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Woodland Work

Tree felling

The days are long gone when huge oaks were felled to build ships for the navy. So why cut down trees anymore? In many cases the trees have grown up in the last 50 years or so because traditional management has ceased, usually for financial reasons. Often the traditional practices maintained a valuable habitat that would otherwise now be lost. Sometimes a wood may have become swamped by invasive species such as Sycamore or Holm Oak.

The maintenance of glades and rides within woodland provides warmer, sunnier areas which benefit a wide range of plants and animals. Dark, damp woodlands with tangles of rotting wood are valuable as well, often for a different set of species, and so some areas should be left alone.

In woods with a shortage of old trees and dead wood, it can be useful to thin out the younger ones and leave log piles to rot down. Standing dead wood is a valuable habitat but is often removed because of safety concerns. It can be created by ring-barking, which involves cutting all the way round the trunk through the bark and into the underlying live wood. The tree may continue to grow by producing new shoots from below the cut.

Coppicing

Traditional management took advantage of the fact that most trees will grow again after being cut down. In the case of Hazel, it was coppiced by cutting at ground level every 7 to 14 years. The regrowth gave a range of sizes, each with a particular use. Different areas of a wood (coupes) were cut each year, giving a mosaic of heights and light levels. Uncommon species such as Nightingales and Dormice rely on this ever-changing pattern to provide nesting and feeding areas.
Unfortunately most coppiced woodlands in Hampshire are now home to significant numbers of Roe Deer and rabbits, which will eat the young Hazel buds. The new growth on an unmolested coppice stool can be six feet high after a couple of years, but will look more like a hedgehog where it has been eaten. Any serious attempt at sustaining the coppice industry has to address this problem.

Clearance of Rhododendron

Huge amounts of time and resources have been put into the removal of Rhododendron ponticum from the countryside. Why? Essentially because it is an invasive plant which suppresses existing vegetation and provides very few niches for other plants or animals in return.

Hedgelaying

Before the invention of barbed wire, livestock would be contained by hedges, or by stone walls if material was available locally. A hedge usually consisted of hawthorn or blackthorn, and needed regular attention to keep it in a stock-proof condition. As the hedge grew older and taller, the gaps at the bottom became larger, and major surgery would be required.
It could be coppiced, i.e. cut down to the ground and allowed to regrow from the stump, but the barrier would be lost for a few years. If the stem is cut almost through and laid over, new growth still appears at the base, while the stem continues to produce shoots and still provides a barrier.

There are various styles of hedgelaying. The most common style in Hampshire uses a row of stakes to support the laid stems, called pleachers. Long flexible lengths of hazel, called heathers, are woven along the top to bind the whole thing together. Nowadays hedges are laid primarily to maintain them as features in the landscape and to provide a barrier to humans rather than to livestock.

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Hedgelaying at Wick Hill alongside a lane, hence the hi-viz waistcoats.



A quick guide to our style of hedge-laying

spiral heathering guide

Spiral heathering

1. Put one heather (red) behind the first stake, then weave in-front and behind the next two to hold it in place. Don't weave it anymore, leave the end sticking out of the front of the stakes.

2. Add a second (green) behind the second stake, weave once as before, going over the first heather.

3. Add a third (red) behind the third stake, combining with the first one and going over the second heather.

4. Add a fourth (green) behind the fourth stake, combining with the second one and going over the first and third (red set) heathers.

5. Continue as necessary, always ensuring the unused ends are sticking out of the front to avoid confusion. There will be at least two heathers in each set depending on their length. If possible avoid using a lot of thick heathering as it will be difficult to bind in. The sparse area near the start can be filled with heathering twisted around the first post, if your wrists are thick enough.



Dead-hedging

Regrowth from a coppiced area can be used to make a dead hedge to deter browsing animals, principally deer. Two rows of stakes about five feet apart are hammered in to support the cut material. Flexible stems (heathering) can then be woven along the top to give extra strength, as is done with hedgelaying. This structure should last for a couple of years, by which time the new growth will be less palatable.

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