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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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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Firewood numbers

There are a lot of numbers associated with firewood and I’ve tried to collect best estimates relevant to small woodlands, here in one place, along with enough context to use them. They’re not a substitute for what you actually see in your own circumstances, but they’re the kind of thing you need if you’re putting together a woodland management plan, prior notification for a drying barn, a business case, or even deciding roughly what you can do.

I’ve organised it in the same order as the firewood processing sequence: how much grows per year, what lengths to cut, when to split, how drying works, how much heat different species produce, loose vs stacked, and bag sizes.

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Response to the England Tree Strategy Consultation

I’ve been writing a response to this year’s England Tree Strategy Consultation. This is the essentially the final draft, which I will submit before the deadline on the 11th:  TreeStrategy2020Response.pdf

I focus on three problems with the planning system and the the new firewood regulations:

  • Consistent national guidelines for the minimum size of sheds, barns etc which will be viewed as reasonably necessary for forestry.
  • Processing wood into finished products should be classed within the definition of forestry, when using wood from the same woodland.
  • Woodland-based education should be classed as forestry.
  • The legal requirement to join the Woodsure auditing scheme at the cost of hundreds of pounds a year will wipe out any profit for many small woodland owners.

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“Thirty years in wilderness wood” by Chris Yarrow

“Thirty years in wildness wood” is the long story of the Yarrow family’s purchase of a 63 acre woodland, how they lived in it, managed it, and made a living from it. The book has strong parallels with “A wood of our own” by Julian Evans: both Evans and Chris Yarrow are trained foresters, buying woodlands privately and then managing them for decades, improving the mix of species with long term objectives in mind. Their stories are set against the same backdrop of English forestry in the last few decades, and both had to deal with the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987. But Yarrow’s project was more ambitious: to use the woodland as a primary source of income,  and to demonstrate the idea of multipurpose forestry by harvesting wood and timber, producing and selling wood products on site,  and admitting a paying public.

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Regulating wet firewood

Woodfuel has been in the news the last few days following the government’s announcement about restrictions on selling firewood to domestic users in England. What they’re trying to do is worthwhile, but the proposals raise some issues for owners of small woodlands. I believe there need to be exemptions for people selling less than about 50 cubic metres of firewood per year. Otherwise the regulations will inhibit small woodlands’ role in fighting climate change and attempts to bring half of England’s native woodlands back into management.

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“The hidden life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben’s book was originally published in German in 2015 and then translated and published in English in 2016. The book attracted a lot of mainstream interest due to Wohlleben’s “wood wide web” description of trees communicating with each other and sharing nutrients. I was aware of this at the time and I must admit the way he presented it all put me off. But I’ve now read the book and that’s only a small part of the wide range of topics he covers.

Peter Wohlleben began his career as a forester for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany but became disillusioned with the “big forestry” style of management and began managing a beechwood for the local council of Hummel. He published several successful books about forests, nature, and threats to the environment, before “The hidden life of trees”.

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“A wood of our own” by Julian Evans

I read “A wood of our own” by Julian Evans before I bought Century Wood, way back in 2007. I was already pretty sure I wanted to own a woodland, and Evans’ book helped confirm it. It’s become the book I compare other woodland owners’ books against, and I’ve looked through it again after reading and reviewing “A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey.

Back in 2007 I had already read Evans’ book “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, which is out of print but still available as a free PDF from woodlands.co.uk. That is very much a How To book with a lot of practical advice. At the same time as “A wood of our own”, I bought Chris Starr’s “Woodland management: a practical guide” and Ken Broad’s “Caring for small woods”. Both of these are more formal (very formal in Starr’s case: it’s a textbook) How To books in the vein of “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, whereas “A wood of our own” is autobiographical. A first person account of Evans and his wife and her brother purchasing and managing the wood.

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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.

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