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The times they are a-changing. Springing into Springtime.

The times they are a-changing. Springing into Springtime.
It seems an age since my last woodland blog. A lot has happened in the last two months; the Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemones have flowered and withered, a vast carpet of Bluebells then sprouted, flowered, and are now also on the wain. They have been replaced by Ramsons (Wild Garlic, delicious), the enchanting Yellow Archangel, Greater Stitchwort, and now after a day or two of light rain the Ferns have burst forth all over the place. The Springtime is a wonderful time to be at the wood.
I completed the construction of my compost toilet (more of which later), cleared some large fallen tree’s, and installed a gate and some small sections of boundary fencing (for insurance purposes).
And best of all I have had a few friendly visitors popping along to see what all the fuss is about.

Yellow Archangel popping up in front of the Ramsons (Wild Garlic).
The proliferation of Brambles have taken second place since the discovery of Himalayan Balsam (with thanks to my old school friend Caroline Pollard for identifying that one very quickly) a very invasive species that has sprouted in vast profusion almost everywhere. I’ve decided to tackle the worst of the brambles during the winter when the ground is soft and the root balls are easily removed. The Himalayan Balsam is a considerable problem and is an issue that I will need to discuss with adjacent landowners and the local council, in order to tackle it effectively, as we all have a legal responsibility to prevent it spreading.

This sprightly fellow is Himalayan Balsam and grows from seed to 10 feet tall in no time at all. It is established all over the wood.
I’ve also discovered a small pocket of Spanish Bluebells, which I have hopefully now removed; the by-product of an unthinking fly-tipper at some point in the past (The Spaniards hybridise very easily with our native English variety). As are the two areas of invasive Periwinkle which I shall tackle next spring when they flower again.
Whilst on the subject of unwelcome species I have had a few instances of  littering and vandalism, mostly kids but also from adults too I suspect. A couple of well placed motion sensing cameras will soon reveal who they are. You do need to be thick-skinned when taking on something like this; I am more than happy to share the wood with well intentioned locals and walkers who respect it for what it is but I shouldn’t have to tolerate repeated incursions from people who don’t.
One or two scout groups have expressed an interest in helping me out from time to time and I will accept them gladly; I’ve even offered to trade labour for a night of wild camping so that they can earn their various badges.
I’ve also heard that the village school is interested in doing something and I will look forward to engaging with them too.

Someone thought that vandalising the bridge was a good idea.
Littering is an all too constant issue.
The wood is a joy to me and I am thoroughly enjoying the education that it brings. I’m constantly spotting new plants, fungi, and other delights. I have so far traced the wood back on maps to the early 1800’s, I’m hopeful that I can substantiate it back to 1600 as this means that it is considered to be Semi-Natural Ancient Woodland. I have a number of species flourishing in the wood that are classified as Ancient Woodland Indicator Species, many of which are very slow to colonise and require relatively undisturbed soil. The Bluebells are one such plant, as are the Wood Anemone, Ramsons, Yellow Archangel, and others I have discovered such as Dogs Mercury, Herb Robert, the wonderfully named Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage, Crab Apple, and (possibly) Pignut. Depending on who’s list you read my Dog Rose and Pendulous Sedge may also be. I also have a large number that I have yet to identify, and this is just the spring flowering selection.

Lesser Celandine.
Wood Anemone and Lesser Celandine by the brook.
Dogs Mercury sprouting either side of a fallen Ash, The fungus is King Alfred’s Cakes.
Greater Stitchwort.
Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage.
Wood Anemone amongst the Bluebells.
Pendulous Sedge.
This is one I have yet to identify.
Herb Robert.
This another one that I’m not sure about, but may be a member of the Primrose family.
My friends Chris & Mae Stenson and their daughters Emily and Lily came along to help out a few weeks ago. The two girls had a ball as we walked around the wood and I pointed out various flowers and things of interest. Mother Mae fretted a little as they went scrambling off up a steep bank, I laughed and encouraged them to have an adventure. Lily fell in the brook; I laughed a lot more. After this I re-christened her Water Lily. She can’t wait to come back.

Mae, Lily, Emily, and Chris.
Water Lily.
A loo with a view,
The composting toilet (or tree bog) is finally completed, once the willow saplings are properly established I will put in the final touch – the throne – and it will be ready to use.
Eventually I will be able to coppice the willow which is an added bonus. The finishing touch will be some guttering and a small water butt to harvest rainwater for for hand washing.
Below are a few photo’s charting the construction. In my last update I had erected the frame, these continue on from that,

Some of the willow wands have taken really well and some haven’t taken at all. 

I’ve installed a single gate at my pedestrian entrance and this came courtesy of my friend Matt Hibitt who was given it for fire wood but thought it might be of better use at the wood.

Putting in the gate posts.
View of the gate from the road side.
View of the gate from the wood side.
Throughout the wood are many fallen trees and I’ve been busy logging and clearing one or two them. Fallen trees are an important part of the regeneration process in the life cycle of any wood and I won’t be clearing up all of them by any means but there a few that require attention. Some are “hung up” on other trees making them potentially dangerous and others are strangling the forest floor and blocking out much needed light for the development of the understory. I have created a number of log piles from the timber to provide havens for insects and other life, hopefully negating the impact of the clearance somewhat.

Being custodian of a wood means that I now have to think constantly about the long term impacts of any actions. Clearing an area of brambles, for example, can leave an area looking a bit barren, but next year the benefits will become more apparent as suppressed wild flowers should materialise with more light and less competition for the nutrients. I now find myself thinking less in terms of days and weeks and more in terms of seasons and years. If I take a particular action now what will it look like, and what impact might it have, next year or the year after? Or in five years? It is going to be a very long process but ultimately a very rewarding one.

As I write this I am actually in Sri Lanka for The Yak Attack “Rumble in the Jungle” mountainbike race; when I return home I will be speaking the local Forestry Commission Officer for some advice and guidance, and to look at a long term management plan. I also plan to contact the local Wildlife Trust and some other groups to see if they are interested in working with me to identify improvements in the biodiversity of the wood.
To the naked eye the wood is a very beautiful place but at the moment it is a bit of a desert with regards to diversity of species, particularly birds and mammals. The canopy is very dense and light is restricted in most places, especially now that the leaves have started to grow, and the understory is very overgrown and neglected. Over the next few years I hope to improve this dramatically.

Until next time here are a few images from around the wood.



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About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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