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.