The Rise of Northwood blog

Project
A team of volunteers workingin a field on a woodland restoration project

The story so far….

Here on the Slindon Estate, we have the exciting opportunity to return 185 acres of farmland back to its former wooded landscape over 100 years ago. If you can imagine the scale of 100 full sized football pitches, that’s the area we’re turning back into woodland.

Walkers enjoy the wide open views along the track to Little Wood
Walkers enjoy the wide open views along the track to Little Wood
Walkers enjoy the wide open views along the track to Little Wood

The project

Walking through Northwood, you find yourself surrounded by former arable fields. However, just over 100 years ago there would have been an ancient woodland here packed full of huge beech and oak trees. It’s not like this today because of a demand for timber during the First World War. The trees of Northwood were felled to support the war effort and used for trench reinforcement and pit props, as well as building material. During the Second World War, Northwood was ploughed and farmed to help support British food production.  Beyond this, it was continually farmed for crop and cattle fodder until September 2013 when the land was returned to National Trust to be managed.

Canadian Forestry Corp at Northwood lumber camp in First World War
Canadian Forestry Corp at Northwood lumber camp in First World War
Canadian Forestry Corp at Northwood lumber camp in First World War

A kind bequest

We must mention at this point that the ‘Rise of Northwood’ only exists thanks to the kind generosity of a gentleman named Mr John Springthorpe Hunt.  He loved the South Downs and was keen to see more thriving woodland areas – with this in mind, he left a bequest to the National Trust. To acknowledge his amazing gift, we will be naming part of the project site after his family name.  We have also gained additional funding from a Forestry Commission Woodland Creation Grant, which will help us with tree planting and after care.

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23 Aug 18

The cruck of the matter is; we wood knot have done it without help

Normally the rangers look forward to a quieter time during the summer and a chance to catch up with work. This year however we set ourselves the challenge of building a round wood timber framed interpretation hut for the Northwood project – Littlewood lookout. Over the course of a warm and breezy summers week in July the entire ranger team, helped by the professional from Artizans of Wood, chiseled away at our recently felled sweet chestnut trees to create a fantastic new interpretation hut, Littlewood lookout. The team split into two teams, team tall (the guys) and team short (the ladies), to create 2 A-frames that would become the front and back to our hut. They carefully debarked, scribed, sawed, chiseled and gouged their way through their “logs” to create some wonderful joints that hold it all together. Once all the cruck’s, tie beams and jowl posts had been lined up and jointed together, our flat pack building was disassembled and reassembled ready for frame raising day. A week’s delay in frame raising due to illness, allowed for the final touches to come together and allow the anticipation in the team to build. When the day finally arrived the whole team were excited to see how their hard work had paid off. Slowly but steadily, with the help of a telehandler and watched by our volunteers, the frames were raised into position and seemed to fit together perfectly. Then came the real hard work, the making of the laths for the walls. This as with the rest of the building utilises ancient techniques and man power. Laths are lengths of wood (sweet chestnut) used as panels to help form the walls of the new timber structure. The volunteers were shown how to strip the bark off the wood using a drawknife. The debarked log was then split, using a L-shaped tool called a froe into 1/2 then 1/4 then 1/8, 1/16 and if we were lucky 1/32 and 1/64, whilst keeping the pile of spoiled wood to a minimum, easier said than done with lots of knots in the wood and you’re learning. The final stage involves "shaving" the rough surface of the laths using a shave horse and drawknife. At the time of writing we have been successful in making over 400 laths, how many more we need is the million dollar question. While the volunteers were whittling away at making the walls, the rangers and the Artizans of wood, adding the finishing touches to the frame, this included our forked windows, bottom rails and felling a branched oak tree for the centre of the building. Our steam bent rafters then went on to the ridge pole and Littlewood lookout was transformed into either an upside down boat, or a whale rib-cage, the choice is yours. We’ve been very lucky with the weather and only had 1 whole rainy day while working on this project and the odd shower, shame we don’t yet have a roof. There is still lots of work to do, including continuing with making the laths, then weaving them into the structure as well as installing the roof. This work hopes to continue through September and opening before the weather turns, so it can be utilised by the public for shelter. On behalf of the whole team I would like to thank Paddy and Dylan from the Artizans of Wood for their patience over the week and the next month with this fantastic project. I would also like to thank the SDNP Sustainable Communities fund for providing much needed support in this endeavour. I would like to thank our volunteers for their help and patience with making the laths, the end is almost in sight. And finally thank you to you, t

Slindom staff working on a timber frame building in the great outdoors

27 Jul 18

Not another hot sunny day; thistle be the end of me

Having started weeding the nursery with the Scouts it was time for the grown-ups to take over and finish the job . Thus the Northwood volunteers gathered together on two separate hot sunny days, at the start and end of the month, to spend a little time looking after our planted trees. By weeding around them we are reducing the competition and hopefully helping the trees to grow. We have cleared around the trees in the nursery, the newly planted trees in tree guards and our new hedgerow. Once cleared a layer of wood chippings was then used to surround the base of each plant to reduce the number of weeds re-growing thus making our job easier next year. Not only have the weeds been growing but so has everything else and it was time to mow the fields. Plots were left long so as to provide nesting sites for skylarks. Skylarks are suffering due to changes in the timings of modern agriculture and thus it is wonderful to hear them singing and thriving in our wood pasture fields. The rangers got stuck in again with installation of the new gates into Northwood’s wood pasture. On surprise, surprise, another hot sunny day myself, our assistant ranger and our full time volunteer, spent the day in the dirt digging the gates in. There are some days when you want to bury your head in a hole and there are other days that you do. After a very hot day and to the tune of the yellowhammer, the pedestrian gate and one of the field gate posts were installed, this time in the right place first time. With another volunteer day accompanied by another sunny day, and having seen barely any / no rain for many weeks it was time to start watering our trees. Having only planted them late in the winter, their roots are not established enough to reach the water deep in the ground. While one volunteer took charge of the watering the other Thursday volunteers helped to pull ragwort. Over 20 rubble bags full later and it was time for me to leave for school, and the others to head onto other estate jobs. This month I’ve been into both Slindon and Bury CofE Primary Schools. With Slindon Primary School I’ve helped out with their forest schools programme for their acorns class, which included natural paints, made from the chalk, clay, leaves and mud in the forest. The best canvas for painting on was found to be their skin or the skin of others, leading to many Amazonian style face masks. I left with my name on my arm, in case I forgot it, and a rather lovely long tailed horse. I have also attended several of the classes with the youngest catkins class, where they have enjoyed learning about the different trees in the forest and learning how best to climb old oakey, a fallen down old oak tree. Meanwhile the children of Bury school learnt about what inhabits their pond. We found many a large dragonfly nymph, as well as 3 newts, which must’ve been caught by almost every child. We also found a few tiny tadpoles and even one child, who jumped in after attempting to lift a net that was too full of debris. The children also learnt about why pond dipping is important for determining the health of our pond. Each species is given a number from 1-5 which relates to how clean the water has to be to support them. Newts and dragonfly larvae, both need relatively clean water, thus each score 5. Our total for their pond was between 15 and 20, which indicates the pond was in ‘good’ health. Our final volunteer task of the month was with the SDNPVRS who helped the rangers to prepare the site at Littlewood for the commencement of building of Littlewood lookout. More on this in the next installment.

A volunteer weeds around newly planted trees at Northwood

21 Jul 18

Working on holiday.....

Mid-July was time for the 4th Northwood Surveying Working holiday. A group of volunteers dedicated a hot sunny week to recording as much ecological data about Northwood as they can. This data helps to build a picture as to how the wildlife is changing over the years and can be used as a measure of success. Data is collected on plants, invertebrates, birds and moths each year with other additions such as butterflies, owl pellets and small mammals, being weather dependent. Any animal trapped during the course of the week, was only done so for identification purposes and all were released back where they were caught. Thanks to the many experts who came to give a hand in teaching the volunteers. A long and hot enjoyable week was had by all.

Volunteers surveying plants at Northwood