The Woodland - managing the log source

I bought Brooksmeeting on a whim. Could it be made to produce firewood, and perhaps be an investment at the same time? 5 years in, I'm still clearing, thinning, and on a vertical learning curve. Everything I see can be related back to old buildings - the way hazel grows - how it must have been farmed and pruned to produce straight withies for wattle and daub panels. The way that ash and beech were farmed to produce timber for furniture, and even the mighty oaks were coppiced at some point. 

Our woodland is only small - we've just over ten acres. It's old - it's ancient. It has old coal mine shafts which date from early 1700's. It has outcrops of coal. We have already found the remains of ancient charcoal pits. It is living history - an embodiment of former times - and I'm privileged to be able to bring it back to life, after years of being abandoned as a shoot for pheasants. It's split into two main compartments - one is a stand of mature Douglas Fir - about 35 to 40 years old - some of which are huge. The other is a mixed plot, mainly poplar, but interplanted with oak, ash, willow and birch. Most of these are around 15 to 20 years old.  When we first bought it about 5 years ago, it was totally overgrown. You could not even get into the woods for brambles that were easily 6 foot high. The only way in was to buy a forestry flail for my Goldoni RS 45 tractor, and thrash our way through the mess. Huge tangles of fallen trees blocked our way, and the first flail packed up fairly quickly. A stronger model has survived well, and still goes flat out when needed. Fallen trees were up to a metre in diameter, and I spent many exhausting days on the chainsaw cutting a track across the top of the block so we could get the tractor in to remove wood. Some of this was quite badly rotted - a terrible waste, but so far we've had 4 seasons of heating just from fallen logs and there's more to come. The biggest problem has been controlling the brambles. We are having to resort to spraying the new growth, but slowly and surely its coming under control - and with control has come regrowth of trees. The 2020 spring season has seen the first appearance of seedlings poking their way into the dappled light amongst the fallen trees and brash - ash, birch, oak, elm, hawthorn, hazel and lime have appeared this season already.  We are leaving the mature fir trees - they are magnificent - and the plan is to let them grow, until they start to topple naturally - at that point they are felled and taken out, with other broadleaved varieties being planted in the gaps. It's broadly called Continuous Cover Planting - but I'm not sure what will happen when about 10 tonnes of fir tree crashes down onto the newer plantings - my directional felling skills need to be honed to perfection. 

In the other compartment, we are thinning the poplar, leaving about a metre of tree as pollards. Deer have caused tremendous damage, so any regrowth has to be above about 1.2 metres for it to stand a chance. In between, we are finding thousands of ash seedlings and hawthorn appearing, so we'll let them grow, surrounded by brash from the thinning, to stop the roe and muntjac deer from destroying them. 

This is the default book on working a forest for firewood - its a classic!


Starting out - the challenge

The woods were overrun with brambles. They were above your head. The only way to get in was with a tractor and mulcher, which made short work of the undergrowth, but revealed dozens of huge trees that had fallen over, and had to be chopped up and dragged out. 


In amongst the trees were old mine shafts. Beautiful Georgian things they are - narrow bricks, laid in a perfect circle, and seemingly filled - but we're digging them out to see where they go.


The creek has a waterfall - we cleared a load of trees and there it was - Sootney the Dog loved it.. perfect swimming hole for hot summer days.


The rest of the creek looked like an army of beavers had taken over - huge log dams, with water banked up several feet deep.  We cut the dams, and let water go, and now its a lovely tinkling creek, with pools, rocks, and.... brown trout.  They appeared after I'd cleared the trees and opened the stream course so they can get up to the big pool.


Then there's the coal seams... everywhere. You lug blocks of coal out of the creek bed.  Theres slabs of rock in the bottom of the creek filled with fossil ferns and tree stems.




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