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.

Both cameras happily run for a month or two with a set of batteries without crashing. I use a pair of 32GB SD cards, swapping them over when I visit so I can go through the images at home. I configure the camera to take a photo every five minutes, with triggering turned off. This means the camera doesn’t respond to things happening, but it extends the battery life and does provide a random sample of what is happening even if it is happening too far away from the sensor to trigger the camera.

To review the pictures quickly, I turn the thousands of images from however many days or weeks into a short film and then stare at it looking for flickers of activity, pausing it and rewinding to examine it frame by frame once I’ve found an interesting bit. This clip shows a few days with snow falling, settling and then eventually melting.

Looking at the photos themselves now, this first set show fox (both in daylight and at night), hare, and American grey squirrel. There are four squirrels in that last photo by a squirrel feeder box, baited with maize.

Then three photos with badgers. The wood has a lot of physical evidence of badgers, including setts and latrines, and I have seen them in the early morning. They do also like maize which is what they’re rooting for under the squirrel feeder.

Next pigeons, magpies, pheasants, and probably bats in the dark. You can see bats flying in the wood on summer evenings, but you can also hear owls.

Finally common buzzards, which are now very visible during the day, flying high in the sky, perching on branches or on the gables of the log cabin or barn, or patrolling the rides below canopy height. Here they are strutting around on the ground or swooping through the glade.

For me, having trail cameras gives me a picture of what is going on when I’m not stomping around disturbing everything.  I could probably get better pictures by setting the sensor up to trigger the camera and by picking locations with particular animals in mind: near a badger sett, on a ride, by a pool of water or watching bait that I lay. But these fixed interval photos do eventually catch everything that goes past.

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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.

In 2015 Rewilding Britain was formed and uses the following definition:

Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of ecosystems where nature can take care of itself. It seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within.

I’ve mentioned rewilding in some of my posts about reforesting, including “Natural regeneration: nature’s grassroots rebellion“. These are definitely natural processes and I encourage them at Century Wood on a much much smaller scale (20 acres). But I am certainly not just “letting nature take care of itself”, and it’s the wildness of rewilding that isn’t that good a fit. Furthermore, the drive today is to favour continuous cover over clear felling, and broadleaf coppicing over rows of plantation conifers, because they are more natural and more suited to our native ecosystems, but that isn’t really represented by “wildness” either.

Rewilding also has a major image problem in many rural communities. I first came face to face with this at the Hay literary festival in 2016, you see it in Facebook groups, and it’s even led to family members not talking to each other in the Archers of all places. The question people managing land always come back to is “If we rewild the land, where will the food come from?” And where will their income come from? Claims about ecotourism only go so far: there’s only so much demand to visit places the Knepp Estate.

Knepp’s Isabella Tree (in her book “Wilding”) and Charlie Burrell have both explained the need to avoid the word “rewilding” and various alternatives, including “renaturalization”, were mentioned at the Opportunities and Issues in Rewilding conference at Sheffield earlier this year.

So quite a complicated situation. Lots of loose ends and some not very good fits.

Taking woodlands as a concrete example, I think this can be resolved by imagining a spectrum from wildwood at one end to commercial plantation forestry at the other. By wildwood, I mean native woodlands left to manage themselves by natural processes (and if you are convinced by Frans Vera, that might include a lot of open areas.) Changes we make, including standing back and not intervening, move the ecosystem left or right along the spectrum, either renaturing or denaturing as we go.

In this picture, woodland rewilding is the process of re-establishing wildwood, but that doesn’t have to be our goal. We might deliberately aim for a point not so far along the spectrum: converting a conifer plantation into a broadleaf coppice for example. We might even be happy to stay somewhere in the denatured end: say if we plant up a grouse moor with a commercial conifer plantation to provide carbon negative building materials for houses.

This leads us to talk about rewilding as a special case of renaturing. As something we can afford to do on some land for its own sake, while we pursue other more or less intensive management styles elsewhere to provide the commercial timber and wood we need as a society, including as carbon negative materials.

The examples I’ve given have been drawn from forestry and woodlands, but you could create other spectra with wildwood or wild wetlands or heath at one end and intensive forms of cultivation (like wheat fields etc) at the other. Permaculture ideas for food production, for example, are then another intermediate ecosystem in the same way as coppicing: more natural than intensive commercial management, but not wild either.

Perhaps by using the renaturing spectrum we can give credit to management that is more natural, but without giving the (false) impression that rewilding suffers from: that everything is rewilding or not-rewilding, and the goal is to push all land into wildness.

Edited to add: there’s now a Facebook group (Renaturing UK) for discussing these renaturing ideas and how to apply them to woodlands and other ecosystems.

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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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Beavers in the city of Lyon

Last year I went to Lyon in central France and although I didn’t see the beavers that now live there I did see the trees felled and their distinctive tooth marks. The signs of beaver activity were in a park by the River Rhone about 3km from the very centre of Lyon. Beavers were hunted for their fur throughout Europe and became extinct in most of France. However in the lower reaches of the Rhone south of the Lyon they survived and have been recolonising the river northwards.

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There were widespread floods in Shropshire this weekend and they reached right to the boundaries of Century Wood. I had planned to stay for the day but in the end I broke off early and went up to the Lilleshall Monument for a wider view and then to Lilleshall Abbey. Inundations aside, it was a beautiful sunny autumn day.

This first picture shows the view from the bridge over the mainline railway near Mill Meece, with a flooded field beside the tracks. A diversion had been put in place, but this led to a completely flooded lane complete with abandoned Land Rover Discovery half sunk into the verge.

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Concord and Walden in late summer

In September I was in Boston again and went back to Concord and Walden Pond that I first visited in March: ‘In 1845 Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts and started the process which led to “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in 1854.’  In that post I talk about what Thoreau said and did, and here I’m just adding more photos and videos from September with enough of a description to identify them.

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