Re-surveying our first coppice coupe

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Part of our first coppice coupe after ride clearance in 2018

Known to us by the catchy title of Sub-Compartment 1g, we completed coppicing this coupe in March 2015. It runs alongside the east-west path through the wood with the little bench around half way along. Part of this area had been coppiced for Hazel in the winters between 1998 and 2000 when Hazel coppicing took place in a broad band all along this east-west path (which we have christened “Bench Lane”). Tree rings counted during our coppicing in 2015 showed that Sweet Chestnut, Birch, Willow and Ash stools in this coupe were last coppiced around 1955. The presence of several mature Oaks and the density of old Hazel stools suggests that, like most of Lag Wood, a coppice-with-standards regime had been in place for some very considerable time before the 1950s.

The main headlines from our survey: The Hazel coppices show robust and abundant regrowth. A very small proportion of our Hazel stools were lost. Our experiment with “layering” hazel was successful. “Layering” is a means of producing new stools by cutting a single stem in such a way as to lay it flat to the ground while still attached to its root system. The “layer” stem will then produce new roots and ultimately new coppice stools.

Our worries about coppicing Sweet Chestnut were unfounded. There are only two of them in Lag Wood and we did not want to lose one of them, but the one we coppiced regrew quite spectacularly and continues to do so.

All of the 13 Ash stools we coppiced are now affected by Ash Dieback, although there is abundant natural regeneration of Ash in the ground layer. Some of these appear to be more than one year old and are healthy, so far at least. “Singling” Ash does not appear to have slowed the disease. “Singling” means coppicing an old coppice stool but leaving one more mature stem in place.

Other tree species coppiced appear to have regrown well including one young Hornbeam sapling that had been ring-barked by squirrels. There is a patch of natural Birch regeneration in the north-west of the coupe which is becoming overgrown by Hazel. The willows appear to be in excellent health despite one or two of them being re-coppiced twice during ride management subsequent to 2015 (see pic above). In terms of tree species diversity, Field Maple looks like being a key beneficiary of coppicing here and throughout the wood but even this shade-tolerant mid-storey tree needs some light. The seven mature Oaks in the coupe are all healthy and squirrel damage seems more limited this year.

The ground flora remains diverse and Twayblades have unexpectedly appeared in the coupe. Understandably, ground flora is no-longer as abundant as it was in the years immediately following coppicing, but the dominance of brambles found in the following year’s coupe is nowhere near as marked in this one.

Our use of coppice protectors (see pic below) instead of deer fence seems to have been reasonably effective. Unfortunately coppice protectors are laborious to install and extremely fiddly to remove three years later. We may use them again but not en-masse as we did in 2015.

The density of Hazel regrowth may now be inhibiting some slower growing tree species and ground flora. Re-coppicing this coupe, or part of it, this coming winter may have several benefits if coppicing is restricted to Hazel only. It would assist areas of Field Maple, Birch and Ash regeneration – the latter should be encouraged as some natural regeneration may be resistant to Ash Dieback. Ground flora would also benefit. A watch should be kept for excessive bramble growth in subsequent years. Apart from the presence of Ash Dieback, the coupe has progressed as we hoped and we are pleased with the outcome.

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The coupe after coppicing in 2015

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Felling by the Railway Line

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Just to let people know that we will be felling four mature Ash trees by the Cinder Path at some point in the coming week while the railway is closed. All of these trees showed signs of Ash Dieback when we surveyed them last summer and are likely to fall or shed branches soon, although we do not know when. While they are some distance from the railway line, we think they may pose a small risk. We are acting in co-ordination with The Woodland Trust at Butchers Wood and with Network Rail. We will be on the Cinder Path while felling is in progress and we will ask walkers to wait a few moments to ensure everyone’s safety.

New Stile by Misty Bridge

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A very special thanks to The Monday Group who installed a brand new and very good looking stile on Monday at the entrance to Pheasant Field from Misty Bridge. The old one had started to become quite wobbly at its base and was in need of replacement. This oak stile was constructed by The Monday Group and seems exceptionally sturdy. Great job! Thank you.

Dragonflies

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It has been a great year for dragonflies, including this female Common Darter posing for her picture on an old Bramble stem. We’ve also seen many Emperor dragonflies and some rather beautiful Migrant Hawkers (pictured below). Dragonflies are bit like posts on this blog, you don’t see any for months and suddenly there’s a whole bunch of them. We’ll try and be a bit more regular. See new posts below on coppicing, meadow scything, dormice and the random sheep. And don’t forget our Flickr photo diary at A Sussex Woodland .

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Coppice logs

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This is Andrew Coates (above), from Wilderness Wood wildlife park near Uckfield, helping to remove  coppice wood from last winter’s coupe. A big thank you to him for doing an extremely professional job. Last winter’s coupe was one of the densest in the wood, containing some very old Ash coppice stools that were last cut around 1960 and had many cycles of coppicing before that. In normal times the Ash would regrow instantly, but Chalara Ash Dieback will certainly have very significant effect. But this coupe already has regeneration of Field Maple, Hornbeam and Hazel, and it is a very good candidate for Oak seedlings. Some of the wood has gone to the nearby cottage. The rest is awaiting collection. There is some timber, and we are awaiting the return of the mobile sawmill, see our post 20th May 2017 for this incredible contraption.

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Scything

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We’re well into our seasonal meadow mowing pattern in Pheasant Field. Our free 2016 illustrated PDF A Guide to Pheasant Field explains a lot about what we are doing and why. We monitor the distribution of grasses and flowering plants in areas we have scythed regularly, and it is heartening to see many traditional meadow grasses and flowers gradually increasing in abundance. Fleabane (picture below) has hugely increased its range from a single patch in 2013. So has Agrimony, Field Bindweed (with its pink and white flowers), Red Bartsia and Black Knapweed, and at different times of year, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Field Forget-me-not and Tufted Vetch. It is very encouraging, but large parts of the meadow are still too dense and over-fertile for traditional wildflowers. The soil conditions still favour thistles, brambles, nettles and invasive species like Ragwort. We hope to mechanically mow the whole meadow again later this year, weather permitting. It might look a bit drastic but it is an important part of creating a unique wildflower meadow with native local flowers which are at home in this all too rare type of environment.

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New Dormouse nest boxes

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Volunteer Clare from the national dormouse monitoring scheme has placed a number of dormouse boxes in the bramble scrub to see if we can find dormice taking advantage of the abundant blackberries. Blackberries are a big part of the very seasonal dormouse diet. Our dormouse monitoring is in conjunction with The Woodland Trust at Butchers Wood, between us we form a single survey site. If you like to pick blackberries (for your own consumption) please don’t try and make inroads into the bramble scrub, it is a habitat for many of our small mammals and birds as well as dormice. We, and the dormice, would also be grateful if you could resist the temptation to look inside the dormouse boxes or disturb them in any way. Many thanks.