Fifty-three very charming looking sheep arrived bang on time on Tuesday courtesy of their owner Tom Parry and his dog Reg. These are Jacob sheep, an old English breed originally found on great landed estates from the 17th Century and were much more common in the centuries following.
If you are walking dogs in the meadow, please keep them on leads. This is for the safety of your dog as well as the sheep. If dogs sniff the fence they will get a severe shock and are likely to bolt. We aim to make life as undisturbed as possible for the sheep so they can get on with their very important job of eating grass.
“Conservation grazing” with sheep is a very good means of maintaining grassland. It helps us to manage meadow fertility and opens up the dense tussocks to allow the development of a greater variety of grasses, flowering plants and insect life. They are scheduled to leave on Christmas Eve, assuming they have eaten enough grass.
Tom Parry and Reg
A big Lag Wood thank you to Tom Parry, grazing manager at the Sussex Wildlife Trust and proud owner of a flock of very distinctive Jacob Sheep. Fifty-five of them will be on part of Pheasant Field from Tuesday (10th of December) for about two weeks. A sturdy electric fence was installed yesterday by volunteers from the South Downs National Park and a big thank you to them as well, especially as they took the time to do some bramble and blackthorn management for us. Well done everyone.
PLEASE NOTE: we will be asking all dog walkers to keep all dogs on leads while sheep are in the meadow. No exceptions please. The meadow is Pheasant Field between Butcher’s Wood and Lag Wood. The public footpaths crossing the site are unaffected. We will be erecting some temporary signs to warn people.
Lead Ranger Phillippa Morrison-Price with South Downs National Park volunteers. Tom Parry is far left in the beanie hat.
SDNP volunteers clearing bramble by the track.
After 6 years looking very at home in the meadow, our wonderful shepherd’s hut has moved. It has now taken up residence in the garden of Woodbine Cottage where we hope it will have a long and happy life. Many thanks to Cliff and Jake for helping us move it.
Anyone who volunteers their Saturday for cutting back blackthorn deserves a round of applause. Blackthorn’s dense dark thickets and inch long razor-sharp thorns are enough to test the most dedicated conservationist. Even more so when the whole idea is to let it grow back again.
But there is a point to all this effort. Blackthorn is highly invasive in open, sunny meadows like Pheasant field and would soon drive out the grassland if we did not keep it in check. But it is also excellent habitat, especially for small mammals and nesting birds. Just as importantly, young blackthorn regrowth is a breeding habitat for Brown Hairstreak butterflies. We rarely see these butterflies but we know they are here because we find their eggs on blackthorn shoots in winter. Our five-year rotating plan for cutting blackthorn ensures that there is always some young regrowth to allow Brown Hairstreaks to breed. This session of cutting was the fifth year of its operation. So it’s back to the start next autumn!
We could not do this without volunteers and it’s a huge thank you from us to everyone who came on Saturday including SDNP lead ranger Phillippa Morrison-Price who makes these wonderful things happen. Phillippa can be found on Twitter at @Ranger_sdnpa
Marbled White butterfly in Pheasant Field June 2019
Our photo diary of Lag Wood and Pheasant Field started in October 2012 and, over 6,600 photos later, it is still going strong. If you want to take a look it is called “A Sussex Woodland” and can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/90224643@N04/
Thank you to HKD Transition for restoring the debris dams in Lag Wood – and creating a few more! Debris dams are made from fallen small trees and branches and sometimes any other natural materials that come to hand. They are simple to make and are held in position by a few stakes in the stream bed. They are designed to slow down the flow of water in the upper part of river catchments to prevent sudden flooding downstream at times of very heavy rainfall. For most of the year they let water flow freely.
Debris dams can have many ecological benefits, they increase the variety of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats and can improve biodiversity as a result. They have very few adverse impacts because they mimic what happens naturally in woodland streams. We now have six of them in the wood; three in the stream bed and three along several of our old drainage ditches.
For more on HKD Transition please see https://www.hkdtransition.org.uk/
A great big thank you to SNDP lead ranger Phillippa Morrison-Price and her trusty team of volunteers who spent the day cutting back bramble on the meadow margins. It was a pleasure working with you in the meadow and really good to see you all. You can follow Phillippa on Twitter at
The giant woodpile is now a lot smaller, thankfully. We have scythed the brambles and thistles from the surrounding area as part of our plan to return most of this area to grassland. Unfortunately the contractor came into contact with the stile near the stream and was forced to dismantle it. We’ve contacted the Monday Group who will install a new one in a few weeks time when the rest of the wood piles have been removed. Meanwhile, we have a temporary gate where the stile used to be.
Ash tree with leaf loss from the margins of the crown – a typical symptom of Ash Dieback.
In mid June we surveyed all the ash trees in Lag Wood to see how many were affected by Chalara Ash Dieback. We found 102 ash trees showing symptoms of the disease. This represents nearly a quarter of the ash trees and ash coppice stools in the wood and shows a considerable rate of advance for the disease considering that we first identified it here on a few re-growing coppice stools in summer 2016.
Chalara is fatal to a large majority of ash trees but there is some natural immunity and, even when infected, not all ash succumbs to the disease. Estimates of survival rates vary depending on the density of ash in any given location. Mixed woodlands like ours tend to show slower rates of infection.
With no reliable means of prevention and no cure, our options for managing the disease are extremely limited. We expect a very large proportion of our wonderful ash trees will die in the coming years.
We have already felled ash where we felt they posed any risk to the railway line. We may also fell ash where public rights of way could be affected. But in other instances we feel we have few options except to let nature take its course. Ash makes up over a quarter of the larger trees in Lag Wood and nearly a half of the woodland canopy. The character of the wood will change significantly over time, and there is no doubt that there will be an impact on species because ash supports such a diverse community of plants and insects.
However, the gradual thinning of the canopy will allow more light and warmth into the wood. After coppicing here for five seasons we know something about how the wood will react. Wildlife friendly tree species like hawthorn, field maple and hornbeam will be the main beneficiaries. We will also see the regeneration of birch, aspen and, most welcome of all, oak seedlings. Ash itself will also continue to regenerate and a few of those seedlings will have greater immunity to Chalara.
We are adjusting our coppicing plans. We are likely to avoid coppicing any more healthy ash and we may put greater emphasis on rotational Hazel coppice. We will keep up our use of temporary deer fence to protect regrowth and continue to monitor the progress of Chalara and how the wood is responding to it. It is a poignant and melancholy moment for us as it is for all those who love woodlands. But it is by no means a disaster for the wood as a whole. If you’ll forgive the pun, a new beautiful Lag Wood will emerge over time from the ashes.
Hornbeam coppice regrowing in our 2017 coppice coupe
A short survey of our 2016 coppice coupe (brambles permitting) showed that three of our six experimental Hornbeam coppices have survived. This is a slightly disappointing result, but the surviving coppice stools are doing very well, and we found many hornbeam seedlings that have taken advantage of the sunlight and warmth in the coupe. Despite being a shade-tolerant tree it is noticeable that those that failed had the least direct sunlight. A long dry spell in 2017 may not have helped, one stool showed promising regrowth in the first year but was looking very poorly by the end of 2017.
There is a risk whatever we do. If we do nothing the old coppices will eventually fall apart under the weight of mature stems and die. Traditionally, re-coppicing Hornbeam every thirty years or so preserved these old stools sometimes for centuries. But the longer the interval between coppicing, the greater the chances of failure. Some say that after 50 years it is not worth re-coppicing neglected stands. Our Hornbeams had been re-growing for 60 years when we re-coppiced them and only half failed. We would argue that the general benefits of coppicing made the experiment worthwhile. As well as an increase in natural Hornbeam regeneration, this coupe also produced the first Oak seedlings in Lag Wood for decades.
It is also worth recording that there were three old Hornbeam stools of a similar age which we coppiced in our 2018 coupe. All three are in good sunlit positions and have abundant regrowth over a year later (see pic below). Old coppiced Hornbeam is part of the distinctive character of Lag Wood. All these survivors will help to preserve that character for many decades to come.
Coppice regrowth in our 2017 coupe. Ash left, Hornbeam right.