The end of the felling season arrived just a few weeks ago at the end of March, and it turned out to be a pretty busy felling season this year! Now the birds are singing, the sun is shining (sometimes) and winter is at last over. So I thought I'd post a few pictures to show the jobs I've been working on over the winter.
A lot of my time this year has been spent travelling between Kent and Norfolk, I've been cutting Sweet Chestnut down in Kent and Hazel up in Norfolk. Whilst I've been spending time down in Kent I've also been doing quite a bit of work with fellow woodsman, John Waller aka The Underwoodsman: http://www.underwoodsman.co.uk/
Over the winter I helped John with a number of woven fence jobs, often assisting with the cutting of the materials from the woodland all the way through to the installation of the fence.
|A small area of willow that we harvested in early October|
|The willow harvested woven into the finished fence, from Forest to Fence!|
|Woven gate mid-way along fence|
It's also been a busy winter for the weaving of hurdles of various sizes. I use an old railway sleeper as a mould for the spacing of the 'zales' or uprights.
People often ask me about the splitting of small diameter hazel rods, and how it's achieved. There's many ways to cleft a small diameter rod, but the method I find the fastest and most reliable is through the use of a post with a 'wedge' carved into it. The post is driven into the ground to give it stability and a wedge is then carved into it. The wedge is thin on one face of the post and thick on the opposite face. A split along the hazel rod is started with the use of a bill hook, as soon as the two halves have begun to split apart the rod can be pushed into the wedge, like so:
To avoid the split running off the the left or the right of the rod you have to be able to control the tension and compression in the rod. A split will only run into compression, not tension. For example, if the split in the photo was running off to the right, I would push the left side of the stick to the right, this creates tension in the right hand side of the rod bringing the split back to the centre. It takes a while to get right and requires practice, practice and more practice! Get in touch if you'd like more info on this, it's often easier to teach in person than over the web! There's more info about splitting larger diameter poles in an old post: Ash Gate Hurdles, How to, Part 1
|Here's one of the finished hurdles, 6' x 6'|
|The finished hurdles fitted as a woven screen. The customer wanted the bark side facing in towards his garden.|
I mentioned that I've been travelling up to Norfolk to cut hazel. I've been working in a woodland called Honeypot wood, near Wendling, mid Norfolk. It's a woodland that's owned and managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and has an incredibly interesting story, both culturally and botanically. It was owned by the Ministry of Defence during the 2nd world war, during which time it was used as an ammunition store and I believe there may be an old runway. As a consequence there's a number of old concrete shelters that still exist in the woods, as well as a number of concrete rides throughout the wood.
The other instantly obvious feature about this woodland is the very high ash coppice stools. I've never seen ash stools cut this high! People have speculated that they may be this high simply due to the age of the stools; every time a stool is coppiced it grows slightly in height / diameter as the regrowth shoots from the old, harvested stems. However, when you look closely at these stools you can see that at one point they have simply been cut at a high level, old growth tends to become very gnarly and rough. Evidence seems to suggest that during one coppice season the ash stools were simply cut very high. Honeypot wood is a very wet wood with poor drainage; perhaps they were cut high to avoid getting too wet one year!? I'm not sure we'll ever know for sure. When I was really busy cutting in Honeypot I stayed in the wood in my van for a few nights. At this time the moon was full and high in the sky, the moonlight shining down on the high coppice stools made the trees look like gnarled creatures walking through the woodland in the middle of the night! A creepy woodland indeed.
Many wildflowers are now present in the block that I coppiced this year, including wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and lesser celendine (Ranunculus ficaria). The first 3 of which are ancient woodland indicator species.
It's a great feeling heading into the Spring and Summer; life abounds, it's a time of year I've always enjoyed. This year I managed to cut plenty of hazel during the winter months so will be busy weaving and making during the spring and summer months. If you'd like to order any coppice products, get in touch. Don't forget your bean poles and pea sticks for the garden too.
Thanks for reading!