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.

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.

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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After the Flood

Earlier this week I visited Century Wood for the first time after the flooding at the end of October. There has been a lot of rain since, but the water level on the ground was down significantly. I didn’t see any standing water inside the wood and the level in the ditch was well down. The first photo shows the current situation, compared to the usual low level and at the height of the flood last week.

I spent most of the time cutting up dead trees and branches that either threatened to fall on the rides or already had. I normally encourage deadwood, but when it threatens to fall across a ride I sort it out. Some of this standing deadwood was still usable as firewood, and I piled logs from a dead hazel loosely in the Barn for now and I intend to restack it properly in a frame with the ends all exposed. I didn’t set aside any wood for drying last winter, and so this was the first wood to start drying in the Drying Barn.

One trunk I didn’t save had fingers of fungal growth right into the wood, and I also photographed fungi on standing dead poplars which I have left alone for now.

 

Concord and Walden in late summer

In September I was in Boston again and went back to Concord and Walden Pond that I first visited in March: ‘In 1845 Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts and started the process which led to “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in 1854.’  In that post I talk about what Thoreau said and did, and here I’m just adding more photos and videos from September with enough of a description to identify them.

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