Summer firewood at Century Wood

One of the attractive features of coppice selection is that you can do it at any time of the year. It’s even less seasonal than traditional “simple coppicing” where you fell a whole coup at a time, since you’re leaving the smaller stems, and their leaves, in place to thicken up in future years. In either case, checking for birds nests in spring and summer is a lot more reliable with these smaller trees than when felling big mature standards.

This photo shows some logs from a small elm that I’m about to cart off to the Barn for splitting and stacking. In the background, on the left is the base of a hazel that I’d harvested already. On the right you can see a rotten, shaded out plantation poplar that I took down for safety as it was right on the edge of the ride, but I left the trunk on the ground as deadwood.

Visiting Northdown Plantation

Last month I attended the RFS “intermediate level silviculture” one day course run by Julian Evans at his wood, Northdown Plantation, near Overton in Hampshire. I read his book “A wood of our own” in October 2007 before I bought Century Wood, and it was part of my decision to buy a wood. I’ve said before that it’s “the book I compare other woodland owners’ books against”. So it was very special to finally visit the wood itself.

There were two dozen of us there on the day: a mixture of small woodland owners like me; staff of wildlife trusts, the National Trust, and Windsor Great Park; and independent forestry consultants. The RFS helpfully provide Continuing Professional Development certificates for courses like this to people who need them.

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The Duke’s woodland

Century Wood is called Century Wood because it was first planted up as woodland by the Duke of Sutherland around 1900. The Leveson-Gower family gradually accumulated land in Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire over several centuries. Their stewardship ultimately affected the pattern of land ownership today and even what the land looks like.

There were a lot of Leveson-Gowers, but I’m only going to pick out three that made the most difference to how Century Wood looks today.

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Book hunting at the Shropshire Outdoor Show

At the weekend we went to the Shropshire Outdoor Show at Whittington Castle near Oswestry. The show is now in its second year and thankfully was able to go ahead despite the pandemic. Two dozen stands with a mixture of bushcraft, traditional crafts, and demonstrations like archery. A strong and lovely smell of wood smoke too. During the afternoon I came across a classic book on forestry, but more of that later.

The location of Whttington Castle is another of Shropshire’s hidden gems. The castle is operated by a charitable preservation trust on a 99 year lease, and they have done a lot of conservation work on the fabric of the buildings. As well as a beautiful place to visit, they also host reenactment events and regular car boots sales.

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Fences and boundaries

They say that good fences make good neighbours. When I bought Century Wood, my thought was not so much about neighbours but wanderers: wandering people and wandering deer. I put up stretches of fencing with this in mind, but over time they have come to define boundaries on the ground.

In practice, I’ve had very few run-ins with trespassers, although the first was quite a surprise. On my second visit after buying the wood in 2008, I heard shotguns and then three tweed-clad trespassers, two with guns, confidently wandered into what is now the central Glade where I was felling a tree. I suspect some local shooters had got used to the wood being unoccupied for many years. Signs and fences were an important part of stopping this, along with natural boundaries.

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Spring at the log cabin video

I spent two nights of the Easter weekend at our off grid log cabin at Century Wood. I’ve made this video about staying there, and I also talk through the basic 12V electric system, the kitchen sink and drain, and how I use the wood stove.

Every Time Box video

I’m just back from the wood and I thought it might be interesting to have a look in my Every Time Box. That’s a toolbox I take with me on every visit. Even if I’m just passing and might drop in for half an hour. I keep all these things together in the box so I can just stick it in the car and not have to think what to take and get it altogether. If I’m going for a day, I fill a plastic crate up with the tools I need, and I have some big plastic boxes with lids for overnight stays in the Log Cabin. But the Every Time Box always has the essentials.

Rather than take a lot of photos and type descriptions, I’ve made a video in which I talk you through the contents of the box.

Do you do something like this? Please tell us what you always take with you to the woods in the comments!

Wood tractor 2 – trying out my mods

Last year I posted about buying a second-hand lawn tractor to use in Century Wood. I modified it during the winter to make it work better in the woods: for getting around and pulling the garden trolley that I’ve been dragging along the rides myself since 2008. Now I’ve tried it out and in this post I talk about the modifications I’ve made.

In the slider above you can see the before and after pictures. The tractor was in good working order, but had some patches of surface rust and flat tyres at the front. There was no grass cutting deck with it: when I went to collect it during a gap in the lockdowns, its eBay seller gave me the rusted lump that had been the deck for free, and I managed to salvage two pulleys from it before taking the body of the deck to recycling.

This video shows the mods I’ve made and driving the tractor around to look for fallen branches on the rides. The rest of the blog talks about the modifications in more detail.

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Cutting hazel for firewood

One of my aims for 2021 is to be more organised about firewood, now that we have a wood stove at home too. I’m concentrating on the hazel that grows in the thin shade of the plantation poplar trees, since it’s a better firewood, and coppices well so it’s an easily renewable source. This post has some photos and a bit more about my plan for it.

First, here’s a slider comparison showing before and after pictures of one of the hazels on the edge of the Glade at the centre of the wood, which I cut this month.

Since I established the Glade, every few years I’ve cut back overhanging branches like this when they start to encroach. The next picture shows a close up of what the hazel looked like afterwards, with the thicker stems cut for firewood, a few smaller stems cut for overhanging, but most of the smaller stems left to thicken up. The cuts are sloped to tip the stems over in the right direction. I make brash piles out of the ends of the thicker stems, which are good for wildlife but here help define the edge of the Glade.

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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.

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