Building a ‘New’ ‘Old’ Barn – Part I | 19th Oct, 2017

As a tiny acorn can eventually lead to much bigger things, so has the seed of an idea I had of building a new barn to season my wood and store my forestry equipment.   I have been managing two small woodlands on the edge of the High Weald AONB of  East Sussex for 3 or 4 years now.  Both have been neglected and both have been in a transition from working coppice to a high canopy of crowded oak and hence a suffering understory.

Combining the thinning of these oak with the construction of a new but traditionally built barn seemed to me like a bit of a virtuous circle.   The trees desperately need thinning for the health of the woodlands, and I desperately need more storage space.  The materials will as much as possible come from within a 10 mile radius of the site.   Using building techniques that have been developed over  100’s of years will I hope, not only  be very satisfying, but also provide a great  opportunity to learn some new ‘old’ skills.

Opening up the rides in the woodlands was my first job.  Light is allowed in,  neglected coppice stools are revived and dormant seeds germinate as a natural regeneration is given the best opportunity to flourish.   My aim is to reduce the oak canopy to about 30% cover, in the woodlands and maybe even more on the ride edges.  This means felling quite a lot of trees as in places they shade up to 90% of the woodland floor.

The reason why these woodlands and most other woodlands of this kind in the country are so  undermanaged is largely economic.  It is very difficult to make coppicing pay and even the big oak timber trees at best will only return a meager return, once the felling and transportation costs are taken into account.  As ever, the easy to get at trees, close to a road or ride can make up a viable load for the timber mill. It leaves us with a wealth of good quality trees, but a difficult job in extracting them.  I’ve taken a bit of a different approach.  Instead of taking the tree to the mill, which entails getting in huge lifting equipment and requires  hard tracks and turn-arounds.  I have a lightweight portable swinging arm mill, which can be carried in by two people and built up around the felled tree. The boards or beams can usually be taken out with logging arches, gravity and sometimes skids and  hand winches.  All very labour intensive but considerably easier than hewing the beams by hand or being  consigned to the ‘underdog’ of the saw pit!

The groundwork is nearing completion, I will build on a concrete foundation and brick plinth.    The rest will be as near as possible in keeping with the techniques and traditions of  the oak timber framers stretching back hundreds of years and hopefully lasting for as many into the future.

Check back as the building takes shape!

Watch one of the first trees come over from a very precarious angle!

Swing Arm Milling an 8″x”8 beam

A slower but lower impact extraction

Curved grains make stronger wind braces

Butterfly Notes | 25th Jul, 2017

Thanks to Steve Wheatley and Neil Hulme of Butterfly Conservation for these notes about butterfly species and how to encourage them in woodlands.

Butterflies of Plattershill Woods

Tottington butterflies

Combwell butterflies

Rides Revisited | 13th Jun, 2017

Some of you may have been aware of the ride improvement project  SWOG members in the south east  have benefitted from over the last 18 months or so.  (See articles in last year’s March and June  newsletters, and occasional  updates here).


Before (left) and after (right)

We have had a lot of feedback from the owners over the subsequent months, most people have been amazed at the amount of light which has reached the ground, warming it and helping to germinate long since dormant seeds.  This ground flora is a magnet for insects, butterflies and birds and in many cases can help transform a sterile dark over stood woodland into a vibrant biodiverse habitat for wildlife.

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Malvern Coppicing – a review | 30th Mar, 2017

Thanks to Annie Vincent for this review of a course at Malvern Coppicing.

splittingThis course is a must for all those starting out in their woods and for those that want to learn how to manage and maintain it while ensuring that the wildlife is encouraged , too.

The course was full, that says something straight away, but with just six attendees, we found that we were able to learn skills without being left alone in the crowds! We started with a walk around some of the 50 acres of woodland at Ravenshill Woodland Reserve, while learning how to identify trees in winter.

And to the business of coppicing – we learnt how to choose a site to coppice, with details about compartments, coupes and coppice rotation. How to arrange stacks of produce such as pea sticks / bean poles / steaks/ hedge posts –the list is endless. We built the stacks which then gave us ample opportunity to identify the species and stack them into piles of hazel / ash / oak or whatever. Phil supplied all the tools and I had great fun with the froe while splitting posts. We coppiced complete stools and created windrows for insects and birds.

stackWe layered the  hazel that we hadn’t coppiced to create more stools throughout the compartment that was looking a little bare. We made pegs to hold the layered hazel in place and then selected hawthorn to protect the growth.

We had a great time and have come away from the course with a re-kindled enthusiasm to get coppicing on our own woodland. I now look at coppiced wood in a totally new light: I understand why you coppice, the financial gains (if that’s what you’re interested in) and the benefits for your woodland and the habitat.

owlWe had lunch, cooked by Rae Wood – hot piping soup and pheasant casserole – all tea and biscuits and fruit included in the price and Rae even gave me some private tuition on traditional Split Peg making using a willow kosht.  We also met Nelson the Tawny Owl , who has been rescued and lives on site.

You can stay on site – we didn’t camp as it was cold wet and storm Doris was still blowing. We did stay on site in our motorhome with the kind permission of the local woodland owners.

A Christmas tree for Stony Stratford | 08th Dec, 2015

stonylit-treeEvery Christmas Trafalgar Square receives a fir tree from the people of Norway. Market Square in Stony Stratford has a tree from a little closer to home, courtesy of SWOG member Andy Malleson who fells one from his small plantation at Gayhurst.

Stony Stratford is a small market town on the northern edge of Milton Keynes, which has fought very successfully to retain its identity. Once an important coaching town, it was here that the phrase ‘cock and bull story originated, with its roots in the gossip the sprang up around the town’s old pubs, The Cock and The Bull. Read more …

Artizans of Wood – Roundwood Timber Framing Course | 26th Jul, 2015

Earlier this month I attended the first roundwood timber framing course run by Artizans of Wood at the Dangstein Conservancy in Rogate. The course showed us how to construct a cruck or ‘A’ frame style building from round and somewhat irregular poles. Read more …

Made from Wood from the Wood | 26th Jul, 2015

IMAG1311I’ve been quite aware that a lot of my woodland craft products have been reaching a stage of functionality which will just about do, then pressure of time and other projects seem to move into my field of vision and take over. An example of this is the composting loo I built last year. It was functioning fairly well, getting on with its composting very nicely thank you. It didn’t have a toilet seat, a coat peg or a bolt on the door, actually it didn’t have a door until just recently, but it’s been working pretty well up until now. Read more …

Planting a New Hedge | 25th Mar, 2015

For many woodland owners especially those with ancient woodlands, our hedges are our boundaries. They may have been planted 100’s of years ago, some still managed as hedges, having been layed, pollarded or coppiced many times, others are unrecognisable as a hedge, more a line of full grown trees which is what all hedges aspire to be eventually!

2013-10-11 12.56.50

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Seeing Butterflies – Book review by Heather Martin | 13th Dec, 2014


When I first opened ‘Seeing Butterflies’ I was so enthralled by the superb photographs of butterflies and moths that I kept turning the pages treating the volume initially as a picture book, a visual experience further enhanced by the entire contents being printed on yellow, orange and green paper as opposed to the more traditional white.

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Irreplaceable Woodlands – Book Review | 27th Nov, 2014

I was delighted to get hold of a copy of Charles Flower’s Irreplaceable Woodlands. The book is a glorious reference to his 30 year custodianship of a 25 acre ancient woodland – Mapleash Copse. The title is a reminder that woodlands such as these are under threat. Politicians and developers with big infrastructure project on their agendas seem to consider them as transferable commodities, the loss of which they think can be compensated for with the planting of an equivalent acreage of ‘trees’ elsewhere. They fail to grasp the depth of complexity and length of time the ecology has taken to reach this diversity and this book is testimony to just how valuable to wildlife a well managed ancient woodland is. Read more …

Habitat for Bats | 28th Oct, 2014

IMAG0585Here’s a quick and easy project, ideal for kids wondering what to do with themselves at half term and ideal for bats who will no doubt appreciate their efforts!

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The Sun and the Pleacher Man | 25th Mar, 2014

After sitting around for most of the winter, like most people I was going a bit stir crazy waiting for the weather to break so I could get on with some work in the woods.  Top of my list was this roadside hedge restoration, mainly of hornbeam, it had some poorly spaced old stools which over the years, had been cut higher and higher.  With most of the re-growth starting at 3 or 4 feet high, I felt there was little chance of laying it successfully and the only way to restore it would be to coppice it down as low as possible and start again. To add to the complexity of the task, the stems had grown up into a telephone wire meaning I had a slow and awkward job of unpicking the mass of branches with a combination of pole saw and loppers.

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Coping with Deer in Areas of High Population | 16th Dec, 2013

deer imageDeer numbers are at their all time high in many parts of the country.  Managing a coppice in one of these areas is hard work and can be extremely frustrating.  Groups like the Deer Initiative are being proactive in educating woodland owners and the public about the issues involved.  The main problem being that deer are a natural ‘prey ’ species without any natural predators. The limiting factor to their population increase is likely to be the available food, and unfortunately that means for  many of us, our woodlands and parks and gardens are coming under increasing pressure from their numbers.

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Making a Log into a Birdbox | 28th Oct, 2013

2013-10-20 17.39.39There’s nothing more satisfying than making something for the wood from the wood. Anything from a teaspoon to a log cabin can be fashioned from the materials you find growing or lying around.  It keeps our 21st century plastic clutter out of sight and means everything is low impact and will eventually return to where it came from.

Here’s an idea for a log cabin on a slightly smaller scale, one for our feathered friends.

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Firewood – burning secrets | 17th Oct, 2013

Firewood stacked up to dry showing annual ringsMost woodland owners quickly find that they generate more firewood than they know what to do with. It makes sense, environmentally and economically use it to heat your own home – and maybe that of their neighbours and friends, too.

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