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.