Wurthymp Wood is a 17 acre / 6.9 hectare plot, divested from a mixed woodland 30 acre farmland project planted by others in 2006.
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).
Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Generally, with a bit of prior research, visits to other projects and assessing site suitability, deciding on a conservation or woodland project site is very positive and uplifting.
Sometimes, you come up against some external or contrived challenges...
"So what are you doing with the woodland?"
More precisely it's realistically "What is he going to do with the woodland?"
As a responsible owner / custodian / operator, these days you will be the last to know when other people beyond 'genuinely interested' start getting their teeth into things and interpreting in their own way, what your ownership and activities mean...
A slightly general observation, but something a few folks with their own woodland, permaculture plot, private allotment or wildlife patch encounter.
I used to think random folk were genuinely interested, but something changed with public attitudes - particularly about 15 to 20+ years ago.
Gone are the days on the rural fringe when some passing local character takes time to chat and maybe comment "You're doing a grand job there, Mon." Years of their own knowledge and experience under a weathered exterior.
By the 1990s it's initially morphed into a (probably genuinely interested) "Excuse me, what are you doing?"
Then into "I don't know what he's doing, but is he allowed to do that?"
Reaching a climax in more recent times via Facebook etc. "Does anybody else know what's happening down xyz lane?" Or "Hello, is that the Council, there's someone cutting at trees and hedges in the fields by me..."
It's not just individuals with their own small projects - conservation groups and agricultural colleges and forward thinking rural estates, all doing informed and responsible habitat management, or restoration at what's become someone's favourite dog-walking patch - ending up with 'Dismayed residents anger!' in a local headline or regional evening TV news.
There are of course two sides - public engagement or prior information from the person managing the habitat helps inform the wider community, versus nearby residents mixing up development fears with little knowledge of responsible conservation and countryside management.
The latter is an interesting dynamic. It's repeated throughout village margins of England and Wales.
Yes, inappropriate and large scale development is a genuine concern - particularly as formal planning controls may seem to be weakening where a large developer comes up against a resource strapped Local Authority (but that's not going to change anytime soon with perceptions of and attitudes to, housing demand type).
On a smaller scale, one has to consider calling 'NiMBY' - Not in MY Back Yard.
From various forums I'm in and direct experiences of other small scale woodland custodians, there is a certain dynamic where folk in relatively new houses next to open fields or woods, get rather twitchy at the thought of possibly newer houses going opposite / behind them. Sorry, unless you are in a National Park or AONB - you've bought a house not a view.
By all means, buy the field behind you if you have concerns - or if more publicly spirited, set up a Trust or CIC for a village wildlife or nature area for the land.
Don't think cutting a gate in your back fence, chucking your grass-clippings and garden waste over, or letting your dog run free gives you a stake over somebody else's land.
On the one hand it's good that folk take an interest and care about their surroundings, but there is a deeper, darker side...
Folk not prepared to fund raise or dip in their own pocket to actively steer a responsible direction for their surrounding area, but upset somebody else is doing something they don't (want to) understand. Worse still, an irrational and emotive sour grapes grudge that somebody else has it and is doing something with it (or if really sensitive to a specific stasis habitat appearing not to be doing anything with it).
Bitterness is quite common, probably keeps solicitors in business, certainly adds to a Planning Officer's inbox, as well as a bit of overtime for a rural Police team, when disagreements over the fence overheat on a Bank Holiday weekend.
mini meadow by the woodland pond
The weirdest 'public relations' encounter I've had, was somebody assume I was on 'Community Service' whilst I was replanting part of my orchard hedge next to a public footpath. They were rather concerned as to whether 'The Landowner' would be happy with what was going on.
Judging by the look they gave me, they were rather surprised to find I was the land owner - the conversation continued with somewhat affected gestures waving towards what I thought was a pretty obvious Traditional Orchard:-
"So what exactly is all this then, are you going to build something here?"
"Erm no, it's a traditional / heritage varieties orchard on marginal farmland that floods..."
"Oh, I suppose you get a grant then for all that, it'll be our money paying for it then!"
"Not really Madam, with a pretty responsible long-term job, everything you see here has been paid for out of my own arse pocket!"
She's not been back with any more questions...
Two other NiMBY cases I've been following elsewhere got a bit formal and definitely hinge around petty aspects of envy that then fester and escalate.
1. A small plot of land gone wild on a village edge next to a detached house comes up on the open market...
A well intentioned purchaser finds a gate has appeared in the side fence, in the time between sale and completion, neighbour states the plot was going to be left to them and they've always had access. Any thoughts of neighbour adverse posession are robustly quashed, but the new acquisition of the plot is on the next month's Parish Council Agenda with local residents 'concerns' - New owner then gets 18 months of Parish Council and Local Authority Planning Department overbearing interest, various legal 'tennis volleys' and after formal representation, a Parish Council Chairman resigns and a Planning Officer moves sideways to a different authority.
2. Two patches of land, large and small - either side of a new road are sold off by a Council at auction...
Larger wooded plot has about 6 houses in a line to one boundary, smaller plot across the road comes up against a hedgeline to other fields.
New owner of wooded plot gets 'challenged' by a resident in one of the houses:-
"Excuse me, what are you doing - this is private land!"
"yes, I know, I completed on it last week."
"I don't think so - we've all clubbed together in these houses and bought it between us!"
"I can assure you that you haven't - I do have a copy of my deeds and plot plan in my van..."
The person representing the line of 6 houses at auction, had bought a plot of land - but unfortunately the smaller plot the other side of the road, not the one they intended behind their houses!
This really started to get ugly over the following weeks...
Local newspaper article "Residents concerns for future of local nature spot"
Minor and more serious vandalism (fencing and vehicle damage).
A push for the Local Authority to impose a tree preservation order - this backfired a little, as the Tree Officer was very sympathetic to remedial and safety related tree work. Local residents were surprised to find the trees with a spray paint dot had an appointment with the chainsaw as part of responsible management - although police and council were called out during workscopes.
The aggreived neighbours had 'concerns for wildlife' - a bit ironic as they had intended to purchase to extend their gardens, arguably a planning 'change of use' consent required and habitat compromised if turned into extensions of domestic gardens.
My own project sites occasionally attract interest - usually when the nearest neighbour is going through the planning process, I get a noticeable increase in folks using the footpath and straying a bit further off course to have a look around...
I still get asked "So what exactly are you doing with the woodland?"
I'm probably more interested in wondering why they are asking, rather than comprehensively explaining.
(I have an info pack, printed or online - it's easier, as explaining "Active Forestry - Traditional coppice and growing trees and enhancing biodiversity." never gets taken seriously as an answer).
A significantly asked question is "Are you going to build here?"
Again I wonder 'why' they ask?
No, I'm not building a house or houses.
Yes, I'm in the middle of building a tractor and wood seasoning shed (Consent granted by the Local Authority back in 2018). But I don't take seriously folk in a line of newish houses (where their neighbours had similar concerns about their houses going up years before), with irrational made-up fears of other new houses and ignorance of rural landscape protections and planning policy conditions.
None of these negative dynamics make anybody feel any better or achieve much, apart from high blood pressure and wasted time and resources...
A slightly weirder question rarely asked to my face (but finding a way back to me from folk in the wider community) is:-
"How did he get that, how can he afford that? How does he make any money?"
The long answer is that in my spare time, I've always done conservation work (and some ad-hoc farm work locally), together with educational courses with various types of groups and conservation sites and it was something I wanted to do from leaving school a long time ago.
Unfortunately the job market in the 1980s was rather challenging. Fortunately leaving school with good science and maths results, I went into science & engineering instead. Despite family directly employed in professional forestry, I was offered a very promising engineering career.
I naïvely thought I could put a bit on one side and buy somewhere to plant up after a while as a project site. (Had the property market not had an upward curve outpacing my savings).
One part of my mainstream job turned out better than expected - a bit 'high risk / high reward' but approx 20 weeks a year off, if I took a particular shift pattern and lived in. A part of conventional life and relationships didn't quite survive and a major health issue created a step change rethink.
A good number of my colleagues had flash cars, fancy houses and 'consumerist' lifestyles - I shunned that (mostly).
Although 4 to 5 times the price per acre than the days I first started saving, the savings converted into investments and giving up on a house move, I made the decision 'now or never' on a 17 acre divested farm young woodland, relatively near home, rather than moving house. (I'd already had a trial run, with an orchard project on marginal land below market rates, together with a 'spare time' conservation degree course at a local agri college - as well as deciding staying with a small modest house on the edge of Chester would actually do me fine).
My main work in north-sea oil & gas was medical / fitness dependent. I knew at some point the time would come when a fortnightly 500 mile round train commute to work out of Aberdeen, helicopter flight 150 miles towards Norway, and a load of challenging work conditions couldn't be justified or sustained. I got another 9 years out of the job whilst making plans and setting the normal affairs of life into a sensible sustainable order (with one medical incident strongly hinting at a prudent 'sooner, rather than later outlook).
So, now self employed and a modest income from sustainable forest products out of the wood gets me by, working hours I choose (particularly around Crohns Disease and other medical complications), surrounded by nature and shaping the future direction of the woodland trees and wildlife for the next 80 to 100 years...
If you've got this far, you'll begin to understand why I don't take people too seriously, when they form opinions without genuine engagement with facts.
If you have conservation ideas and dreams - research you areas of interest and what works, check attitudes in your area, do impact assessments for the chosen site... Enjoy, engage and share what you do as a responsible custodian.
Thursday, 11 March 2021
A slightly slow start to 2021 and a longer gap between blog posts than intended - although more frequent woodland updates and pictures are on the Wurthymp Wood Twitter feed.
Wet ground conditions still being a bit problematic for woodland and conservation habitat activities after probably the most challenging wet winter in a lifetime. The meadows north of the woodland are part of the natural River Dee floodplain, but record heights, longer duration of floods and frequency / occasions of flooding over this winter gone, seem to be particularly (historically) unusual when combined together.
Obviously 2020 and Covid-19 has been a challenging year for everyone. By year end, the uncertainty for folk in many respects has compromised outlooks ahead.
I normally spend challenging ground conditions and less pleasant weather doing woodland and orchard admin and research in Chester's fantastic Storyhouse Library, a short walk from home. Obviously that has been interrupted with lockdown restrictions - together with all the commercial and cultural interruptions too...
There was probably one 'proper winter' spell - the rest of winter mainly being wet weather and wet ground.
Tuesday, 26 May 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 2020
Saturday, 11 January 2020
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...