The glade at the centre of Century Wood was the first major feature I established after buying the wood almost ten years ago. I photographed the process as I went along and in this post I’ve brought the story together.
When I started there were no open spaces in the wood and just a short ride running from the gate but going nowhere near the wood’s centre. So I pretty much had a blank canvas. I roughed out some ideas for how to lay things out at the same time as completing the purchase in the first winter, but didn’t start work until the autumn – almost a year after first viewing and photographing the wood. In online woodland forums one of the first pieces of advice people now get is to wait a year before doing anything, and back then I knew I certainly wasn’t going to commit to any significant changes until I’d seen things in high summer.
In that first winter, I worked out the OS grid reference of the centre of the wood and then located it on the ground with a GPS receiver. I used this area as the initial “base of operations”, and the place where I kept the stuff I left on site, including a trolley, some hand tools, and a couple of benches. You can see this area in the photograph, with larger plantation poplars interspersed with natural regeneration including hazel, sycamore, and elder.
When I was ready to start felling, I worked out the placement which would require removing the least number of trees and bushes, which had the centre point of the wood near the north boundary of the clearing rather than at its own centre. My plan was to edge the glade with sections of the poplar trunks, and to drag all of the smaller branches and trunks past the boundary and allow them to rot away. I wasn’t going to burn any – apart from some hazel trunks I cut up and stacked as firewood. Having a definite, easily identifiable edge has made it easier to maintain, whether when mowing the ground vegetation or cutting back bushes which start encroaching. It gives you a clear line to work to.
To minimise the amount of hung up trees during the felling, I started near the centre and went round in a spiral felling the trees towards the centre into the increasingly large space I was creating. Doing this created the big mess shown in this photograph but it meant that when I came to cut the trees up on the ground, I did so from the edges inwards, with clear ground to drag branches across to the edge once I’d cut them free. Elsewhere in the wood I’ve cut up each felled tree as I’ve gone along as I’ve not been faced with the same scenario again. I still think it was the most efficient approach overall, but it was messy at the time.
I tackled the big trunks by making spaced cuts in the top sides, using wedges where necessary to stop the chainsaw getting pinched and trapped, and then turning the trunks to expose the uncut lower side. I didn’t have a cant hook for manhandling the trunks at that point, so I tended to turn them by getting them rocking back and forth until I could turn them over by giving a big heave at the right moment.
These next two pictures show the glade with the trunks cut up and used as edging, and only the stumps left. I cut all of the poplars at this height for safety (it’s easier to get away if you’re standing upright) and because I knew I was going to cut their trunks up into sections anyway. Over the next year or two I removed the stumps too, first by cutting them to ground level and then digging round them to be able to cut them down to below ground level. That’s a messy job that also blunts the chainsaw chain as you hit things in the soil, and it would probably have been easier with a stump grinder.
Finally these two pictures show the glade at the start of its first spring and in summer. You can see a couple of the poplar stumps with green shoots of regrowth in the summer picture. Now that the light could get in, a different mix of ground vegetation took hold. Still nettles, but increasingly being out competed by grass encouraged by mowing.