All in a day's work - in the woods
It’s a cold December morning. The air is damp and still with an earthy scent of fungus and saw dust. Amongst the sound of a lonely robin and a group of long tailed tits is that of bow saws and branches being dragged across the woodland floor onto the bonfire.
Our rangers are working with their regular volunteer group on a patch of woodland which needs coppicing. This ancient technique has been used in our woodlands for centuries – the traditional method of cutting younger tree stems to the ground to allow light to fall onto the floor of the woodland and help flowering plants flourish and thrive.
Sizergh ranger Sam Sharples Sizergh tells us about coppicing, “You’re opening up areas of the woodland to let all the light through, the sun is shining on your back, you can hear the birds and there’s a lovely fresh smell of newly cut wood. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job. Seeing all the produce stacked up after a day’s coppicing is really satisfying. Nothing is wasted. There are neat piles of firewood and bean poles and hedging stakes all ready to be taken to customers who need them. When we return to the woodland in the spring and see the violets and primroses and wood anemones coming up and flowering because of the work we have done - it’s an amazing feeling.”
Of course coppicing is not the only area of woodland work our ranger teams and foresters work on. Our ancient and veteran trees are catalogued and checked every year to see if any remedial work needs to be carried out to prolong their life. These are the special trees. The old men and women of the woodland who have lived to see many changes in the way land is managed around them. They are gnarled and bumpy with squat, hollow trunks – the kind you want to peep through.
Not to be confused, Ancient trees are those which are very old for their species and veteran trees share the same distinctive qualities as ancient trees but can be much, much younger. Sometimes they are special because of their great size – such as the Douglas Fir which proudly stands in Dog Kennel Wood in Sizergh and at 60metres tall is the highest tree on the Sizergh estate. These are the trees which make you stop and stare and say ‘wow’. Living pillars of strength and home to such an abundance of wildlife.
Wildlife also loves our dead trees. When wind or storms hit our woodlands and tear down branches our ranger teams are more than happy to leave them to let insects and mosses and lichen take them over as new habitat. Those trees hit by lightning and left as artistic skeletons in the landscape – ideal for photographers – are perfect ‘standing dead wood’ a vertical home supporting woodpeckers, insects, nuthatches and owls.
Dealing with dead wood leads to another important role for the ranger team. Keeping our woodlands safe for people to visit and enjoy. Our rangers carry out annual checks on trees and as well as looking for signs of disease they probe trees with a resistograph – an instrument that can help them detect decay and cavities in trees enabling our teams to make our woodlands safe places to enjoy and visit.
So next time you’re having a walk in the woods look out for the special trees – the ones that catch your eye or the beautiful glades of spring flowers with their heads looking up to the sun – enjoying that new bit of light. Or maybe you’ll get to see our rangers and volunteers quietly working away – sawing, dragging, tapping, sorting. It’s all in a day’s work in the woods.
If you want to learn more about woodland management and traditional woodland skills, don't miss Greenwood fair on Saturday 6 October.