“A wood of our own” by Julian Evans

I read “A wood of our own” by Julian Evans before I bought Century Wood, way back in 2007. I was already pretty sure I wanted to own a woodland, and Evans’ book helped confirm it. It’s become the book I compare other woodland owners’ books against, and I’ve looked through it again after reading and reviewing “A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey.

Back in 2007 I had already read Evans’ book “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, which is out of print but still available as a free PDF from woodlands.co.uk. That is very much a How To book with a lot of practical advice. At the same time as “A wood of our own”, I bought Chris Starr’s “Woodland management: a practical guide” and Ken Broad’s “Caring for small woods”. Both of these are more formal (very formal in Starr’s case: it’s a textbook) How To books in the vein of “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, whereas “A wood of our own” is autobiographical. A first person account of Evans and his wife and her brother purchasing and managing the wood.

The book is relatively slim, with 158 numbered pages, but stays on the point without wandering off (compare Ruth Pavey’s book.) It is illustrated by John White’s line drawings, diagrams, and maps. This sketch of a shared gate with different owners’ padlocks in series will be a familiar sight to many woodland owners and managers.

Julian Evans was working at the Forestry Commission’s Alice Holt Research Station when he bought the wood, and eventually became Chief Research Officer before becoming Professor of Forestry at Imperial College. He is a past President of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. So his academic and professional credentials are impeccable, but you do not see them paraded in the book. In the book, you feel as if you are having a long chat with a Forestry Commission officer who knows his stuff and knows his wood, and is enjoying the role of gamekeeper turned poacher.

The chapters cover the experience of finding, buying and managing the wood in Hampshire. Originally 22 acres in 1985, the book describes how it grew in depth and size. After a few years the freehold was bought out. They were able to take possession of an area occupied by standing trees retained by a previous owner and eventually felled by them. A neighbouring wood came up for sale and another 7 or 8 acres were added.

At each stage we witness the thought processes and planning, and the implications of different types of land ownership and legal obligations. The first one we meet is that owning a wood as leasehold rather than freehold often means the “sporting rights” to shoot pheasants, other game, and pest species are retained by a previous owner. Who therefore has the right to turn up with guns and friends and shoot. Good country neighbours act with consideration and communicate, as Evans (mostly) experienced, but you can see how things can easily be different.

We see the difference between felling and thinning, the practicalities of selling standing timber and of waiting for it to be felled and removed, what it means to plant hundreds of saplings, the damage caused by the American Grey Squirrel, the habits of deer, the effect of the great storms of 1987 and 1990, and the pleasure of sharing a woodland with friends and family.

This is not a lyrical account of summer evenings, watching sunsets and listening for the sound of bats wings. But if you share the urge to find a wood and then leave it better than you found it, Julian Evans wants to tell you his story.

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“A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey

“A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey has been out for a couple of years but I’ve only got round to reading it this month. For me, it was a bit of curate’s egg. It’s well written (there are gushing reviews in the press) but the content was rather disappointing: the gardening correspondent of the local paper in Highgate and Hampstead buys a 4 acre wood in Somerset, and uses it for gardening. Maybe that is too harsh. It’s really an orchard after all, and Pavey has a lot of awareness of what is going to set people’s teeth on edge: planting garden flowers in woodland, for instance.

Pavey has family and childhood connections to Somerset, and so it was not entirely surprising that in 1999 she ended up buying her four acres there. Mixed scrub, orchard, some big trees, and lots of brambles and nettles.

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Cutting brambles with a hedge trimmer

I’ve written before about mowing rides and glades with a scythe mower and a brush cutter before that. Six foot high nettles, cow parsley and saplings present no obstacle to this machine, but brambles are another story. Their branches run horizontally, tangle together and root when they touch the ground, creating a strong mesh. They need both horizontal and vertical cuts to cut them up and separate them from their roots. Last year I bought a petrol hedgetrimmer and yesterday I used it on big thicket of  brambles blocking a ride: its first proper outing.

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Trail cameras

I’ve been using trail cameras at Century Wood for the last couple of years. To start with I got a camera for security: to see if people were coming in to the wood following occasional thefts from my neighbours over the years. It quickly became clear that wildlife was a much more interesting use of the camera, and I’ve accumulated a good sample of images of the wood’s wildlife.

The first camera I bought was a Bushnell Trophy Cam HD Max with 8 megapixels. I bought it a year or so before starting to use it properly, and it lasted just over a year before it was stolen. I placed it on the edge of the main clearing in the wood, and I never saw evidence of people on the images. So it may have been taken the first time someone came across it. Then I bought a cheap Apeman camera from Amazon, at 12 megapixels, which is still there – in a harder to spot location – 18 months later.

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Renaturing vs rewilding

For several years rewilding has been one of the influences on how I manage Century Wood. It’s never been an entirely comfortable fit though, since “wild” is quite an extreme goal. I’ve contented myself with encouraging elements of wildness but now I think it would be more productive for me to talk about “renaturing”, and I imagine a spectrum with wildwood at one end and very controlled plantation forests at the other.

Rewilding started to enter the public consciousness in Britain about the time I bought Century Wood in 2008, and in 2013 George Monbiot’s book “Feral” gave it a lot of publicity and provided a popular manifesto. I was already thinking about ways to encourage large scale reforestation, and Monbiot’s book crystallized the way in which British uplands are kept bare by sheep, deer, and EU Common Agricultural Policy basic payments.

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Flood information sources

This is now my third post about flooding, and it is raining again. First I posted about flooded lanes near Mill Meece and the ditches by Century Wood almost bursting their banks, and then two weeks later when the water level was much lower. During this time I’ve gathered some useful links with live information and predictions about water levels in England, which I describe in this post. I hope this will be useful to other wood owners and woodlanders in general. There are similar resources in Wales and Scotland.

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After the Flood

Earlier this week I visited Century Wood for the first time after the flooding at the end of October. There has been a lot of rain since, but the water level on the ground was down significantly. I didn’t see any standing water inside the wood and the level in the ditch was well down. The first photo shows the current situation, compared to the usual low level and at the height of the flood last week.

I spent most of the time cutting up dead trees and branches that either threatened to fall on the rides or already had. I normally encourage deadwood, but when it threatens to fall across a ride I sort it out. Some of this standing deadwood was still usable as firewood, and I piled logs from a dead hazel loosely in the Barn for now and I intend to restack it properly in a frame with the ends all exposed. I didn’t set aside any wood for drying last winter, and so this was the first wood to start drying in the Drying Barn.

One trunk I didn’t save had fingers of fungal growth right into the wood, and I also photographed fungi on standing dead poplars which I have left alone for now.


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