Rewidening the roadway

Earlier this week I spent some time on the roadway that leads into the centre of Century Wood. Mainly cutting back overhanging branches and dealing with brambles. I took some pictures of what I’d done, and also of a poplar stump coppice by the side of the ride.

The roadway started off as one of the first paths into the wood, hacked through the tall nettles with a stick or later on with a machete. It was gradually widened until, in preparation for the laying of the roadway, I made it into a proper ride with graded edges exposing all the layers of the woodland to sunlight one by one. Over the years the wood has tried to reclaim this ground, and I’ve gone back and reestablished it. Or at least, kept it passable. For the last couple of years this hasn’t been done properly, and last summer the branches were starting to encroach. So this spring was the time to get on top of it again, before the leaves are fully out.

As I’ve done so little in the wood over the winter, I decided to start off fully hands-on, with a bow saw and a machete. The bow saw is the natural choice for me when dealing with any branches above chest height from the ground, and the machete is an old friend from the nettle days and likes brambles too.

This first picture is the Before one. Looks ok but by high summer I’d be worrying about scratches on the car when that closes up.

This second picture is the After one. You can see where I’ve cut it back, and I’ll take one in a few months to show what it’s like in high summer now.

I also took the opportunity to tidy up some fallen branches from the poplars. And some hanging branches too.

As usual, I didn’t attempt to collect or burn any of the brash this generated. Some gets dragged beside the ride to encourage a bit of ground cover where the sun can reach, and some is thrown, frisbee style, off under the full canopy (such canopy as there is in a wood that is still mostly poplars.) I do this partly because I believe that if The Wood has gone to the trouble of fixing atmospheric nitrogen and carbon and building them into plant cells, I might as well leave them intact in case other animals and plants of The Wood can make use of them. It’s part of my wider aims too.

One my principles has always been to avoid long sight lines, as it’s better for both of my primary management aims: it’s good for wildlife; and good for “amenity” uses as it makes the wood feel bigger and more isolated. That you are “in the woods” rather than in an open field that someone has just planted tall trees in. Leaving brash around and grading the edges of the rides immediately helps with this, as does thinning out some of the bigger trees to let light in and to encourage the understory of hazel, elder, and hawthorn.

Coppicing can also help, and by that I mean the ability of some trees to regrow when cut right back, rather than the practice of doing it to harvest wood in the future. My secondary aim is managing the wood for firewood (beyond what’s needed for the needs of the wood stove in the log cabin), and if I do pursue that seriously in the future, coppicing will be part of making the sustainable.

So coppicing from stumps is something I pay attention to.

I took these last three pictures to record first a poplar and then a hazel stump. This is the stump of a poplar felled in the spring of 2009. About one in five of my felled poplars coppice like this, and this is one of the best examples of it. There’s a hazel tree behind the poplar stump, and in the left of this picture you can see a row of straight up hazel suckers like iron railings; and to the right is a pool of feathers from some unlucky pigeon. I’m guessing due to one of the buzzards we see patrolling the rides and the skies above the wood.

This is the hazel stump that’s behind the poplar. I don’t believe I cut it back at the same time as the poplar (judging by photos taken at the time) which probably mean it’s been growing slowly in the shade of the poplars since the wood was clear felled and they were planted.

This last picture shows the poplar regrowth in front of the hazel. It’s a bit deceptive about how big the poplar is, but you can tell them apart if you remember that the poplar has green leaves properly out already but the hazel hasn’t got that far yet.

I also took the previously mentioned machete to some of the brambles which are encroaching at ground level. And in some places, not just at ground level now. Previous experience has shown that the mower deals well with brambles despite their legendary ability to regrow, including from “cuttings” shall we say. Keep mowing at the frequency dictated by the nettles and the grass of the rides, and things seem to be ok on the brambles front too.

Next time I’m going to come back with a chainsaw-as-hedge-trimmer, and be more aggressive with the brambles and a few remaining hazel poles further along the rides which I hadn’t finished by the end of the day.

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