So how did 2020 go?

Well, 2020 did not go as planned in Century Wood either! Every year I write myself a summary of what I’ve done and a list of what I plan to do, and I’ve been looking back at what I wrote back in January 2020.

The first thing is that I had planned to cut a lot more firewood than I did, but due to other work, travelling and an operation, I wasn’t able to get much done in January to March. So far, firewood has been for the Log Cabin, but in November we got a wood stove at home and so we’ve been rationing it. Next winter will be better as I’m being much more organised about cutting it now.

I also planned to tidy up the rides, including removing some tangles of brambles and fallen branches which I had allowed to build up. I made some progress in January, and during the later part of the year managed to get one of the long semicircular rides fully opened up again. But I still have more of the same left to do. In high summer, the nettles are very high, and so the network of rides are important for getting around, and they provide a range of habitats too. There are about a kilometre of rides in total, and it’s also just nice to be able to wander around.

In 2018 I had made an effort to get more involved with the wider woodland world: I organised a meet up of Shropshire Wood Owners at the Small Woods Association’s Greenwood Centre, wrote an article for Smallwoods magazine, and went on site visits. In 2019 we moved house and I had to travel a lot too, but 2020 was meant to be more like 2018, until Coronavirus came along.

Having said that, in 2020 I did manage to get more involved in the SWA, including the Policy Group, the regular online Wood Meets, and an ELMS consultation for Shropshire and Herefordshire. I think the effect of pushing people along the learning curve to start using video meetings like Zoom has been profound. We’re a thinly spread community, and it’s not practical for lots of people to travel hundreds of miles for a 60 minute meeting, or even many seminar style meetings. I hope this trend continues even after the restrictions on travel and social contact are lifted.

The virus intruded into woodlands in other ways. During lockdown, the SWA consulted with DEFRA and the devolved administrations, and published advice and Letters of Comfort about the legal basis for continuing to do work in woodlands. People were reporting being stopped and even turned back by the police, despite having a load of tools or even saplings in the back.

There were some heated arguments about all this, and it wasn’t helped by people receiving month long “holidays” from one group (SWOG) for disagreeing with admins by repeating the SWA legal advice and quoting Supreme Court judges about unlawful behaviour by some police forces. As you might expect, these shenanigans quickly led to the creation of a new Facebook group for UK Woodland Owners with a more liberal moderation policy, no banned woodland topics or opinions, and 400 woodland owners by the end of the year.

One of my major worries during the year was the new regulations about selling firewood in England, due to be phased in between May 2021 and May 2022. On the face of it, this will require that people supplying even small quantities of firewood will have to register with Woodsure, at £507.60 for the first year and then £385.20 per year after that. Even if you just want to give one bag of logs to your granny 😦 I wrote a blog post about this in February, which was partially reused in the Spring edition of Living Woods magazine. SWA are on the case though, and have had meetings with Woodsure and DEFRA about coming up with a viable solution. I wrote to my MP too, but he just got a standard reply back from DEFRA.

At the end of the year CenturyWood.uk became joint winner of Best Woodland Blog in Woodlands.co.uk’s 2020 Woodland Awards.

In the summer, I bought a second hand lawn tractor on eBay and started refurbishing it and adapting it to use in the wood. I was able to drive it round the rides I’d cleared before I took it back home to work on. I’ve made a lot of progress on it, and will be posting about it once it’s finished and I can test the mods in the wood itself. It will mainly be used for pulling a trolley loads of logs, and getting around with a bit more stuff than you can carry. So rather like an ATV.

I also made a big effort to update the Log Cabin. At home, I built five replacement windows with better shutters that are easier to open and close. At the wood, I installed the windows, rewired the solar power set up, tidied up the block work cladding of the wood stove, and redug the drain and gravel pit for the kitchen sink. I splashed out on a rocking chair from eBay and restained it to fit in better. With this all done, the cabin was more comfortable for the overnight stays in the second part of the year.

In the autumn I made a bunch of updates on the Hutters.uk website, while the whole subject of hutting was getting more publicity. The associated Hutters group went from 200 members at the start of October to over 600 as I write in January. I think the lockdowns are making people value simpler things, and the idea of having a basic hut or cabin in the woods that you own, and can go back to year after year with family and friends, is part of that. Hutting has had a major revival in Scotland over the last decade, and in the hope of encouraging people wanting the same in England and Wales, I published a page about Woodland Hutting with different strategies to deal with the planning system.

As 2020 becomes 2021, I’ve returned to firewood and published a blog post with the numbers about firewood that I’ve collected. For the rest of the year, I hope to have time in the wood to collect some more, to do the usual fencing and ride maintenance, and make more progress in removing the plantation poplars.

Woodland Awards, 2020

At the end of this very odd year I received the award for Best Woodland Blog for CenturyWood.uk (jointly with Clare Mansell’s Little Green Explorers). These awards are run by Woodlands.co.uk, one of the two main “retail” woodland sellers, and you can see the other winners in the winter 2020 edition of Living Woods magazine.

I’ve now received a box of prizes and a certificate. Sometimes these kind of things are token gestures, but in this case they are generous and genuinely useful.

Firewood numbers

There are a lot of numbers associated with firewood and I’ve tried to collect best estimates relevant to small woodlands, here in one place, along with enough context to use them. They’re not a substitute for what you actually see in your own circumstances, but they’re the kind of thing you need if you’re putting together a woodland management plan, prior notification for a drying barn, a business case, or even deciding roughly what you can do.

I’ve organised it in the same order as the firewood processing sequence: how much grows per year, what lengths to cut, when to split, how drying works, how much heat different species produce, loose vs stacked, and bag sizes.

Continue reading “Firewood numbers”

Woodland Hutting

I’ve added a page over on the Hutters.uk website about Woodland Hutting – a proposal to extend the rival of hutting that has started in Scotland across the whole of Britain. Until the 1940s we had the freedom to build weekend and holiday huts on our own or rented land. How can we get that back, with appropriate environmental safeguards?

A rocking chair

Last month I invested in a wooden rocking chair for the log cabin. There have been benches there for years but on an evening you want something you can sit back in. In the past I’ve sometimes brought a folding garden chair, especially when staying overnight, but it’s better to have something there all the time.

Henry David Thoreau famously had three chairs in his cabin in the woods: “one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society”.

Thoreau was also an early proponent of the hutting tradition of bodging and scavenging, and what we now rather grandly call upcycling. In the chapter “Economy” of “Walden”, he explains:

My furniture, part of which I made myself — and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered an account — consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and and irons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp. None is so poor that he need sit on a pumpkin. That is shiftlessness. There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in the village garrets to be had for taking them away. Furniture! Thank God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse”.

Thanks to the internet we can advertise the contents of our garrets, lofts and garages on Freecycle if they are free for taking them away, or on eBay where there is a much wider choice. I bought my rocking chair on eBay for £25.

It’s a traditional fiddle-back style but the modern colour still looked a bit Ikea so I stripped the varnish off with paint stripper and applied dark oak wood stain.

The chair has already earned its keep on the long dark autumn evenings and during the rain storms I posted about last time. As so often, Thoreau was there first though:

“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.”

Storm Alex in the log cabin

I’d planned to spend most of the weekend at Century Wood before the warnings about Storm Alex started, and after a close look at the forecasts I went ahead. Despite 18 hours of continuous rain, the overnight stay was comfortable and I got a lot done on Sunday which was dry.

I made this quick video of the rain when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. It was basically like that until about 9am on Sunday. I got some firewood from the log store, fired up the wood stove, and unpacked the car.

Continue reading “Storm Alex in the log cabin”

Response to the England Tree Strategy Consultation

I’ve been writing a response to this year’s England Tree Strategy Consultation. This is the essentially the final draft, which I will submit before the deadline on the 11th:  TreeStrategy2020Response.pdf

I focus on three problems with the planning system and the the new firewood regulations:

  • Consistent national guidelines for the minimum size of sheds, barns etc which will be viewed as reasonably necessary for forestry.
  • Processing wood into finished products should be classed within the definition of forestry, when using wood from the same woodland.
  • Woodland-based education should be classed as forestry.
  • The legal requirement to join the Woodsure auditing scheme at the cost of hundreds of pounds a year will wipe out any profit for many small woodland owners.

Continue reading “Response to the England Tree Strategy Consultation”