Volunteering opportunities (Last updated 03/014/2016)

All work done at Pepper Wood is voluntary, and the more volunteers we have, the more we can do.  The best way to get involved is simply to turn up on Wednesday or Sunday at about 9:45. Wear clothes which won't mind  mud and thorns, and shoes that will protect your feet from rough ground and carelessly dropped pieces of cake. Gloves and all tools are supplied.  If you have questions that are not answered on this website, contact Hugh Jenkins ( current group chairman ) on 01384-442276 or 0787 575 6698. Email: jenkinhp@gmail.com

There is no membership system, and we make no assumptions as to how often people can work with us. A lot of new volunteers make apologies for not being able to come every week. This is unnecessary. All volunteers are valued, whether they are able to come every week, once a month, a couple of times a year. They all help.

We welcome volunteers of all ages, although we should make it clear that persons under eighteen need to be accompanied by a responsible adult.  Younger children can do useful work at the wood, but need parental supervision.  We are particularly pleased to welcome participants in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme.

Some of the work done at the wood is strenuous, but most of it is well within the compass of anybody who can handle the coarser elements of gardening.

The work of the wood falls into two main elements: Coppicing, which lasts from September to April, and path maintenance, running from May to August.

Coppicing consists of cutting down everything in an area of roughly half a hectare.  Everything, that is, except about sixteen selected oaks, and less common trees such as crab apple and wild service. This is done with bow saws and loppers. The felled material is then trimmed with billhooks and axes and stacked for future sale as bean poles, hedging stakes, and other garden products. Some of it is sawn into short billets for later conversion to charcoal. At the end of the operation, the area is fenced to keep out the deer, and left to regenerate for eight years.

Path maintenance is quite a varied operation. Trees grow quite fast, and are constantly cut back to stop them blocking the paths. There are several areas along the paths which are regularly cleared to allow flowers and less vigorous plants to grow - usually tackled with slashers and sickles. Barriers are maintained to control access to most of the path system, as horses and quad-bikes can soon render a muddy path impassable. Barrier maintenance is a green woodwork job, involving axes, drawknives, brute force and ignorance. Mud is a constant problem, and we are attacking this by laying granite chippings over a permeable membrane, kept in place with poles and pegs. The main jobs are shovelling stone and banging in pegs with a blodger ( a rustic mallet carved out of a log ).

Other jobs include charcoal burning. This is done one or twice a year, usually just after the coppice has been fenced, which means late Spring or early Summer.

By the time coppicing is completed, a large pile of billets will have accumulated, sawn from stems that cannot be used for other saleable produce. These are very carefully stacked in a large steel kiln. A fire is started underneath the stack, and is allowed to burn naturally until the whole mass is well alight. At that point, the lid of the kiln is closed, and air is gradually excluded from the fire, from which point the wood is basically cooked ( or pyrolised ) rather than burnt. Eventually all the air vents are closed, and the kiln left to cool down.

Once cool, the kiln is opened, and the charcoal shovelled out, graded and bagged. Needless to say, this is an exceedingly dirty operation! The whole process takes at least two days, and is quite a social occasion. Until emptied, the kiln needs constant attention, and becomes the centre of much al fresco eating and drinking. Charcoal burning is guaranteed fun for anybody with pyromanic tendencies.
(To be continued...)