Our brilliant volunteers from the South Downs National Park. We spent Saturday working with them coppicing two sections of blackthorn from the north margin of the meadow. It is part of our blackthorn rotation plan which allows areas of fresh blackthorn regrowth to provide habitat for the rare Brown Hairstreak butterfly (see several posts below). It also helps us to manage blackthorn encroachment in the meadow in general. We are leaving some older grows of blackthorn to provide bird habitat in spring and summer. Hopefully we will have the cuttings removed by the middle of the week. A huge thank you to Phillippa and her team, it is always a pleasure to work with you.
A belated thank you to Jane Biggs and the Hassocks Field Society for inviting us to speak last Monday. And thank you especially for the very warm welcome and appreciative comments on the talk. We are always very happy to talk to local people about wildlife and conservation in Lag Wood and Pheasant Field. We really enjoyed meeting you all. See Hassocks Field Society for more information.
This amazing contraption is a Wood Mizer mobile sawmill, designed to mill timber in situ. It is a very practical alternative to extracting large logs from awkward places. And it was a joy to watch it in action, in the hands of Will Wallace, founder of Woodlouse Industries, a small West Sussex supplier of local timber from the Weald. We cut down these three oaks in order to thin the canopy and improve woodland health in this coupe. But it is great to see local oak going to good use. And while we will never make a profit from Lag Wood, it has gone a little way towards subsidising our costs. And if anyone wants any magnificent oak floorboards, they’ll be seasoned and ready in a couple of years. See http://woodlouseindustries.co.uk/
A very big thank you to Phillippa Morrison-Price and her band of volunteers for cutting back the south margin of Pheasant Field. Managing these dense thickets of bramble is fundamental to providing habitat for nesting birds and small mammals and at the same time preventing further encroachment on the grasses and wildflowers in the main meadow. The South Downs National Park has been of immense help to us in planning for habitat and biodiversity in Lag Wood and Pheasant Field. Without the enthusiasm, guidance and practical help of rangers like Phillippa, we would not have the project we have today. We had a great day working with the volunteers on Tuesday.
This year’s coppicing has come to a somewhat spectacular end with the felling of three large Oaks in the North West corner of the wood. This is to thin the canopy where it is most dense and provide light and warmth to improve the diversity of ground flora and the prospects of younger trees (see our post of January 2nd below). It is sad in many ways to see the end of three of our old and majestic Oaks, but creating gaps in the canopy is of great benefit to the species diversity and age-structure of the wood as a whole. And it is necessary if we are to retain our younger Oaks and allow new saplings to thrive for future generations to enjoy.
Protecting this new regrowth is from browsing deer is of course vital. We will be erecting a temporary deer fence around the coupe for the next two to three years.
A great big thank you to the volunteers of the South Downs National Park seen here on Saturday cutting back the strip of blackthorn on the eastern border of Pheasant Field. We were lucky enough to have a visit from Butterfly Conservation’s Neil Hulme who helped us to devise a four-year rotational plan for blackthorn management in Pheasant Field particularly for the rare Brown Hairstreak butterfly (see our posts of 26th September 2016 and 8th January 2015 below). Pheasant Field is a great opportunity to form habitats for Brown Hairstreaks and we look forward to seeing more of them in the coming years.
This year’s coppicing is a 0.25ha site at the North West tip of the wood near Misty Bridge. This very distinctive coupe is dominated by nearly forty oaks, many of them in the region of 150 years old. There is a small central section where tall ash coppice has reached the canopy but in all other respects this is the part of Lag Wood that most resembles high oak forest. While it has many majestic trees, the variety of tree and plant species is the lowest in Lag Wood with oak making up over 80% of the volume. There is quite a lot of hazel, some crab apple and birch in the understorey and, in the ground layer, there is a scatter of wood anemone in spring and a thin carpet of enchanters’ nightshade in summer. Other flowers, such as sweet violet, honeysuckle and primrose are rare here. Species common elsewhere in Lag Wood such as bluebell, campion or bugle are absent.
The dense oak canopy is a problem for the oaks themselves. The youngest of them are around 40 or so years old and these are suffering from the lack of light below the canopy. Two have died in recent years and a third is showing signs of stress. Age diversity becomes a problem in many neglected woodlands and improving it is a key aim for us in Lag Wood. To achieve it we are coppicing ash and hazel but we will also be taking out at least two of the larger oaks at the north end of the coupe. This should provide the light and space required for oak to regenerate. Oak seedlings have started to grow in the coppice coupe we completed last year (see pic) and this is something we want to encourage as far as is realistically possible. To help protect these youngsters, and the re-growing coppices, we will be erecting a temporary deer fence at the end of the coppicing season.