General outlook


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

From 2014 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, education & research engagement, (the promotion and understanding of wildlife & sustainable conservation in a wider landscape context).

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

May 2020

A rather productive end to April and beginning of May.
A couple of productive sessions with the kiln from last year's coppice cutting in the woods.
The charcoal selling as fast as it gets weighed and bagged.


The rather challenging times we are in have not had too severe an impact on the woodland front.
The excellent Smallwoods organisation at Ironbridge / Coalbrookdale have done quite a bit of groundwork around woodland working (including DEFRA clarification), as well as Forestry organisations Confor and RFS.

The first weekend saw a minor amount of a few strange gateway incursions away from the footpath, but I'm guessing these were more distant travellers thwarted by Welsh travel restrictions.
The public footpath has had up to ten times as many walkers...
Although this has undoubted amenity and mental health benefits to people passing by, April is probably the worst time regarding wildlife impact.
I'm glad that I'd previously spent a bit of time enhancing the footpath (in terms of accessibility and biodiversity) - there are studies suggesting the more obvious a path, the less adverse impact from straying etc.
I've put a couple of extra coppice and woodland management information A4 info sheets up...


A new generation of hares has become quite obvious (as well as ducks and Canada geese).

 
One emergent incident was a car on its roof through the roadside hedge - fortunately no injuries, but the complexities of lockdown presented some challenges regarding recovery (and thanks to a local farmer given clearence to expedite removal to the recovery truck).


My other project at Farndon is a traditional / heritage varieties orchard - being near a larger village settlement, that has had a few specific trespass and damage problems - police have become involved and dialogue with a problem group seems to have settled things for now.
It does however highlight how less than positive engagement can become time and resource consuming.

Back at the woods before lockdown, I did have one odd incident of somebody photographing the nameplate and contact details at the roadside gatepost.
I'd have been a bit happier if they'd bothered to get in touch, not sure what their agenda is...


More positively, just prior to C-19 restricting things, I used a period of ill health (more Crohns complications) to get ahead with loads of paperwork.
Although I don't claim any grants / subsidies, I found a couple of errors in how the WPA had recorded field parcels- of course it wasn't a five minute fix either, but a couple of relaxed evenings prior to lockdown in Chester's Storyhouse Library (including bar & food) enabled various management plan updates and focus on tree and woodland habitat objectives.
I was also planning a range of visits / events and overlaps with other organisations elsewhere, but by March all that was on indefinite hold.
I did have some very positive news from an external organisation regarding woodland management practice, but that too is on hold until next year.

Back at the woods, the particularly wet winter slowed down a few things I'd have particularly liked to get ahead with (side branch pruning and finishing a coppice area for the year), but now we have the other extreme of being a bit too dry.
Ash Die Back realky is starting to show now in the wider area, a bit of a double blow was late frosts compromising recent new leaf growth on stressed trees.

On BBC Radio 4, the Costing The Earth programme recently did Future Forests - well worth a listen, particularly 'right tree, right place' and aftercare after planting initiatives...

More regular updates on @WurthympWood Twitter

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Charcoal making...


Too low of stock of bagged, graded charcoal this week - but hoping to have a kiln session finished by the end of the week for barbecue charcoal.

If having a barbecue during Corona Virus Covid-19 control measures, please keep to your own household and consider neighbours who may have respiratory problems.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Woodland updates

Woodland updates can be found on a Twitter account - including a couple of videos and links to wider woodland and conservation aspects.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

January 2020

A New Year - 2019 held a few challenges, a wet winter, hot summer and a wet autumn and winter again affecting ground conditions. My own health with Crohns Disease complications and a bad reaction to an embedded thorn in my ankle (and surgery) slowed me down through a major part of the year (but it's nice not to have to rush with a woodland project).
I hadn't meant to leave a blog post so long - more frequent updates are on @WurthympWood Twitter feed...
The woodland however grew on quite well (excepting the trees with Ash Die Back in the surrounding locality).
The darker wetter months gave opportunity for some document revision regarding the technical and long term habitat management aspects of the woodland plot.
Once I have some better interpretations of Yield Class figures for the woodland, I hope to finalise 'Grown in Britain' accreditation as part of the long term management plan and objectives (This also confirms compliance and understanding of UK Forestry Standards).

The new year didn't start amazingly well however, I have a traditional heritage varieties orchard I planted in 2010 a bit nearer to Chester. It occasionally becomes a hot spot for fly-tipping (a problem throughout rural areas that doesn't seem to be going away). Amazing that in some small communities certain folk can give an extended commentary about changes within neighbouring properties, but never see or report things like this taking place.
Cheshire West & Chester Streetscene and Enforcement have had a trawl through the rubbish for potential prosecution opportunities.
Back over the border at the Woodland in Wales, a similar drive by dumping of rubbish at the roadside gateway with a narrowly missed i.d. opportunity.



In a more festive spirit, Xmas saw a few books arrive. The Woodcolliers gives a good overall historical view of charcoal making and has sections very similar to parts of the rural history of The Lake District. It reminded me of how important the local steam rally near to here at Malpas was in the late 1980s, in setting up a rural craft section (including guest exhibitors Bill Hogarth and Walter Lloyd at a time BBC North West was highlighting the decline of regional rural crafts - a trend hopefully now reversed).

A cheap Ebay acquisition was this Forestry Commission book pictured below, 'Farm Woodland Planning' (also available free as .pdf online) - a little dated now, particularly as various schemes for planting have come and gone and Devolved Nation status saw Wales replace the FC with Natural Resources Wales and different objectives.
The reason I got it, was partly because it covered my first proper involvement with a large planting scheme near Oswestry in the 1990s, but mainly to review objectives and practices that carried through the Woodland Grant Schemes (WGS) - Wurthymp Wood was part of WGS3 (becoming Better Woods For Wales at Devolution and morphing into Glastir).
Some of the 'behind the scenes' aspect of the woodland involve an overview of the long term sustainable outlook, initially reviewed site wide in 2017 and recent changes about to be revised.

Reviewing original objectives in relation to present day expectation (and public perception) is an interesting exercise.
I hosted a 'walk & talk' for the W.I. organised by a local resident keen and active on maintaining community spirit - an interesting area of conversation was the grant aspect of woodland creation, with a presumption by a couple of folk of  £30,000 for 25,000 trees in 30 acres on the original owners land back around 2006, only out by 10 times and a few were surprised that it was as low as £3000 (which barely covers planting costs).
Outside the visiting group, one local resident had commented elsewhere that the previous owner "wouldn't have done it if there wasn't money in it!"
The Better Woods For Wales link above (a review in 2012 before the introduction of Glastir) has a report that details land owners motivation for planting - creating a measurable public benefit is part of the equation and important these days regarding public perceptions on tree-planting, climate change mitigation and the often misunderstood concept of 'Rewilding' (It is of vital importance that any tree-planting is appropriate, has a long term outlook and planned intervention if a flat age profile from mass planting - and it takes into consideration existing habitat / species markers).


Part of my winter 'admin' work has included working through site history (recent & old) and local village history. I have a couple of local books, but 'A village through time' came out in November, concerning Shocklach - the next village north of the woods. A considerable amount of professional archaeological input went into the book.

Wet winter ground conditions and rain have slowed down things within the woods, but selective high coppice cuts have been done on the pond side willows.
Deliberately cut high at the pond sides, to encourage Willow Tit nests, but also to reduce / manage larger branch overhang and leaf drop into pond.
Coppice work elsewhere on the site is a more conventional ground level cut for other species down as a rotation coupe / compartment area with trees left as standards to grow on.

Once sufficiently dry, the smaller logs get mixed with other species of wood and into the charcoal kiln.
(The charcoal products pay for the wider woodland management projects).

A couple of excursions elsewhere through the year...
I ended up in a woodland near Blandford Forum, where a community activity overlap sees a variety of craft and traditional woodland management aspects come together in a socially and environmentally positive way.
Another overnight stop was for a day using a scythe for habitat management with academics and conservation professionals, on an Oxfordshire Fen - an area for habitat and landscape history, I've found fascinating over the last 25 years.
I also look through a few similar woodlands to my own - particularly 5 or 10 years either side of my planting dates for comparisons.

For a week in November I was guest host on the @SmallholdersUK Twitter feed.
I went over my orchard and woodland projects, but also the things that have influenced my habitat and conservation outlook from childhood to the present day.
(Please note, the embedded link should actually run from 11/11/19 to 17/11/19 - as this is a weekly guest feed, posts beyond those dates are other folks projects).

In looking into background history of the area around the woods, I stumbled across this early 1800s archive map indicating a well... No trace at the present day or later maps.

I dislike a proliferation of signs, but from shared observations and experiences of other small woodland operators, they have value in confirming appropriate habitat management activities to the genuinely interested, but also in conveying information to passers by with 'various' levels of interest (and sometimes tenuous reasons for that interest and a wander off away from pathways).
An anecdotal observation seems that whenever a near by neighbour has any interaction with the local planning system, there is an increase in folks taking a walk through the woodland footpath.
An aim for this year is to put up a couple of weatherproof notice boards (with information on seasonal variations of conservation activities) at either end of the path through the woods.

One sad aspect that comes with landscape project management, is poor interpretation by the public.
Although the site owner / operator can go a long way towards cordial understanding, a minority of people generally repeat some deep seated behaviours - particularly regarding small woodland operators and smallholders etc.
I work and socialise within a couple of land based organisations. There are some trends that unrelated ill-informed folk in villages across England and Wales follow regarding projects on their doorstep.
Usually it is folk in a newish house seeing some tree and / or groundwork and making an incorrect assumption 'something' is going to be built near them. (If / when I go back to agri-college, I'll try to put a coherent paper together on this matter - it was something that cropped up on a degree course module a few years ago, ironically one example was where the agri-college was going in doing long term habitat conservation as student placement. this was in partnership with a large countryside charity, but the local dog-walkers and folks in big houses seemed to know better than the historical and evidence based year on year work put together by the college and other conservation professionals...)

I've been on the receiving end of false development allegations twice, (once by a person on a public body who should and could have known better - their motives are inexplicable).
I'm relatively lucky, I'm approachable and have nothing to hide, I do have formal planning approval from 2018 for a big tractor shed. (Desirable and in part already planned for equipment / produce storage from before I committed to the site, but which I put in for and got approved within the 28 day Prior Notification formal planning process after someone linked to a Community Council made flippant remarks locally about my understanding of planning matters. The justification & mitigation support documents used in the application are now used as a working example by other woodland / forestry and planning professionals as a good working example of site considerations).

A near by neighbour has a farm diversification project, some of the backlash has been irrational and a distraction. A small minority of folk concluded I had somehow made land available to enable access to the neighbour's project. One has to make a conscious decision to either ignore such folk, or call them out head on when their ignorance becomes challenging or obstructive.
'Bigger picture' considerations are what else would go on a previous farm site that also has business use permissions. Having seen some of the potential other purchasers of that plot and possibilities, I'm not too concerned with the present outlook, other than for consistency and rationality by folks (and public bodies) who engage with any consultation process. It is difficult to understand the motives of why folk perpetuate misinformation locally and to statutory bodies, rather than the decency to engage with the applicant in such cases.

For others with projects elsewhere, it is a distraction and at times a serious obstruction. 'Sour grapes' can be a common theme - I'm familiar with a situation 30 miles away, where 2 plots came up for auction either side of a roadway. One of the plots backed onto a line of 6 houses - they all clubbed together and at auction bought the wrong plot, the other side of the road to their back gardens! The chap who successfully bid for the plot behind them, has had continuous malicious grief and it has got to the level of police / local authority and anti-harassment levels of legal interaction.
I have a close family member who is a chartered surveyor with a lot of Local Authority experience - those professional experiences mirror the negative experiences and attitudes received by other woodlanders elsewhere in England & Wales.

Beyond a lack of understanding by objecting parties, there sometimes seems to be an unwillingness to understand or engage, particularly when some deep seated personal attitudes, resentments and grudges start to surface. It is an area where I work elsewhere to my project on people getting a deeper understanding of the technical, environmental and justification / mitigation aspects together as a counter measure to irrational emotive points.
One quite challenging person thought I was on Community Service whilst I was planting trees in my orchard project - they were even more horrified when I made them aware I was the owner...
"How have you got this, did you just move on here or something?"
(The concept of putting a bit on one side during a mainstream career and raising a hand at an auction seemed to have passed them by).

The excellent Smallwoods Organisation at Coalbrookdale / Ironbridge now collaborate with a rural planning professional, with a woodland specific planning outlook and host a woodland specific planning course.


Some of the info sheets I intend to put up at the woods will be explaining management operations and seasonal changes and species / habitat specific enhancements.

Further historical information involved looking at old Tithe Maps from the mid 1800s.
These can be searched online by various parameters after a public cooperation exercise collating register entries against field numbers.


The fields at the top of the map are today in the picture below, viewed from the woodland gateway. Flooding occurs seasonally as part of the River Dee floodplain (my orchard project is amongst it 4 miles north).
This year saw an infrequent summer flood (an old local history book comments on this), what is interesting to determine is whether the flooding is becoming more frequent. 
I'm hoping to set up an IoT - Internet of Things environmental monitoring package for a more detailed local analysis of conditions and trends.
Compared to a few other woodland friends elsewhere, I'm at a relatively low altitude between 14 and 17 metres asl. Altitude for various reasons has influences on tree growth. My own concerns on climate change revolve presently on ground and surface water conditions, local micro-climate for dampness and tree pathogen / pest resistance and extreme summer events.


Footpath enhancements stalled once the ground conditions got wet. Apart from a wide circular 'glade' under way at the west side, the footpath here has minimal intervention since cutting the margins slightly wider (a benefit to bats, owls and buzzards). As the trees grow up and shade the light, it will be gradually cut wider still for enhancing edge margin diversity by managing light hitting the ground.


A local beekeeper has set up (with one afternoon of excitement when a colony cleared off and swarmed elsewhere). A slight worry is a mild damp winter and resources for them.


The east side of the footpath has patches of local native plant reintroductions, particularly as the relatively young woodland is starting to develop canopy closure and reduced light,  that restricts the original grassland mixed plants that were present before the trees were planted.
Below is a patch of Marsh Woundwort.


Controversially for the area, badgers pass through the site - Dairy herd TB is a problem in the area, complicated on a policy aspect due to England and Wales devolved / divergent policy in a border location.

A reasonable amount of Barn and Tawny Owls on the site, but I've suspected Little Owls from their evening screeches. I managed to photograph this one early evening whilst working amongst a patch of willow trees.


One of the main site species that enjoys the mixed habitat is the Brown hare. Unfortunately I've had a late night incident of night hunting / trespass, so measures are in place to minimise the chance of this repeating.
Local roads pose a risk for them and I've lost one on site from a possible buzzard or fox strike.

A couple of other creatures on site have been cats and grey squirrels - both are detrimental to the habitat. Grey squirrel damage to the trees is becoming quite evident and approved control measures have become desirable.
There is a chance of Pine Martens - twice I've seen what I think is one, initially moving very fast through the woods one evening and a week later dashing across a hedgerow to another woodland less than a mile away.
The summer was particularly good again for dragon flies and moths / butterflies.

Hopefully the increasing daylight hours will see the ground start to dry a bit and further small scale habitat management aspects going on. Because the trees were planted in 'one go' over a year, they will all grow at a relatively even height and age profile, which isn't great for biodiversity or the original grassland species. It is why some parts of the woodland are 'work in progress' to create wider biodiversity across the woodland over a prolonged period of time.
External to the woods, it is a wider issue that requires expert input and assessment 'so called' rewilding schemes and the right tree in the right place and appropriateness - particularly if niche species and existing biodiverse habitats become parts of larger landscape scale projects.

Despite some of the content further up the post, being custodian of a woodland is profoundly rewarding, often relaxing, but also stimulating, educational and rewarding...

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

May 2019


This year's charcoal production is underway - made in the woods from the coppice thinnings.

£5 Per 2.5kg sack of lumpwood, ideal for barbecues and easy to light.
£20 for 5 bags, with free delivery 5 miles around Worthenbury or Farndon

Bags of smaller lumps are available for blacksmith forges, garden chimeneras and handy in a log burner overnight to keep the heat in (very handy for canal boat folk).

Also Fine charcoal chippings and flakes are good for blending in compost.









 Winter seemed to drag a little and gave damp ground conditions again at the woods.

The end of spring had a couple of sunny days in succession and the cycle of everything greening up started again for the year...
Normally a busy time for me, but ankle surgery and Crohn's Disease complications slowed me down a bit.

Annoyingly, I had uninvited late night visitors to the woods one Sunday night. two men with dogs, hoping they weren't after the hares, as part of my management of the woodland is keeping the grassland and edge margins as an optimum habitat.
Anything suspicious like this (particularly at night should be reported to North Wales Police on the 101 number (or their email, as it's quicker and easier). The wider locality has had a lot of equestrian, farm and rural property thefts, so anything that helps build a picture to combat this helps...

Last year I was working along the edge of the footpath through the woods, thinning back trees to let more light as the rest increase in height.
The opportunity to add extra cuckoo flower and vetch seed worked well, as this year has seen an increased proliferation of these flower species after sowing and rolling.
Another wet winter seemed to make the west side of the plot persistently wet. Further investigations revealed a blocked and damaged Victorian land drain. Due to the trees, there was no easy fix compared to when the land was open fields, so a temporary ditch now runs to the central ditch through the site.
A further bit of landscaping at the west of the path, against the boundary was done at the same time to reduce uneven ground. Here I'm planting a circle of birch, with a grassy glade where I can turn the tractor around and further wildflowers along the edges.



I now have beehives on site, not mine but a local talented friend who is as passionate about bees, as I am about trees.



Meanwhile, the hares come to see what I'm doing...






Notable wildlife during May has been:- hares, barn owls and tawny owls, bats, foxes, buzzards, jays, bullfinches, blackbirds, dragon flies, woodpeckers, Canada geese (with young hatching), moor hens (with young hatching) mallard.
Lots of smaller birds I haven't been fast enough to identify. One of the important aspects of the diverse habitat throughout the woodland, is the smaller insects that are supported, these in turn being food chain species on a wider scale - all helped by the range of vegetation and variety of vegetation.



Monday, 31 December 2018

Winter 2018


2018 came to an end quite positively.
Although my other project the Meadowcopse Orchard six miles north had a relaxed year, Wurthymp Wood was busy on several fronts...

Major success was the charcoal manufacture in a ring kiln. This is a sustainable high value product from coppice and thinning operations within the woods.

Some landscaping and levelling within the site between the footpath and private trackways should mske access with the woods easier.
With best intentions, the previous owner set out inner and outer oval access tracks within the tree planting scheme around 2006 / 2007.
This is relatively universally accepted good practice, as it allows access for thinning and future harvest, as well as considerable 'edge habitat' for wildlife diversity.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, compared to the neighbouring site, there was no innert infill. This means the track base (below normal ground level) is not really useable in winter due to mud and leaves a low spot where it crosses the footpath.
Rather than import innert rubble filling, I have begun to work the levels back up to finished ground level with clay (which is adequate for my levdl of access at present operational levels).

The first thorough coppice compartment had some trial cutting in 2016, with great success.
This is now part way being worked where 20 to 30% of trees will be left to grow on for another 80 to 120 years and the regrowth from cut stems reworked in about 8 years time. (The site being divided into sevenths of the total area, the cutting cycle being repeated on an 8 year cycle).
Coppicing initially looks brutal, but prior to 2006 the land was open fields with reasonable grassland plant diversity.
These species and other wildlife would eventually be compromised as the trees block the light hitting the ground.
Working areas of the site as a coppice woodland gives a fantastic opportunity to maintain wildife species diversity, without disrupting much of the site per year.

Negative aspects have been a worryingly dry prolonged summer (will be interesting to look at tree growth rings if narrow, as well as longer term potentisl climate change).
Another concern is Ash Die Back disease - now endrmic in the area and about 25% of the site trees (2000+) potentially affected.

Some overlap work with the neighbour has been my south hedgerow.
For various reasons, this has been a bit neglected for the last 20 years by previous owners. Initially goid for wildlife, tge benefits fall away once blackthorn has become dominant and spread outwards, with the original hedge line declining.
Radical intervention and gap replanting is ongoing into spring 2019.

From about 2 years since I acquired the site, some ungounded rumours started regarding development. This seems to have been a projection regarding a previous neighbour and village attitudes.
Such things can become quite toxic, as well as being a distraction.
I have no desire to develop the site.
I have however secured permission via the local planning department to put up a barn / wood seasoning shed.
People get emotive about planning, particularly on village fringes.
Emotion counts for little in planning legislation, both an application, or any objection has to be technically competent in planning determination.
A lot of people are 'surprised' that there is a presumption for approval for agriculture / forestry planning matters (subject to appropriate support / mitigation documents).

Wildlife remains enchanting, with hares, foxes and badgers often sighted.
Quite a bit of bird diversity, owls in good numbers too. Hopefully leaving the tree side-pruning brash in heaps at the trackway sides gives a good food source of small mammals for the owls.
A downside has been grey squirrel dsmage to the taller trees.

A few visitors throughout the year, both random and organised.
A pleasure to host a camping weekend to a few wildlife and bushcraft friendly friends.
Permitted development rights allow 28 days a year of leisure use, so a relaxed sharing and educational capacity and a stunning summer for camping made this a pleasure.
Another high spot was a visit from my Uncle and his Wife on a journey south from Scotland.
A professional forester with the Forestry Commission for several decades, it was a relief to have no adverse observations, as well as an extra pair of eyes looking ahead at things.

Paperwork seldom sounds exciting, but some tweaks to the longer term management plan for the woods and a move towards the 'Grown in Britain' woodland accreditation scheme adds value.
Secondary aspects are a local landscape history document (Wales has put local tithe map info online).
A priority for me has been to keep an overview folder up to date. This is helpful to explain what the woodland is about snd how it moves forward over time.
I hate putting signs up, but a few basic ones regarding dogs, access etc. and some operational overview ones are arguably helpful.
I hope to put a proper 'information' board up that isn't too obtrusive.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Charcoal

Rather pleased with the printed bags for the charcoal made in the woods.


£5 for a 2.5kg lumpwood bag (or £20 for 5 bags).

Should light from a single match, without having to use any lighting fluids that can taint the food on a barbeque.