Wet woodland

This has been a week of flooding in Shropshire and much of the rest of the country. At Century Wood, the water levels have been higher as they usually are in winter, and our seasonal ponds where the water table breaks through the surface, are back.

Here are two contrasting photos of one of the boundary ditches: on the left, to show the depth of the ditch, here it is empty during the drought year of 2011 when I believe water was diverted for irrigation; and almost overflowing this week. That fallen log is the standing tree with the fork in the 2011 photo.

There is normally a foot or two of water in that ditch all year round. This next photo is of another drainage ditch which is normally dry but fills up and then starts flowing when there are floods. A bit back from the ditch is a dead tree with orange fruiting bodies from the fungi consuming the rotting timber inside. The fungus is something like Velvet Shank.

Finally here is one of the seasonal ponds we have, looking like a true pond until you look closely and see the green air-breathing plants temporarily submerged under the water. Some of the smaller trees have died or had their roots rotted and become unstable. But there are large plantation poplars round the edge who seem happy enough.

Snow walk through Dunham Massey

After the snow fall at the end of November 2021 I walked around the National Trust’s Dunham Massey estate in Cheshire, mostly in the oak woodland of the deer park. I made this video using a new iPhone Pro 13. We see fallen and decaying trees, fallow deer, the old brick slaughterhouse tower, ducks in the moat in front of the House.

Forests of Dune

The release of Denis Villeneuve’s wonderful film of the first half of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” has coincided with the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, but few reviewers have made the connection because the book’s ecological themes are largely absent from the screen version.

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Off Grid Toilet at Century Wood

The toilet shed was the first building I put up at the wood, way back in 2009. This post talks through the original design with photos I took at the time. All before it was ever used in case you’re worried 🙂 In short, it’s an off grid composting toilet set up with separate chambers and seats for liquids vs solids+liquids.

I based the building on a shed kit from Tiger Sheds. It’s an 8ft by 6ft apex shed which cost ÂŁ248 in 2009. Since 2009 the average price rise across the economy has only been about 30%, but timber has sky rocketed. The equivalent shed now costs over ÂŁ700!

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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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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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