Student volunteers at Polesden Lacey

Find a quiet spot in the ancient woodland at Polesden Lacey

Alex McCafferty, a Ranger here at Polesden Lacey, talks about his experience working with students from a local college.

Nescot students have been coming to Polesden Lacey for the last 5 years. We offer students with learning difficulties an introduction to basic countryside management. 

This includes working closely with the ranger team, along with experienced estate volunteers, joining in with estate management work to provide practical training, as well as broadening students’ communication and listening skills.

This season, 4 students joined us for 2 days a week between September and April, carrying out work at several of our hazel coppicing sites. The first of these is in Freehold Wood, which consists of mainly mature hazel stools interspersed with ash and silver birch. It's also the site of our charcoal kiln. The second site is near the campsite and is used to harvest material we use to create hoops for our wreath making sessions at Christmas.

At both sites, students learned how to coppice; an ancient woodland management technique consisting of repeatedly felling trees at the base (or stool), and allowing them to regrow in order to provide a sustainable supply of timber. They were able to learn how to use several hand tools including loppers and folding saws.

This practice has a number of benefits over replanting, as the felled trees already have developed root systems, making regrowth quicker and less susceptible to browsing and shading. It also increases woodland biodiversity as greater amounts of light can reach the ground, allowing other species to grow there.

The Chalkhill blue is a chalk grassland specialist we’re hoping will recolonise our slopes
A blue butterfly rests on a leaf
The Chalkhill blue is a chalk grassland specialist we’re hoping will recolonise our slopes

Many of these species are food sources for butterflies and other insects, which in turn provide food for birds, bats and mammals.

The material generated through this practice is then turned into a multitude of useful products including firewood, charcoal and beanpoles.

It was a real pleasure working with the students, who showed such drive and enthusiasm in their work; overcoming cold weather and bramble thickets, all with an incredibly positive attitude and tons of enthusiasm.

What I most enjoyed was watching students confidence grow over the course of the season, seeing them become more familiar and comfortable with their tools and with working outdoors.

Don't miss a thing