Coppicing

It is autumn again and this year’s coppicing is under way. Our woodsman Jake (left), ably assisted by Jethro (right) are coppicing a coupe between the main ride and the cinder path. They will be here on Fridays and if you are asked to avoid the area while felling takes place, please do so and avoid allowing any dogs into the coupe when they are working.

This might be our last coupe for a few years. By the end of this season we will have coppiced nearly half of Lag Wood and it is time to take stock of the impact we have had on the diversity of trees and flora, and on the age-structure of the wood. There are some other reasons notably Chalara ash dieback. Infected trees pose an increased risk for woodland workers while felling and their safety is paramount. We have removed any risks to the railway line and to public rights of way. Our policy now is to let nature take its course.

The progress of Chalara Ash Dieback is changing the wood quite significantly now. While we are very sad to lose most of our beautiful ash trees to disease, Chalara is thinning out the canopy and improving conditions for a new generation of many types of tree to grow. We want to take the time to understand this process in more detail and review what the future role of woodland management should be. However, we will continue rotational coppicing along the sides of the “rides” in the wood as these, like our coppice coupes, have become  very interesting habitats for an increasing variety of woodland flowers and saplings.

Scything and the art of conversation

Photo by Phillipa King

In many parts of this country anyone holding a razor sharp steel blade attached to a pole would find themselves invited to a night in the cells, swiftly followed by an unenviable encounter with the magistrates.

Here it is nothing more than a good conversation starter, and what good conversations we have had. These local woods and the meadow are more than just a place to walk the dog. People come here for quality time with the children, spiritual connections with nature, respite from traumatic events in their lives, or just out of a love of beauty and wild things. Or indeed all those things at once. It is only by talking to people that we have come to understand how many things bind us all to the natural world.

In these days of lockdowns and social distancing, having some fresh air and a walk in the woods has taken on a new importance for a great many people. All we ask of you is that you have respect for these places, and help us to preserve them for everything that calls them home, and for everyone else who visits, whatever their reasons.

Try and leave no trace except your footprints. And if you meet a bloke with a scythe don’t worry, I really am quite friendly.

Some Belated Thank Yous

Phillippa and Volunteers on the 10th October

Above, I cannot remember how many times we have said thank you to Phillippa Morrison-Price and the SNDPA volunteers, but, however many times we have said it, it is not enough. Covid-19 and the social distancing rules meant that only two volunteers could make it this time. They arrived under their own steam and came all the way from Stratford to cut blackthorn in the meadow as part of our coppicing plan for Brown Hairstreak butterflies and meadow conservation. And a very able and enthusiastic team they made. Thank you so much. Most of the cut blackthorn found its way to Butcher’s Wood to make dead hedging.

And another belated thank you Juliet Merrifield and the HKD volunteers, lead by Alistair Whitby of the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust, for rebuilding the debris dams along the stream. For us, these dams benefit biodiversity by extending the number and variety of aquatic environments in the stream. And, after months of unusually consistent and frequently heavy rain last year Hassocks noticeably did not flood. Whether or not this was  due to the presence of debris dams along the water courses only experts can tell. But it seems a good mark in favour of this economical and very environmentally friendly means of controlling water flows.

11th October, The volunteers added two more dams to the collection, such as this one

Our New Hazel Fence

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This is Jake Whitcroft, our woodsman and maker of our new and much admired hazel fence. The fence is constructed from locally sourced sweet chestnut posts and our own Lag Wood hazel coppiced by Jake last winter. We think this is a beautiful piece of work. We’ll coppice some more hazel this winter to continue the fence along the side of the new track. Amongst other things Jake is an expert wood weaver, he can be contacted here: https://sussexwillowcoffins.co.uk/contact-us/

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New Footpath Layout Open!

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Our new public footpath layout by Woodbine Cottage is now open for walkers at Lag Wood and Pheasant Field. We hope it will provide an all year-round route for walkers and enable occasional vehicle access into the meadow from Woodbine Cottage to help with scything, mowing and woodland management.

The new layout consists entirely of environmentally friendly chalk rubble locally sourced from the chalk quarry in Pyecombe run by Robins of Herstmonceux. Path construction was by Richard Miller and his son Taylor from Millers Fencing (Millers Group) in Burgess Hill (see picture below). Richard can be contacted on 07807 596184.

The part of the track from Woodbine Cottage to the meadow is not a new route. It had simply been overgrown by blackthorn for several decades. We’ve added the new section of footpath to the style by the stream to help walkers avoid the deep mud that forms every winter. We hope that this will enable us to restore this section of Pheasant Field back to grassland with a regenerated scrub habitat for birds and small mammals a few meters to the south by Lag Wood.

There are still some finishing works to do on the fencing. And we are also coppicing the ancient boundary bank by Woodbine Cottage with the hope of creating a new hedge line from the trees that are already there: mainly privet, hawthorn, hazel and some willow. Dog roses and honeysuckle should also find their way into this new hedge. Our woodsman Jake is also about to install a fence woven from our own hazel trees to screen the Cottage garden.

The chalk surface will compact and set during rain, and over the next year or two should form a very effective and durable surface. In the meantime, you can help us a great deal just by walking on it. Please feel free!

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Our path constructors Richard Miller and his son Taylor

The Old Track

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This is the start of a project to reinstate a section of the old track between the meadow and the drive to the cottage. One of its aims is to restore part of the public footpath and provide walkers with a hard surface during the winter instead of the annual mud bath.

We do not know when it acquired its hardened surface but you can see the line of the track in the white chalky area uncovered by the digger. This is the first time this part of the track has seen the light of day for around 40 years.

Due to the current lockdown this project has been slow to start and may go on for some time longer than we expected. There may be piles of earth and materials at various times, and we would appreciate it if small children were kept from climbing on them. The public right of way will remain open but please be patient if you are asked to wait a couple of minutes. Many thanks.

Log Piles Gone

A big thanks to Mark (below) for removing the large piles of well-seasoned logs from the path-side near the stream. We’re keeping it local, Mark’s firewood business is Ogs Logs based in Henfield and you can contact him 07966 431930.

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Do Not Remove Ivy!

This is the second time that we have found growths of ivy which have been deliberately killed by someone sawing through the ivy stems. We do not know why people do this, but we can only assume that they think ivy damages trees in some way. Everyone needs to understand that ivy does no harm whatsoever to healthy trees and removing it does nothing but damage to the natural environment.

Ivy provides abundant and irreplaceable nesting habitat for small birds, it provides food and habitat for numerous insect species on which the birds depend. And it provides a late season nectar resource for bees and other flying insects. Ivy has no effect on tree health but removing it will certainly damage the health of other species. We manage this wood for the benefit of everything that lives in it and we are naturally upset by this form of vandalism, however well-intentioned people believe themselves to be.

In some countries with different ecosystems ivy might be considered an invasive species, for example, there are numerous American websites advising the removal of ivy. In this country no such problems exist and removing ivy does nothing but harm. If you are visiting woodlands and removing ivy you should desist immediately. If you know anyone who does this tell them to stop.

Sheep – Mission Accomplished

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Tom loading the sheep into his double-decker trailer with “trainee” sheep dog Reg (right)

Tom’s sheep have completed their mission to munch in Pheasant Field and have departed literally for pastures new. We’re glad to report that their two-week sojourn on the meadow passed without incident. We’re very grateful to dog-walkers for keeping their dogs on leads and everyone for giving our wooly munchers a happy and contented time. The sheep fence is de-activated but will stay in the meadow for a few days until Tom comes to collect it.

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Sheep in the meadow

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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.

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Tom Parry and Reg