Tuesday 9 April 2019

Gone, but not forgotten

Last year we had to have our dog, Jarvis, put to sleep. We'd had him from a puppy and although he was only 10 1/2 when he died, like a typical cocker spaniel, he lived life at 100mph and his passing left a hole in our lives that will take a long time to heal. We scattered his ashes in the woodland and pond.

Clean bedding
For the last few years, since we lived here, he'd got into the habit of raiding the log store and most days I'd see him trotting off into the distance with a log in his mouth. I've still no idea why he did this as he never seemed to chew them, just carried them away for me to find with the mower later on (easiest way to find something lost in the grass is to first spend a long time sharpening and balancing a mower blade). I still come across logs dropped in the woodland which must provide some habitat for invertebrates but today I stumbled across this:

The Jarvis Tree
This is a willow (grey, I think) tree that has sprouted from a log dropped onto the damp ground. It's fallen over but otherwise looks pretty healthy. It's nice to know that he's left a reminder and maybe this was his plan all along? 

Monday 1 April 2019

Spring Is Sprung and welcome ducks

Spring has finally arrived and the woodland is beginning to come back into life again. Thanks to The Woodland Trust, I planted another 100 trees (holly, Scots pine, hornbeam and small-leaved lime) which are all budding or showing little leaves already. The evergreens should give some colour and structure in the long winter months.

I also divided some bamboo that was dug up from near the house. I know there are concerns about it taking over but it provides excellent cover all year round and makes a lovely noise in the wind, as well as providing canes to help support spirals for future trees. I've lost bits in the past so it's not as hardy as people make out but there are new shoots appearing and it should be quick growing once the soil warms up fully.

Bamboo survived

The rest of the woodland is showing signs of life and aside from everything leaning away from the prevailing wind, very few were lost over the winter

The blossom avenue coming on strong

The blackthorn has also come into flower. Only 2 of them seem to have survived, out of the 50 that were planted. They've amalgamated into a dense hedge that is predominantly hawthorn but it's made that part of the boundary impregnable, at least by the dog!

Sloe gin anyone?

The willow fedge mentioned in the last post is also greening up and should provide valuable cover as well as soil reinforcement on the island.


A group of ducks has started landing on the pond so I've woven a basic nesting tube in the hope that they'll stay. Might need lining with hay but the height should keep it safe from certain predators. It's woven from green willow, which wasn't quite as flexible as I'd have hoped and when it dries out it might become a bit loose but for a first try I'm quite proud of it. Had large clumps of frogspawn laid and some of them definitely hatched. No tiny frogs seen so maybe the ducks and the heron have eaten them all. Let's hope some of them survived but it's great to see life appearing in the pond

Nesting tube

Also discovered some deer slots (tracks) by the pond. Not sure of species, but I see roe on the trail cameras quite often. The young trees are all in deer tubes, which should protect them from browsing, although I've lost a few shrubs when they get flayed by the bucks rubbing their antlers against them to remove the velvet.

Fallow or roe?

Sunday 27 January 2019

Willow fedge on the island

It's January 2019 and the pond has been full since mid-December. The banks at the far end have collapsed (as designed) and have a variety of different levels and potential for habitat.

Full pond
When the sun shines it's beautifully tranquil and once the wildlife becomes better established I'm hoping it will look amazing.

Now that there is a definite island, it needs planting. With some of the coppiced willow (osier viminalis), I planted a few metres of living hedge. Hopefully even in the poor soil this will take root and make a good barrier as well as reinforcing the banks.

Monday 6 February 2017

Bramble control dilemma

Some of my woodland was in danger of becoming impassable due to encroaching brambles.

Bramble, bramble everywhere

It's nice to see that the path I'd cut last year is still fairly clear but the plant tends to arch over and spread again so I decided to cut it.

A few hours of work with the big mower left the scene looking a bit different:

Now there's still loads of brambles left and I've no doubt they'll sprout again where they've been cut but there are lot of naturally seeded trees that have sprouted up under this cover where the wildlife can't reach them due to the thorny protection. Now they're exposed I wonder if the deer will decimate the new growth and it has been pointed out that once the canopy is established, the brambles will be shaded out (although quite how big they'd be by the time the canopy becomes established is anyone's guess). I'm sure I've seen stands of bramble in coniferous woodland which is about as dense as it gets

The amazing willow

Haven't made a post for a while but plenty has been going on. Trees are still growing and some of the alder are beginning to split the tubes at the base. In a few weeks once the spring arrives (and there are signs of it today) I'll be removing some of the tubes.

Alder splitting tube
However, now that the leaves are off the trees it's easier to gain access to some of the more wild spots on the plot. One of these is where a large willow has fallen over and carried on growing:
Aren't trees supposed to grow up?

The trunk, or a large branch has obviously fallen over and begun to sprout upwards. These stems in turn blew over and are now growing horizontally. They curve up at the ends and create a dense, sprawling mass of vegetation that is great cover for wildlife
Pick a direction, any direction
It's twisted and contorted, growing down and along so that the original trunk/stump is barely recognisable. This is natural coppicing and many of the shoots have taken root where they've touched the ground. The whole tree must cover an area at least 15m squared and although I've cut a bit of it back for access, there's a considerable amount left

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Drainage required...

Spent an exhausting few hours cutting my way along inside a holly hedge between the paddocks, in order to install stock fencing netting between them, as we have woodcock and ducks nesting which wouldn't take kindly to the dogs running around. To save time, I thought I'd run a load of fence posts and wire up in the Suzuki Jimny, which I bought as it's quite light and has chunky mud tyres.

However, it proved no match for the sodden ground and got stuck. It has a winch but the nearest stout tree was too far away. Eventually, I attached the winch cable to a small scrub willow, which was only about 3" in diameter. Surprisingly, it help well and I managed to pull the car out (sideways!) in just under 2 hours after dumping all the cargo in the middle of the field:

Bit muddy then...
The transient pond in the lower paddock, which will eventually be dug out into a much larger lake, has carved itself a decent little stream that overflows down beside the barn, making much of the ground down there waterlogged too. The plan is to get a proper drainage channel in to direct this into proper ditches as large portions of the land are currently impassable, even on foot (although I did manage to carry all the fence posts and wire up to where it's needed, in several trips)

The problem with drainage on this ground, I'm beginning to discover, is that with the very fine sand, even a decent size of drainage pipe will clog up quite quickly. For example, this pipe has been in the trench for under a year and is already buried in several inches:

Clogged drainage
Burying it in gravel might stave off the blockage for a bit but the old land drains I've discovered in my excavations are completely solid. The sand is so fine, it holds together almost like clay - doesn't let water through and sets solid. Where the inlet to the pond is (see earlier posts) a beach has formed. At first glance it looks like it would never hold any weight but it's quite firm underfoot

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Spring 2016 - beautifying the willow

Can't believe it's been so long since I last posted but it's done little but rain...

Trees are just starting to come into leaf and we harvested the osier growth to build a twigloo:
The osier was used to make the main structure and the yellow willow (which wasn't as tall) was planted around the bottom - it really glows in the sunshine and once it starts growing properly, we'll weave it into the twigloo which should eventually form a complete screen. There's also some violet willow planted on the entrance although the ground is so waterlogged, I'm not convinced it will survive... After some strong winds, I ventured out to find that most of the knots had failed and the whips were not joined at the top again. They're now tied with multiple whippings (using sisal) as well as being twisted around each other - shouldn't come apart again, especially one it begins to grow together.

This is one year's growth!

The osier is already sprouting and as you can see from the picture above, it's putting out multiple shoots and should continue to do so. The mulching at the bottom of the willow isn't really doing a great job any more, although now that the willow is established, I'm not sure it matters. 

The grey willow along the side of the barn needed sorting out as it was putting out shoots everywhere. The plan is to create a row of pollards so after a good deal of cutting, the larger trees looked like this:

Willow pollard
Some of the other trees had been cut a lot lower in the past and were resembling untidy shrubs, which made it very difficult to mow underneath. All the shoots except one were trimmed and regular bud pinching is carried out to prevent side growth. With any luck, these stems will thicken and next winter, they'll be trimmed higher up to stimulate growth from the top.

Single stem remaining

 Also bought a new billhook - this is an ex-military one and required a lot of filing/sharpening to make it fit for purpose. It's a bit heavy for the wife, though, so there's another one on the way! The handle on this one is cracked but currently solid. I've cut some holly down and there should be enough to make a handle for the new one as well as a replacement for this one too.

Cornelius Whitehouse 1940 billhook