. (Location, safety and response details available).

I'm really keen to share low impact sustainable woodland practice and associated crafts, as well as learn and share from experienced practitioners and the educational value from wildlife and ecological observations. This is two-way and ranges from folk wandering through a woodland for relaxation and contemplation, across the board to high level habitat surveys and species enhancement.

Next major scope of work (once winter dries out and warms to spring), is further local / native wildflower enhancements along the footpath (soil disturbance has released a reasonable amount of dormant seed that has germinated from when the woods were open grassland). Together with a more  structured management of mowing the grassed areas as proper hay meadow (with increasing species richness).

Field Pansy Viola arvensis 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

2017 September - Road Gateway replacement base

No, the site isn't being developed, just a 'duty of care' to keep the gateway safe and minimise the risk of mud going on the road...
Although not obvious, the overall woodland plot has three different owners, each within their respective boundaries with no overlap of involvement, other than neighbourly good-will and general habitat / tree and wildlife considerations for the landscape mosaic as a whole.
For myself, the access gateway is shared halfway for the plot behind and together with the neighbour we work towards access safety and a gradual move towards a safe roadside sight-line, balanced against reinstatement / replanting of hedge and verge wildflowers etc.

For whatever reason, random additional non-owner vehicles in the gateway have disrupted what little stone bed was of use, so a new limestone base has gone in.
Over the last year quite a bit of liaison work has gone on with academics and woodland experienced folk with respect to the overall habitat and appropriate forward management.
I've spent nearly 30 years in various ways and with various groups, folks and activities regarding woodland management, particularly balancing sensitive sustainable production with wildlife habitats and conservation (I spend a lot of time visiting other sites).

The woodland has had a few invited visitors this year, particularly ecologists, conservationists and wildlife observers.
This is to establish what species (plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, insects) are on site, so that appropriate tree and grass land management goes in the most beneficial direction.
Part of the work below is to make things safer for visitors, particularly for those travelling and not familiar with the locality.

Materials were ordered in from Loweroak on the Wrexham Industrial Estate and equipment hired from Broxton Gates - I'm a big fan of supporting local business and the local economy...

Risk assessments and site briefing, groundwork and crushed limestone delivery out the way, time to get the base rolled down and finished.

A damp October and now frost has held up some of the splay replanting, but some hedging plants and wildflowers already in...

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

August 2017

A busy few months both at home and at the woods, which left an unintentional gap on monthly woodland blog updates.
A couple of away-days too, particularly facilitated by Smallwoods at Ironbridge / Coalbrookdale, as well as attending a couple of country shows that have a reasonable environmental aspect and a return visit to the Bulworthy Project woodland in Devon.

Back in the woods, a bit of species and wildlife spotting and some preparations prior to the reintroduction of seasonal grazing in a couple of areas.
Quite a few dragon and damsel flies around this last month, but only managed to photograph what i think is a Red Darter...

Some steady work on the Public Footpath that passes from Worthenbury to Threapwood through the woods - after some positive dialogue with the Council Rights of Way Officer, who was looking at issues elsewhere in the village.
A narrow wooden bridge over the central ditch was getting a bit dilapidated and slippery in the winter months.
Longer term plans are to mow the path at a wider width between the trees, together with coppiced / shrub layer sides for greater light and shade variation and ultimately a wider range of species biodiversity.
To make access safer and to be able to pass through with the mower more easily, a culvert for the ditch has been put in place of the narrow wooden bridge.

Ditch culvert prior to backfill

Sadly a few visitors along the Public Footpath have not been too respectful of their surroundings...
The plastic packaging strip in the photo below, is about the most damaging litter for wildlife that can be left lying around. Too easy for small mammals and birds to get trapped, but not easy to get out of.

A couple of folk have been wandering off the path too.
The woodland is private land with no concessionary access (unless by prior arrangement).
A couple of times dog walkers have been asked to put their dogs on a lead whilst away from the path. I won't accept "Oh, they are alright." They aren't!
They should be under close control along the path and preferably on a lead when seasonal grazing livestock are on site. Importantly, there are a colony of hares in the woodland and it is mainly for this reason people are respectfully requested to keep to the Public Footpath and their dogs under control.

One of the hares on the woodland margins.

With the risk of coming across all "Get orff my laaand..." Someone has been practicing bushcraft skills in the woods. Great that youngsters are out and about in the natural environment, but some discussion beforehand would have been appropriate before building a den.
A little annoying that some fencing materials had been used from in the middle of a job, but also it has been put up right in the middle of an Ash Die back disease area. Although this tree disease is mainly spread by spores airborne, trampling through the fallen leaves increases the risk of spread - particularly to other woodlands via footwear.
People should ask before wandering in and doing stuff like this.

Quite a few Common Blue butterflies around earlier in August.
A proportion of the woods is managed as traditional grassland / meadow for biodiversity (11 years ago it was open fields before the trees were planted).

Mowing for hay is helping re-establish grassland plant diversity.
Noticeable are knapweed, birdsfoot trefoil, cuckoo flower, vetch and cowslips. 
Thanks to the neighbour for doing the mowing and putting the traditional baler to work as part of productive management of the grass / meadow areas.

Birch coppice from the woodland edges is regenerating after its first cut (approx every fifth tree on a yearly basis.
Some of the willows have been pollarded at head height and the first large coppice area has regenerated nicely with multiple stems between 1 to 2 metres in the first season.

Some ground work along the footpath has disturbed some dormant seeds with field pansy Viola arvensis appearing. The extra light from selective tree thinning along the footpath is part of a longer term programme to plant more appropriate local / native wild flowers.

One curiosity is this bumble bee - I'm told it is a white tail bee, but these usually have a yellow middle stripe.

Grey squirrel damage is still a problem, particularly with the willows at height - although the photo is one of the Hornbeam treas from ground level (since coppiced).

Badgers have left a few tracks, but no obvious signs of a sett (guessing the ground conditions are too wet).

Owls (Tawny and Barn) frequent the woodland and the long stretch of footpath with grassy edges give a good foraging ground.
The area is also good for bats to swoop through.
The photo is of three owlets along the footpath earlier in the year.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

March 2017

After the final months of winter being a bit grey and wet, with rain making  a ground conditions difficult for work, Spring finally arrives.

Hedgelaying regrowth has reasuringly appeared and although by no means competition standard, the length cut gives me some ideas for reworking and reujuvenating the hedge along the roadside over the next couple of years.

Coppice regrowth has begun in a small area selectively felled (this has been done to vary the age and height profile of a relatively uniform young woodland, as well to create sustainable multiple trunk stems to rework several years later.

And a week later...

There are around 530 birch trees on the plot, mainly planted in a single row around the track edges.
Some are leaning due to the general wind direction.
I've started to coppice around every fithth tree (repeating on an approximate 5 year cycle), again to create multiple stems as regrowth.
On a long 'to do' list is making birch sap wine and birch sap syrup.

Footpath edge habitat enhancement (preparations) are ongoing. This is to make the Public Footpath more obvious and usuable throughout the year.
The increased width gives greater scope for varied vegetation margins and benefits for wildlife biodiversity.

Ash Die Back finally discovered by visual inspection. Classic symptoms and confirmed with dialogue and a sample sent to Forest Research as part of their monitoring scheme.

Monday, 6 February 2017

February 2017

An interesting week as January rolled into February.
The ground still a little damp underfoot, but a noticeable amount of fresh green growth in places and quite a bit of wildlife.
A couple of hosted visits...

The first was a small group of local villagers (instigated from concerns about perceptions of development).
I'd made a reasonable effort to bring some laminated cards of work scopes and conservation activities on the plot, classic habitat and woodland management guidance books, legislation details etc. that I work to, together with a tea-urn and sandwiches at a half-way point.
Unfortunately a member of the group was challenging from the start, interrupting any semblance of an introduction of myself, background, past projects and my view forward.
I was about to pack things up and go, but felt that despite most concerns being unconnected to myself, or being matters that would become self-evident, it was worth cutting the introduction and what had become an adversarial start, to moving through the site and try and move forward positively.
Within 100 metres things became more cordial and chatty by the time we got to the sandwiches.
Hopefully everyone went away with rumours quashed, genuine interest in what I do and an understanding of the balance of wildlife and productive trees on the plot.
Also, the guided walk hopefully draws a line under any local misgivings about the woodland and quashes any escalation to an unfounded rumours stage.
An extra bonus was the local village hall having an open night after refurbishment, later in the week and being able to chat informally to a couple of people who missed the chance to walk around.
Anyone is welcome to contact me to arrange a guided walk around, as well as being  able to preview the guidance notes to my Management Plan.

Work has been a little slow due to some external / home life priorities, but a few more hedging plants have gone in as replacements around the gateway.
Sourced from the excellent Maelor Forest Nursery - great to have such a professional resource on the doorstep for trees and hedging.
A little more brashing and pruning of side branches of trees, this serves two purposes as it helps form the trunk shape in later tree life, but I also use a tally counter to get a better idea of the trees on the overall site.

Another job is the slow steady coppice of some of the birch trees before the sap comes up with the onset of spring.
As the birch are mainly in a linear row around the track edges, I'm taking every 5th tree down to the stump. How the coppice regrowth performs, will give me an idea if a 5 year rotation is a bit too fast (1/5 of the 531 birch trees cut each year, then start again year 6).

Partial coppice of birch trees

The next visit was informal, a friend from the Wildlife Trust, particularly to consider Club Tail Dragonfly and habitat potential (dependent on silt characteristics in one of the ponds), or at least the trees which also fall into habitat aspects on their flight range.
Great additional dialogue regard hares, owls (and boxes to put up) and the balance between hedgerow management and the possibility of Dormice.
The latter have a good chance between rows of hazel along the west part of the footpath and brambles in the central ditch hedge. Ideas to maximise potential together with volunteers in the autumn for some hazel coppice regeneration.

Time was a bit short, but the value of an extra pair of experienced eyes can't be understated, particularly as aspects of overlap and integration with the wider landscape and other projects were discussed.

Wildlife seen and heard this week on site:-
Buzzard, Owls, Heron, Robin, Fox, Hare, Canada Goose, Mallard.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Mid-January 2017

A damp and dark time of year, but fortunately not as damp as winter 2016 in respect to ground conditions!
For days when being outside isn't great, a chance to catch up on some admin and activities for the year ahead.

Woodland Management has cropped up in various contexts over the last couple of weeks with various people.
Firstly, I was reminded of a half day course put on by Plumpton College at their Flimwell Woodland Centre a few times a year. Excellent value at £30.

The dark winter nights gave me a push to update some guidance notes to my own Management Plan. These form part of a rating system on the well thought out myForest web pages, hosted by The Sylva Foundation.

Having replaced the gates on the plot before Xmas, some attention to the roadside hedge and replanting gaps is the next step, particularly around the entrance with some fresh grass seed and wildflowers.

Maelor Forest Nursery is a preferred choice for the hedging plants (and any tree restocking).

Unfortunately a sizeable existing hawthorn tree appeared to have become unsound...

Various degrees of decay in the upper branches, but it will (should...) sprout again from a shorter (and safer) stump.

  Another aspect of winter is being able to look around and through the tree canopy whilst the leaves are off.
A few instances of grey squirrel damage amongst the willows.

A leading shoot ring-barked where a squirrel has perched...

2 inches diameter where the bark and growing layer has been chewed, 8 feet long that has come down overall.

For the more welcome wildlife, I've seen a couple of hares again, but they are elusive when deliberately looking with a camera to hand.