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Rockingham Forest Blog

  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Church

Diary from Rawhaw Wood - 4: autumn

Carolyn Church

Carolyn continues her picture diary from the coppiced hazel woodland in Rockingham Forest.

In her previous blog articles you can read about the rigours of woodland life in winter, the coming of spring and the changing work-cycle in summer

1st to 11th September 2023

It's the beginning of Autumn and this is the time of year when we undertake our ride maintenance. We have just under one kilometre of riding within the wood, and now that the grasses and wildflowers have produced their seeds it's time to do the mowing and strimming. We mow the central strip of the rides annually and cut the adjacent edges on alternate years, this allows bi-annual species of plants to mature and produce seeds.

When all of the mowing and strimming is finished we rake up the cuttings and remove them, this prevents the build up of of nutrients in the rides, as wildflowers prefer poorer soils.

Our final task is to clear any debris from the ditch that runs adjacent to the central ride.

19th September 2023

We have been harvesting hazelnuts for a project that Hugh Dorrington from Aveland Trees is running. Most British sources of hazelnut are a hybrid of cultivated cobnut, but Hugh is collecting hazelnuts from a number of Ancient Woodland sites that he will be propagating to create a seed orchard of genuine native Hazel stock. The orchard will in the future produce hazelnuts of genuine native origin for propagation and planting in new native woodlands.

20th October 2023

It's pouring with rain today and has been for hours, so it's definitely a day for being indoors and catching up on the diary. We started coppicing a couple of weeks ago, this is our twenty-ninth season and the third time we we will have coppiced this area since we have been here, which just goes to show how sustainable managing a coppice woodland can be.

Last Saturday we ran our first coppicing course for Rockingham Forest Vision. Luckily the weather was much better than today. We started the morning with introductions and cups of tea and coffee, followed by a walk through the wood, visiting a number of coppice compartments at various stages of regrowth. It's this variety of dynamic habitats that give a coppiced woodland its wide range of biodiversity.

This picture shows hazel coppice that was cut last winter. The hazel has regrown through the summer months and is between 1-2 meters tall, this still allows almost full sunlight to reach the woodland floor encouraging a wide range of ground flora to flower and seed.

This area has been regrowing for six years. At this stage of the coppice cycle the hazel trees have grown to well over head height, creating an almost total canopy with only dappled sunshine able to reach the woodland floor, the variety of wild flowers is diminishing with only the early spring flowers, anemones, bluebells, primroses and violets etc still able to flower before the hazel leaves grow and shade the area.

This photo shows part of the compartment we will be coppicing this winter. On the left hand side of the picture is ten year old hazel, and on the right a small patch that has already been coppiced.

We were using hand tools on the course, just billhooks and handsaws. Hugh demonstrated sharpening a billhook and talked about safe working practices.

Then it was onto cutting down some hazel coppice. The photos show Peter and Jon sawing the hazel poles. We cut the stems as low to the ground as possible so that the new regrowth comes from the root system of the hazel stool and not from the old stems.

A drift of cut hazel poles laid out ready to be worked through with a handsaw and billhook. Laying the hazel out like this stops the stems from getting tangled up with each other and makes processing the hazel for products much easier.

These pictures show Toby and Fred working with billhooks to produce stakes and binders for use in traditional hedge laying.

Bundles of stakes and binders.

As we process the hazel to make various products we also produce a lot of brash which we use to make into dead hedges, barriers which enclose each newly coppiced area to protect the young hazel shoots from being browsed by deer. The pictures show me showing Toby how the dead hedge is constructed, and Fred hammering a stake into place.

From the feedback we received from the participants on the course, it was a successful day - we certainly enjoyed meeting some very nice people!

There will be more pictures and words here from Carolyn as the autumn matures


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