Work done ( Last updated 21/11/2018)

The general idea of this page is to give prospective volunteers an idea of what goes on in the wood.
Records of activities in 2017 will be moved to the Archive section shortly.


Sunday 3rd January Perhaps the worst working weather we have ever had. Heavy persistent rain and a cold wind. In complaining of this, we should remember that the North of England and Scotland have been going through a watery Hell with repeated floodings. The wood is completely saturated, the conditions underfoot dominated by liquid mud, and the footpaths gradually turning into long puddles. Three people turned up, and after looking at the work needed on the ash tree, needed little debate to reach a decision to go home.

Two hours later, as this report reaches an end, it is still raining. and the forecast does not inspire optimism.

Wednesday 6th January: A total change in conditions! The sun shone, perhaps a little diffidently, and a considerable amount of ash branches were worked through, with the piles of firewood doubling in size.

Sunday 10th January Normality restored at last! For once, the weather did not threaten another downpour, and a good turnout resulted. The assault on the the ash tree continued, to the extent that another work party will see the brash and small branches dealt with. We then have the trunk and major limbs to sort out. These contain some fine quality timber, and will be converted to something usable if at all possible. The first job will be to get them out, which is a major logistical exercise, possibly involving the big two-man saws and other butch tools!

David and Amone soldiered on clearing the the float grass from the pond. This is hard work, so full credit to them for their efforts. With most of the pond now in open water, and the overhanging trees removed, the prospect for this years' pond life are good. You can now see water from the path - something not possible for several months.

A party from Credenhill Wood visited, and were taken for a tour of the premises.

Sunday 17th January. A gastronomic extravaganza! Our resident Ray Mears ( Darren Bradley ) brought along a Dutch oven, and made bread, which was perfect in taste and texture. Alan concentrated on sausages, which were great when eventually cooked, but baking and frying need different types of fire. This, of course, did wonders for morale, but not much for productivity.

Wednesday 27th January: All the remaining pieces of ash were rounded up and stacked. A logging party cut and bagged fifteen more sacks of ash logs, which are finding a ready market. The chairman held a long al fresco meeting with Jane Ward, our Woodland Officer, after which the remaining items on the agenda were the dreaded Risk Assessments, and Insurance ( the White Man's Burden ). Fortifying beverages were called for at this point, and the meeting relocated to the Nailers.

Sunday 31st January Another morning of grey skies and spitting rain. Nevertheless four intrepid idiots turned out and made five fencing panels for a local order. There was even time for some additional coppicng, and to tidy up a lot of odds and ends that have been making the place a trap for the unwary. The coppice was left in exemplary order. No cookery was done and no fire was lit - it being deemed that by the time we had anything useful going, it would be nearly dark.

Several bags of ash logs were sold.

Sunday 7th February With the felling element of this season's coppice drawing to a close, a start was made on layering. However, this compartment is relatively poor in hazel, being relatively rich in willow and mud, and this task was soon completed. It was also limited to the areas where the trip hazards of layered stems will not interfere with later work.

Wednesday 10th  February  The remaining poles for Fairfield First School were rounded up, cut to size and delivered.

Sunday 14th February: A fine, if distinctly chilly morning with no threat of wind or rain.Ten bags of logs were sold. The fire was lit with a minimum of cursing, and without recourse to industrial blow torches. We have for some time been debating how best to fence this coppice and so to set this discussion on a somewhat more factual basis, its main dimensions were measured. In case these are forgotten, the path which runs up the centre is 300ft, and the perimeters of the two halves are 1000 ft and 770 ft, the upper are being the largest. Both these measurements include 300 ft for the path, During this operation it was discovered that there is still quite a lot of wood to be felled, much of it good quality hazel,. The bad news is that there is also a fair amount of blackthorn.

Four six foot fence panels were ordered. By close of play, three were complete.

David and Amone have now completed the removal of the float grass from the pond, A couple of weeks should see the water clear again. The fence around the pond is in a sorry state, and a complete rebuild is required.

The relatively dry recent weather has made the paths somewhat firmer. The shoots of bluebells are visible everywhere, and the birds are practicing their songs for spring, although when translated, they probably amount to "Oi, this is my patch, so bugger off now if you don't want a damn good pecking". What else can one expect from the feathery relatives of Velociraptor,  who was was probably a lot more bothered about territory than music.

Wednesday 17th February An exceedingly low turnout (1). A lone worker spent a most agreeable morning planing and shaping  the seat for the memorial bench. It has to be said that planing rough-sawn oak with an old-style wooden plane, whilst pleasurable in itself, is a s-l-o-w process. 

Sunday 21st February   A new volunteer, Lizzy Piffany, joined us. She seems to have the right no-nonsense attitude, and was reluctant to down tools when the work party came to a close. However, we now have even more problems when it comes to shouting at the work force, with two Rachels and two Lizzies, even if they are spelled differently. A start was made on rounding up the charcoal billets, following the rediscovery of the tarpaulin, which we had thought stolen. 

The order for fence panels was completed.

Wednesday 24th February  A fine cold day, ideal for vigorous pursuits. Now that we know the dimensions of the present coppice, we need to know how much wire fencing will be freed from the 2011-12 coppice, which has now grown well above browsing height. This turns out to be about 260 metres. 

Attention was then shifted to the remaining lumps of ash. Many of these have - in some cases had - extremely obtuse grain, and are most reluctant to split when struck with a mere axe. Unsporting methods became inevitable, such as the use of sledge hammer and wedges. Even so, they did not give up without a fight. Eventually a dozen sacks of logs were completed. We now need to find a use for the remaining lumps - perhaps they could be used for abstract sculptures.

An hour's work in the coppice rounded off the session. Though the air was cold, there was a very definite feeling of Spring in the air. And mud on the ground.

Wednesday  16th March No work party

Sunday 20th March One of the notable opportunities afforded by driving the group's tractor is making an utter fool of oneself. Accordingly the present writer set off to collect thirty bundles of beansticks from the coppice. Attempts to turn the tractor round for the return journey were repeatedly foiled by the failure of the wheels to gain any grip on the still muddy ground, and things soon reached a stage at which neither forward or reverse movement was possible. Various remedies, mostly consisting of placing things under the rear wheels, met with abject failure. The detachment of the trailer, which ought to have eased the baleful effects of the mud, proved similarly futile. Eventually a 3-ton winch was fetched from the shed, and succeeded in slowly pulling the tractor from a muddy grave. By this time the end of the work party was at hand. It is a tribute to the spirit of the group that throughout this singularly unproductive episode, not a cross word was uttered. 

The beansticks were eventually collected, and that was the sum total of tasks completed that day. It is much to be regretted that Pete Sparkes was not present. His caustic wit would have added fitting discomfiture to the driver responsible for this waste of voluntary labour.

Later in the day a group of motorised morons on motor and quad bikes roared up the bridlepath, and emerged some forty minutes later at the western side of the car park. There is little to be gained appealing to the better nature of such idiots. What one can do is to spoil their fun - see below.

Wednesday 23 March A good turnout which was able to address the problem of motor and quad bikes noticed on Sunday. Short of closing the wood to all traffic, there is little one can do to keep out that cretinous element of the population who seem to think that possession of a noisy machine with off-road capability entails a right to invade any land that takes their fancy. What we can do is to make their incursions progressively more difficult and less enjoyable.  

It appears that they gained access to the wood by getting under the barriers at the Wood Lane end of the bridlepath. To frustrate this, we split three oak trunks into quarters, peeled and pointed them, and rammed them into the ground adjoining the barriers. This may not render unwanted access completely impossible, but it will certainly make it harder. An oak stake, rammed two feet into the ground cannot be broken or removed without extreme force or special tools.

March-May 5th 2016. Apologies for a lapse in coverage!  With the intervention of Easter and a Bank Holiday, work parties have been rather smaller than usual Inevetably the focus has been upon completing the coppice. All the felling was dealt with about a month ago, leaving the rather tedious task of dragging the poles to the trackside, and the less tedious job of layering.  All of this has now been done, resulting in a large pile of material for conversion. 

The next job will be fencing This year we plan to use plastic fencing rather than the traditional wire mesh. Its most obvious advantage is that it is far easier to handle than wire.  This year's  coppice presents some novel problems in fencing, since there are very few trees on the boundary. Theses are usually used as posts on which to hang the netting. In their absence we will probably have to use cleft oak stakes. Making these is a popular job, as it relies heavily on brute force and ignorance. 

We do not plan to fence the entire coppice area. Apart from its abnormal size, a large part of it is extremely wet and tractor-hostile.  Relatively little hazel grows there, the more successful species being goat willow, which is vigorous enough to thrive without any assistance. There is little evidence that deer feed on it, and there are several volunteers who would be only too pleased if they did!

Sunday 8th May A festival of brute force and ignorance. Fencing this year's coppice will require quite a lot of stout posts, so this work party set  about making them. This operation starts with splitting a six-foot length of oak trunk in half, and then into quarters. This is done with some steel wedges and a very large hammer, and is a great way to work off all those things that have made your week less than ideal, The results of this process are usually very rough and unpleasant to handle, so the next stage is to strip off the bark,  the sap wood, which is about as hard as old parmesan cheese, and any protruding splinters. This is a very satisfying task, done mostly with a drawknife or a razor-sharp axe, and some people can spend ages removing every tine splinter and  blemish. A drawknife, incidentally, is a very large spokeshave, and used notably by coopers and cricket bat makers.

Lastly, each stake is pointed, using a big and very sharp axe. 

Six volunteers turned out two dozen stakes, some of them so meticulously finished that it will seem a pity to use them. More could probably have been made, but only at the cost of taking away the fun of those who seem to have struck a deep and meaningful relationship with the drawknife. Fun is just as important as productivity!!

Wednesday 11th May Work resumed on an order for woven fence panels, and proved the organisation is a key to the job. Before any weaving started, all the raw materials were assembled, showing the process just how much material these panels consume, and how important their quality is. A new weaving pattern was adopted, makes for a straighter and denser texture. Three panels remained to be made at close of play.

Sunday 15th May A well attended and very productive session. Despite previous fiascos, the tractor was taken to the coppice, where Pete Broadley showed how to reverse it without precipitation of a three-hour disaster. 

Work started with a general clearup. making sure that all the usable materials were moved to the south side of the track, and hence will not be inadvertently incarcerated when the fecne is put up.

We have now acquired 300 metres of plastic netting in an experiment to establish whether this will be easier to manage than the traditional wire. Taking down and rolling up the wire fencing has long been a thoroughly unpopular job, and the resulting rolls are heavy and awkward to handle 

Work on erecting this was started, with Alan and Charles banging in stakes. About half the required number are now in place. 

Lizzie and Helen completed the order for fence panels. Quality control was meticulous

The lid was removed from the charcoal kiln, and a merry half hour or so was spent filling it. This is quite absorbing task, since each billet has to be placed so that the number and size of voids between them is kept to a minimum. A job somewhere between tiling and doing a jigsaw.  It is quite surprising how a large disordered pile of billets packs into a far smaller space when carefully arranged. 

Lastly, the trailer was loaded with cordwood, taken to the woodstacks and unloaded.

Wednesday 18th May Since the memorial bench is now structurally complete and currently in treatment with coats of white spirit and tung oil, the outstanding task is the inscription. Hugh and Alan will share this task. Letter carving is easy to do badly, and infernally hard to do well, as the slightest mistake stands out like a sore thumb. So the morning was devoted to carving practice. Much was learned in the process. the principal lesson being that it's not pleasant to do intricate carving in a downpour. Some time was hence consumed us rigging up a polythene awning and drying all the tools which had been liberally doused in rainwater. The carvers resolved to organise a method of keeping dry that can be put up at a moment's notice. 
Sunday 5th June The poor health of the tractor dominated this work party. All the signs are that the alternator has failed, and hence any use of the vehicle involving multiple stops and starts seemed likely to flatten the battery, leaving the tractor and trailer stranded. It proved impossible to change the alternator, and efforts were directed elsewhere.

The fence around the pond has reached the point of terminal decline, so the rotted posts were removed, and the metal netting pulled out. Alan's dog Dexter demonstrated that this netting is in no respect dog-proof, and it was therefore rolled up and put into storage. Meanwhile Charles and Alan Garstang had decided that a suitable replacement might be found by taking down the netting from the 2012  coppice. Whilst this did not prove to be a solution. the removal of these fences is a task that does need doing. Accordingly, the rest of the day was spent taking down another long section of fencing. This was an awkward task; the netting kept getting snagged on sprags, and by the time it was rolled up, everyone had had enough. Whether it will ever be used again is debatable; recent experience suggests that plastic netting is easier to put up and far more deer-proof that the old metal version. What we do not know is what will happen when we try to take it down.

Wednesday 8th June A remarkably large turnout for a Wednesday. With the coppice now fenced, there remains the task of tidying up and converting the last sticks and poles, and getting isolated stacks of produce into some sort of order. In response to an order for woven fence panels, most of the work party set about making these, and by the end of the session four panels were made and ready to collect. A pity, therefore, that the person who placed the order has decided that the panels are no longer required.The next time this person puts in a request, it will go the end of the queue and stay there.

Thursday 9th June As previously noted, the tractor has been rather poorly of late. Earlier efforts to change the alternator met with utter failure. The marvellously named Dan Badger was called in to assist professionally. In twenty minutes the job was done, and we can get cracking with the extraction of firewood from the coppice.

Sunday 12th June A very hard working day. With the tractor back in commission, it was time to get all the cordwood out of the coppice. However, recent wet weather had aggravated the condition of the extraction track, causing the tractor to tilt at an alarming angle. It was decided to combine the wood extraction with measures to fill in the ruts. The worst of these was semi-filled with oak logs and covered with stone, after which driving the tractor became a good deal less exciting. All the wood was removed, amounting to something like one cord.

The weather was wet and sticky, giving an ideal opportunity to test the awning. It certainly does the job, and provided a welcome place to eat cake without rainwater sauce. The only problem remaining is that water tends to form pools in the covering, so some sort of support to prevent sagging would be an idea. It takes one person about ten minutes to put up.

We welcomed a new volunteer, Jo Young, who proved a very willing worker, fitting in very well with the general derision traditionally exchanged between all present.

Darren took away the fence panels.

Wednesday 15th June The weather continued ghastly, and rain fell all morning. Nobody turned up and no work was done.

Sunday 19th June With the old and tottery fence removed from the pond, an new one made of chicken wire was put up.  This proved rather of a struggle than expected, especially as only three people were available to do it. As far as we know this will be totally dog proof, unless any would-be intruders are first cut into small hexagonal strips, a rather drastic practice which we strongly discourage.

The overflow from the pond was strengthened with two heavy concrete blocks.]

Subsequent checks suggest that the new fence is having the required effect. The pond water, though still the colour of medium brown boots, seems a lot clearer.

Sunday 26th June Charcoal day! One of the high points of the Pepper Wood year. Since the burn takes around twelve hours before the kiln can be closed down and left, an early start is essential. Two hardly pioneers. Alan and Darren, camped out on Saturday night, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, surviving even the depredations of the Beast of Pepper Wood. Hence by 10am on Sunday new arrivals found logs ready laid out around a blazing brazier, and a kettle gently steaming over it.

The kiln was lit at 9 am. Some careful control of the burn was needed to cope with the effects of a strong breeze and recent flooding, but it was not long before a dense pall of smoke was drifting towards Fairfield.

As usual, the event was well attended - especially by dogs. Apart from occasional attention to the kiln - mainly moving the chimneys and renewing the sealing sand - the main activity was spoon carving, a craft in which the aggregate on-site stock of skill was approximately zero. This was reflected in the wide range of spoon designs, and the fact that nobody tried to eat with them.

A wide range of food and drink was consumed, much it cooked over the brazier, Surprisingly, very little of it was burnt.

The weather, which had begun sunny and breezy, gradually worsened, and by early evening a steady rain was falling, although this utterly failed to damp the spirits of the last few left standing, who taped off the kiln, sealed all the vents, and squelched off shed-wards at about 7:30

Sunday 3rd July The moment of truth! The kiln was opened just after 10am, and it was immediately apparent that the burn had been very successful. There were a fair number of brown ends, but these are always useful for subsequent burns. A fair-sized crew graded and filled 35 4kg bags in record time. In fact this process was so efficient that we managed to reload the kiln for another burn, which is planned to take place on the 10th. We had barely finished packing the charcoal when customers arrived and took away four bags!

A further feature of this session was that, in contrast to previous burns, the crew remained largely recognisable, rather than blackened to the roots of their hair.

Wednesday 5th July A small group toured the wood noting things to be done and snipping back some of the less vigorous encroaching undergrowth. At present there is nothing that demands urgent and immediate attention, and the amount of litter collected was pleasingly small.

Sunday 10th July A small and intrepid band ( to say nothing of the dog ) camped out on Saturday evening in order to get the second burn going early. By 8:30, when the present chronicler arrived, the kiln was showing every sign of a successful ignition, with smoke issuing in equal volume and density from all three chimneys. Very little attention to the burn was required throughout the day.

In keeping with tradition, food was cooked and eaten almost continuously throughout the day, washed down among other things with coffee roasted on the campfire and bettering in quality anything that costs a small fortune in Starbucks. Spoons were carved, and, in some extreme cases actually eaten with. Mortality figures are not yet available. This was the first burn carried out in the absence of our usual superintendent, with Alan Blaney standing in as burn master, who managed to last out the day without the usual torrent of derision reserved for those in awkward occupations, such as reversing the tractor.

The previous burn used a lot of billets which had been seasoning for a year. This latest burn relied entirely on wood cut from September last year onwards. Hence the charge in the kiln will have had a considerably higher moisture content. The burn was closed down at 6pm, at which time there was still a considerable volume of smoke issuing from the chimneys. It is therefore to be expected that there will be more brown ends when the lid is removed next Sunday.

Sunday 17th July The kiln was opened to find the contents in pretty good condition. This is encouraging, since this is the first burn which has relied solely on reading the manual. The raw material was entirely from  this seasons coppicing, and therefore had a higher moisture content than the first burn. This did result in a higher proportion of brown ends, but this was a marginal increase and nothing unexpected.

The output consisted of thirty bags of barbecue grade and seven of fines.

Wednesday 21st July Charles and Anstice removed the bracken  from the scallop at the top of the bridleway.
Sunday 24th July Time to get back to the sort of work that does not involve extensive standing around eating sausages and carving spoons!

Last year, a large quantity of stone was deposited on far perimeter path for subsequent infrastructural improvements. This has now been laid in the usual Pepper Wood pattern. This is at the junction of Holly Way and Apple Way North, which is where the first stone paths were laid. These are now showing their age, so the stone was renewed.

The tractor and trailer were then taken down to the most recent felling area to find out how difficult it would be to turn the thing round.  Not easy, it transpired, but manageable. Manoevering will get easier as the wood stacks get smaller. Half a trailer load was taken back to the stacks near the shed. ]

Wednesday 27th July A small and intrepid band braved heavy rain to mow down bracken along West Way and to generally cut back encroaching vegetation. The vegetation around the car park was also reduced to ground level. Unruly plants around the car park tend to become repository for litter.

Sunday 31st July Rain storms in early July washed down a huge quantity of twigs and leaf litter which blocked the pipe under the bridges - one near the craft area and the other near the car park. The latter has been flooding regularly for some time. All the detritus has now been dug out, and the stream bed near the car park deepened and widened. All we need now is a damn good cloudburst to test our improvements

The rest of the morning was spent rebuilding the barrier at the craft area, which had begun to look seriously rickety, and banging in several big oak stakes to prevent horses going into the coppice bordering the bridleway
Wednesday 3rd July A useful morning was spent tidying up the cordwood stacks. Many of the posts have become loose and rotten. These have now been removed and kept for firewood. New posts have been driven in and the first group of stacks is now ready to receive the cordwood which will be brought in over the forthcoming weeks. The stacks were also somewhat untidy, so most of the wood still in this area has been re-stacked.

Friday 5th July With time ticking by, it was decided that the time for practice was past, and the time for carving the inscription on the memorial bench had arrived. Alan and Hugh spent the whole day down at the shed carving alternate parts of 'In memory of Pete Sparkes'.  This was a slow process, but patience was rewarded, and as the day wore on the carvers began to get a feel for handling the font. By the time the job was finished, they almost knew what they were doing. The project was sustained by weapons-grade coffee, sausages and bacon cooked over a fire of old bean sticks. Dexter the dog eventually got tired of getting under everybody's feet.

Alan carved a test piece, reading 'Holly Way'. This was painted,  cleaned up with a plane and placed by the car park as an advert for hand carved house names and numbers. One order has already been received. Nor was this the end of Alan's enterprise, as he had also sold our entire stock of barbecue charcoal to a local butcher.

Sunday 7th July Welcome to our latest volunteer, Will Foreman. We hope that the rigours of humping logs will not deter him!

The completed bench was loaded into the trailer and taken to the top of High Path, to be installed by the last coppice on which Pete Sparkes worked. The installation proceeded remarkably smoothly, due in no small measure to the heavy duty digging tools supplied by Pete Broadley. This was just as well as the ground was dry and hard. The buried parts of the legs have been armed with four inch nails to make them harder to pull out, and given two coats of bitumen paint. Once made level and secured with rammed earth, the bench was as solid as a rock. It remained only to raise plastic glasses of Old Speckled Hen in Pete's honour.

The photos below do not do justice to the letter carving - or to anything else!


On the whole we felt that Pete would have appreciated the gesture, although his public response would have been in two syllables and beginning with 'B'.  We could remove the backrest and carve it on the reverse side......

With the bench installed, it was time to do some proper work, and two trailer loads of cordwood were  brought in from the far side of the wood, not without some concern for the offside trailer tyre, which was alarmingly flat. 400 strokes with a footpump sorted that out.

Wednesday 11th August A select band braved sunny weather to carry on the work of getting the firewood in. Three trailer loads were moved and stacked. It is not really possible to do much more than this in one session because of the distance which the tractor has to travel. Each load takes about half an hour. We are lucky that the present run of dry weather makes driving conditions perfect.

Sunday 14th August: Another assault on the firewood, and another three trailer loads brought in and stacked with  considerable artistry. There are now twelve half cords of the new season's firewood at the stacks near the shed.  We estimate that there  are another five loads left to collect. So with a moderate degree of good fortune with the weather, the firewood should be done and dusted before the end of August. Given that, we will have up to a month for footpath maintenance and allied projects

Wednesday 17th August: With the weather continuing dry,  a select crew maintained the momentum on firewood extraction. So dry has the wood now become that the tracks, once so muddy, are now turning to dust,  a process hopefully arrested by today's rain. Another three loads were moved, leaving at most two to be dealt with.

Sunday 21st August:  A really good turnout made for excellent progress. A small detachment recovered the last of the cordwood while another replaced some of the tottering post in the storage area and completed the task by the time the last of the wood arrived. A larger party cleared a massive blockage in the drainage ditch which runs parallel to the bridleway, which must have been building up for years, and may explain the flooding seen near the car park after heavy rain.  The work party wound up by removing some of the overhanging trees to the west of the car park, thus letting a lot more light in.

A most productive day! All the cordwood is now gathered in!

Wednesday 24th August A select group cleared bramble and bracken from the area felled in 2012. This job was done last year, and benefitted enormously, with most of the trees freed from smothering vegetation having grown up at an astonishing rate. The whole area was dealt with in a couple of hours, and may not need further attention, as the growing trees may now be big enough to limit bramble growth by reducing available light.
Sunday 28th August  Welcome to our latest volunteer, Steve. A couple of hours was spent clearing brambles from the regenerating oaks on an area felled in 2013. Some of these had effectively disappeared under the brambles, and would probably have expired but for our attentions. One can now see all the trees in this area. Experience has shown that trees respond remarkably quickly to this treatment. At this point it began to rain hard, and the work party beat a retreat to the shed, and went on a tour of inspection of the wood to establish what needs to be done before coppicing resumes. Remarkably, there is very little really urgent work to do, and it should be possible to complete it in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday 30th August An intrepid duo decided to take down the remaining deer netting from the 2011 coppice. A foolish decision. This job proved to be a real struggle, and at the end of two hours one length of netting had been rolled up. The other has been taken down and now awaits rolling, which ought to be simple enough. To our dismay, it emerges that there is another length running across the coppice, which is now so embedded in regrowth that the only feasible way to deal with it is to leave it until coppicing reaches this area one more.

Sunday 4th September. A day of stern infrastructural labour, starring David Slater's mighty machines. The western end of Holly Way has long been famed for its mud, which often lasted right through the year. This has now been radically addressed. A drainage pipe has been laid under and across the track, fed by a newly excavated ditch. The surface has been covered with a generous layer of granite. The ditch was already beginning to fill with water when it was only one hour old! Some additional measures may be carried out, probably revetment of the ditch to prevent the sides gradually collapsing.

At the north end of the wood the granite-laid path was extended towards the bridle path, and the rather ruinous wire fence propped up and stapled to two new cleft oak posts. This is a job which has needed attention for many months.

In all, a pretty arduous work party, with much shovelling of stone and mud, but at the end of it a very satisfying sense of jobs well done. Many thanks to David Slater, without whose mechanical beasts this work would have taken many weeks, and probably would never have been done. This is the third major assault on Holly Way. The other two have already made the job of taking the tractor to the far western side of the wood immeasurably easier. The dogs, as usual, provided endless amusement and very little help.

Wednesday 7th September: Some cosmetic work was done on the excavations on Holly Way, with a new section of stone path laid on the edge of the track, which at present is still pretty glutinous.

That done, the work party moved to High Path ( ie the track that goes past the shed ) and removed som overhanging branches.

Sunday 11th September: A grand bramble bashing session. The area felled in 2014 had become completely carpeted in brambles, seriously threatening the life of some of the regenerating oaks. This was by far the worst example of such growth, and most of the morning was spent on clearing it. Several trees were discovered completely buried. The regrowth was thin and stunted, but should survive and revive. The luxuriance of the bramble was clearly greatest in the most shaded area, whereas on the sunniest side, many seedling oaks were found and carefully separated from more competitive vegetation.

Sunday 18th September: COPPICING STARTS AGAIN! A fine Autumn morning and a very good turn out - which came as little surprise. What was surprising was the area cleated in the space of three hours.  So far the quality of the regrowth looks excellent. The overall area to be felled is a lot smaller than last year, and a rough calculation suggests that it could be completed by Christmas, although that is on the assumption that all we do is cut things down. We will be able to spend more time making things, and we look to Alan for fresh ( and silly ) idea as to what they might be!  Our latest volunteer, Steve Heywood, sends the following photo of the devastation:

David Slater extended the drainage scheme on Holly Way. All we need now is a damn good downpour to see how it works.

A lone volunteer repainted part of the gate, which only went to show how much the rest of it needs doing!

Wednesday 21st September The whirlwind opening of the coppicing season left a huge pile of material which, although an eloquent testimony to industriousness, presented something of a challenge to those doing the conversion. This pile was sorted into separate stacks for each major species, a task that took all morning, but which will greatly simplify conversion.

Sunday 25th September: With the huge pile of stems mow sorted by species, a start on conversion was made. Birch is not much use for anything but firewood and charcoal, and this was accordingly reduced to billets and cordwood. Lizzie and Darren started an order for woven fences, breaking new ground in quality by using classic wattle techniques to eliminate the need for nailing.

We have decided to fell the wetter part of the coppice first; bitter experience last year taught us that he who works there in the depth of winter is liable to lose his boots in a foot of quagmire. So it makes sense to deal with this area before it reverts to marshland. It contains a number of willows, which have regenerated vigorously and present an irresistible challenge to the Human Chainsaw, who got stuck into one of them and could hardly be dragged away when the hooter went for close of play.

Wednesday 28 September   Three gallant workers made a start on the conversion of a large pile of hazel. So far, the quality of the hazel stems has been indifferent, with each pole requiring a different treatment - which proved ideal training for two of the party who had not done much conversion before About half the hazel felled so far has now been converted.
Sunday 2nd October A typical early Autumn day, ideal for working in the wood. The brazier was lit for the first time since the charcoal sessions. Lizzie and Darren made two more exquisitely crafted fence panels. All we need now is the customer. The rest of us pushed on with felling on the wet side of the track. At present, conditions underfoot are no more than pleasantly damp, and no boots were lost. Charles found another willow to dismantle, and soon began to disappear behind the products of his labour. Lesser mortals settled for less forbidding specimens, and doubled the area felled on the wet side.

Wednesay 5th October  - Wednesday 19th October The present chronicler was absent, so detail is lacking. Generally the story has been business as usual.

Sunday 23rd October An excellent turnout with weather to match. Work on clearing the lower section of the coppice is proceeding rapidly, and at present rates of progress will be complete before the end of the year. The prospects for finishiing this section before it reverts marshland are good. To our surprise, the quality of the hazel in the area cut this weekend  is exceptional, which is somewhat surprising, given that it was not fenced.  The drawback to this concentration on felling while the soil is dry is that sooner or later there is going to be one hell of a lot of conversion to be done!

Wednesday 26th October A gloomy day with low cloud, drizzle, and absolute silence. A small select group pushed on with the wet side of the coppice, which so far has remained remarkably dry. Most of the material felled was willow. It is a shame that we have so failed to find a decent use for it.

Sunday 20th October Felling work reached the edge of the wet side of the coppice. Much effort was made to leave the place in a mess, in order to give the visiting schoolchildren plenty to do. So far the ground remains firm under foot, and vindicates the decision to concentrate on felling this area.

Wednesday 3rd November Holly class from Fairfield First School came to work the coppice. The weather could scarcely have been better - no wind, brilliant sunshine, and not too cold. They were given three jobs to do: Bringing the remainder of last year's produce down to the current conversion area, building 'bug hotels', and stacking the brash purposely left lying around  by the previous work party.  All of this they did with great energy and diligence. Rarely has a coppice looked so tidy, and two of the regular volunteers had to work like demons to generate enough sticks to house the bugs. They were also very disciplined. They were told never to run in the coppice, on pain of having their heads cut off with a very big axe. This threat appears to have been effective. Not only was there no running; there was very little screaming and shouting.

Dragging down last year's sticks                                        Building bug hotels                                                                Waiting for orders...

Building a brash pile

Bring back child labour we say!

Sunday 6th November With the wet side of the coppice nearing completion, attention is shifting to conversion. Half the work party worked on stakes and charcoal billets, exposing in the process the woeful bluntness of several bowsaws.  A large cartful of billets was made, largely from willow. If only a better use could be found for this over-abundant tree!

A large quantity of firewood was sold and collected, and special thanks go to our regular customer Jane Webb for her gift of super-quality biscuits. Their life expectancy cannot be more than a week!

Welcome to Sean, our latest volunteer, who had driven all the way from Stroud.

Sunday 13th November A good turnout in finely judged weather conditions - rain arrived just as  the tools were being put to rest. Nearly all the lower part of the coppice area has now been felled, which is just as well, as the state of the ground underfoot is showing signs of reversion to swamp. As usual, a large proportion of the material felled was willow. Goat willow grows fast and big, and it regrettable that nobody to date has proposed a use for it other than firewood or charcoal. That said, recent experiments with the open fires at a Halesowen pub show that when dry it makes a cheerful blaze, even if its calorific value leaves something to be desired.  One idea that may bear fruit is to use the bark to weave chair seats.

Wednesday 16th November A small and select group focussed on conversion and reduced a large amount of willow to charcoal billets. Charles continued his solitary crusade against salix capris. So far he has managed to avoid imprisoning himself inside a tangle of fallen branches.

Friday 18th November A fine morning, though perishingly cold to begin with. Pete B. and Hugh assembled the new chainsaw mill with remarkably few mistakes. The mill is a Granberg Alaska. The first thing one notices is that it is a lot more portable than the old mill, which was extremely heavy and monstrously awkward to carry. As with all new equipment there are peculiarities to be learned. In particular the thickness adjustment is very easy to adjust wrongly, and a set of jigs to counteract this will be made.

A trial run proved frustrating. The mill itself clearly works well, but the 90cm  bar on the Stihl MS660 chainsaw has somehow become distorted, causing binding and overheating.  All further milling is postponed until a new bar can be fitted. Sod's Law strikes again!
Sunday 20th November The overnight weather was extremely wet, for which storm Angus must take most of the blame. Accordingly, turnout was low. Two people converted, and two tidied up the edge of the present felling area. The main product of this was more willow. Fortunately we will soon move to drier and higher ground, where more useful species predominate.

Given the miserable weather, however, this was a remarkably productive work party.

Wednesday 23rd November. A rather damp day which failed to daunt the spirit of the three hard volunteers. Two of them doggedly reduced the piles of willow to less discouraging proportions, increasing the size of the pile of charcoal billets quite noticeably. Some trees which had previously marked the boundary between this year's and last year's coppice were removed, making the place look a great deal tidier. Eventually the rain became too persistent, and close of play called at noon. The lower part of the coppice is now rapidly reverting to its customary marshy consistency.
Sunday 27th November. David Slater, his mighty machines and one assistant transported and laid all the remaining stone. One load was used to improve the path at the far north end of the wood, which has suffered from the runoff from the neighbouring hard standing. Two loads were spread at the latest earthworks on Holly Way in an attempt to get rid of the sticky mud. It still feels pretty squidgy, but it is hoped that it will solidify permanently next Spring.

Recent rains had swept a vast quantity of deal leaves into the drainage channel near the car park. These were comprehensively removed.

Back at the coppice, more conversion was done, and a start made on felling the upper drier area. Alan had returned from Africa with a locally made stove, which was tested by making bacon butties, and was reported to have performed superbly. How much time this left for real work is not known!

Wednesday 4th December Another conversion session has seen all the willow sawn up for charcoal , and most of the converted material - mainly beansticks and hedging stakes - tied up in bundles. Felling nearly always runs ahead of conversion, and this can leave the converters with a vision of vast piles of sticks that only get bigger. The balance is now somewhat redressed.

Sunday 11th December Chopping blocks and rolls of old deer netting were retrieved from the western end of the wood. Delivery of the chopping blocks to the coppice was marred by another incident with the tractor, which makes one think that the place has been put under some sort of curse: The trailer was snagged on a relatively small log, which somehow disconnected it from the tractor.  Fortunately, reconnection, though awkward, did not completely disrupt the work party. A large volume of charcoal billets were chopped, and the stacks of unconverted material shrank noticeably. Alan cooked bacon butties on his African stove, which did nothing for productivity, but a lot for morale.

Wednesday 14th December As Xmas approaches, work parties get smaller. Two dedicated men chopped a pile of old bean sticks into charcoal billets, bundled all the new bean sticks and hedging stakes and cleared  all the material felled in the lower - wetter - part of the coppice. A visit from an representative of Avoncroft resulted in the sale of a major part of the hazel unconverted so far, which means that we can now proceed with felling the upper part of the coppice without totally demoralising the conversion workers.

Sunday 18th December In brilliant sunshine, an advance party walked the wood, the 'work' consisting of noting things to be done in the forthcoming year. Of these there were surprisingly few. The most pressing, it seems, will be bramble bashing to prevent regeneration in the felled areas being swamped and to give seedling trees a chance to establish themselves. The main purpose of this tour was to develop an thirst and  an appetite for proceedings at the Nailers Arms.

This was well attended, and witnessed the largest demolition of cheesy chips in the history of the group. Particular credit for this must go to Pete Broadley, who is a one-man campaign against the wastage of food.

With the onset of Xmas, this was the last meeting of the year.


Sunday 1st January A singularly inauspicious start to the year, and almost identical to the start of 2016. Heavy, cold, persistent rain from skies grey as far as the eye could see.  As good an illustration as one could wish of the Scots term 'driech'.

Three stalwarts met at the shed and reached a rapid consensus, which could be briefly summed up  as 'sod this for a lark, let's go home'.  These lines are being typed five hours later, and the view from the window remains thoroughly dreary.

Wednesday 4th January A marked contrast in weather which created a cruel illusion that Spring is just around the corner.

The barrier at the junction of High Path and the Bridle Way was repaired; whether deliberately broken or not it was terminally rotten. A damaged section of deer fencing was re-erected. Again it was unclear whether it had been vandalised or had fallen to the forces of nature. It is one of the beauties of our fencing system that it can usually be repaired with little more than a few sticks and a blodger.

The remainder of the work party was devoted to splitting a motley heap of logs which have been lying around the cordwood area for ages. 

Sunday 8th January Cutting in the coppice was resumed after a fairly long pause during which attention was focussed on rounding up and converting the material already felled. Turnout was good and progress very visible.

The new chainsaw mill was put to work. There have long been several large logs of millable size waiting for attention just west of the car park. There was some doubt as to whether, after four years of neglect, they would yield anything of value. In fact the heartwood was in perfect condition, and four fine planks were produced about 8ft x 1'5 ". The sap wood was trimmed off, and offered about as much resistance as cheese. The planks will be used for building benches.

The workparty then adjourned to the house of Alan and Karen Blaney, who, with the help of their friend Angie, had produced as fine a buffet lunch one could imagine. It received enthusiastic attention from appetites honed to perfection in the open air. It is not often that one gets a chance to photograph most of the group at once, and the fruits of that opportunity appear below.

No apologies are offered to anyone who feels that they have been cruelly misrepresented!

Wednesday 11th January
In fine conditions, a select group tidied up a large pile of felled material from the previous Sunday

Sunday 15th January: A most inauspicious start, with drizzle and an overcast sky, but today's intrepid trio were made of stern stuff, and a full morning's work was done. Those of a pedantic turn of mind might wonder in what sense throwing balls for the dog and eating bacon butties classes as work, but we will dismiss such heartless cavilling.  The photo below gives a fine impression of the hard work done:

The area where milled planks have long been stacked to season was overhauled, and a good deal of the contents was thrown out as rotten and worse. This was probably because there has been insufficient circulation of air. A simple frame has now been erected to remedy this, and the planks milled last week are now installed beneath it. Something more substantial is needed, as it does not make much sense to spend good money on milling equipment, only to neglect the end product.

Given the weather, working under cover had considerable attractions, and it was decided to carve some new posts to record the year when each coppice compartment was last felled. The available raw material did not look at all promising, but as always with oak, removal of surface dirt and rotted sapwood yielded some fine carving surfaces.  Most of the work consisted of preparation, while Alan completed a post for '2015-16'

All told, an enjoyable and varied session despite the weather. The tractor was not happy, and did not want to start, which we put down to the extremely damp conditions.

Wednesday 18th January: Welcome to our latest recruit, Sam Hollick, who has worked on farms and knows how to juggle piglets, after which working in the wood should be a doddle.

It was decided to replenish the stock of cleft oak stakes. Quite apart from their sale value, they are essential to maintaining the fences and barriers which keep horses and wheels from straying into areas reserved for walkers. Making these stakes is always a popular job, which gives generous scope for the deployment of brute force and ignorance when splitting a six-foot log into quarters with hammer and wedges. The cleft stakes then need to be shorn of splinters and cleaned of their sapwood, which has about as much structural value as old cheese. Enter the men with sharp axes and drawknives!

About eight fully finished stakes were made, plus another dozen quarters which have yet to be cleaned up, a job to be left for a weekend when we get bored with coppicing and eating bacon butties. That should guarantee infinite delay!

Sunday 22nd January. Alan arrived early at the barbarous hour of 8:30, and by the time the rest of the troops arrived had a fine fire going in the brazier.  A steady day of felling achieved considerable progress, but the down side of this is that  the piles of material to be converted have grown to rather daunting proportions. The rate of progress would have been substantially greater had it not been for a fine thicket of blackthorn, beloved of nobody except walking stick makers, or which on this occasion there were none present

Bacon butties were served at 11am, followed by various cakes and other devices to defer the return to normal duties

Again, the tractor was reluctant to start, but thanks go to Dave Avens who was at least able to confirm that there is nothing obviously wrong with the pre-heater system.

Wednesday 25th January More work done in the coppice. The report did not detail any ridiculous incidents, so we must assume a serious session devoid of time wasting and flippancies

Sunday 29th January. Another rather dreary winter day, with grey skies and drizzle. Nevertheless an adequate number turned up to brave the elements and attack a range of tasks.

The overflow car park had been damaged by a heavy vehicle, which dislodged the revetment into the ditch. The damage looked worse than it actually was, and a few oak stakes soon relocated the steel retaining wall - actually an old lump of motorway crash barrier. David Slater donated and applied an extra load of road planings, and all is now as it was.

The chainsaw mill was put through its paces once more, this time  with a new chain in the chainsaw. The results were impressive, with a smoothness of finish never attainable with the old mill. Unfortunately, the chainbrake lever snapped just before the last of the planks could be completed. This is not a serious incident; it simply means that the chainbrake will remain on until the lever is replaced. Nevertheless, a real pain in the bum.

The rest of the party cut more stools in the coppice and dragged them down to the trackside.

All this time the rain had been slowly falling harder and harder, and an early close of play was declared. Working while soaked to the bone is not only miserable, it can be dangerous. But at least the days are getting longer, the sunlight stronger, and it won't be long before the bluebells start showing their leaves.

Sunday 19th February A large volume of firewood left the premises, together with some milled planks. This latter sale exposed the fact that the tarpaulin covering the milled material has had the opposite effect to that intended, encouraging fungal infection and keeping the wood damp. The cover has been removed and the whole lot restacked. A proper roof-type cover will be needed, but for the time being the timber will be left to the attentions of the weather.

We have received an order for 360 binders and stakes! Most of the work party concentrated on making and bundling stakes, which were complete by the close of play.

Wednesday 22nd February Jane Ward visited the wood to check on details for a forthcoming felling licence application, and to map out the area to be felled this Autumn.

A small dedicated group bundled up binders for a large order to be collected next week.

Sunday 26th February   Welcome to Sean, our latest volunteer!

The recent onslaught of storm Doris did surprisingly little damage - or at least very little that required attention. The main exception was a large willow near the car park, which was partially uprooted, and leaning at a dangerous-looking angle. Pete Broadley, our now official chainsaw operator , severed the trunk from the root, after which the tractor was used to pull the tree clear of its neighbouring entanglements, which proved to be considerable. There followed an enjoyable hour during which the tree was reduced to logs and two stack of brash. The area now looks a good deal more open, and the only sign of storm damage is a large area of chainsaw dust.

The rest of the morning was spent in the coppice, where a large order for stakes and binders was completed, and a prototype woven fence to be made by visiting schoolchildren was satisfactorily constructed.

Wednesday 1st March: A day of much coming and going. Leasowes Park collected 360 stakes and binders, and another half cord of firewood was collected. Ground conditions were appalling, and trailers skidded amusingly. The tractor had to be mobilised to pull a 4x4 and its load  up the slope from the firewood stacks. Meanwhile a select band of stalwarts made good progress tidying up the stray sticks on the coppice trackside.

Sunday 5th March: Another wet and dreary day. Most of the workforce found drier things to do, but two diehards braved the elements, and spend a merry couple of hours trimming sapwood from milling remnants ( see below ).  They also weatherproofed a newly built saw horse with odds and sods from the miscellaneous tins in the shed.  A triumph of function over beauty.

The were rewarded with some fleeting moments of sunshine.

The wood is completely saturated, and the word 'muddy' can only be applied euphemistically. Russian has a marvellous word for mud that is really thick dirty water: slyakost.

Tuesday 7th March: The new saw horse was taken to the coppice and tested by Charles, who pronounced it fit for purpose.

Wednesday 8th March: As a change from work in the coppice,, axes and drawknives were the order of the day. When milling a trunk into planks, the first cut removes the top few inches, resulting in a length of timber flat on only one side. Recent discussions suggest that this could be used in footpath work. The trouble is that a lot of it consists of sapwood, which after standing for several years has the structural strength of cheese. So the morning was spend removing this sapwood, leaving us with a better idea of how much heartwood is contained in each length. Recent experience shows that oak heartwood is incredible rot resistant, and hence these timbers should last a lot longer than the usual roundwood used to revet footpaths.

Sunday 12th March Welcome to Allan Hodgetts. another new volunteer! This now poses the question of what to call the other two Allans, both of whom were on site on the same day. Attention returned to the coppice, which was looking very tidy after some diligent efforts to deal with the many stray sticks which had escaped the saw and axe. Felling resumed, with one Allan introducing the new Allan to the art of cutting hazel. The rest of the party made a start on layering, and by the close of play had virtually completed the job. Recent relatively dry weather has transformed conditions under foot, and it is now possible to move about without slithering everywhere.

The first beansticks of the year were sold.

Wednesday 15th March  Welcome to yet another volunteer, Greg Weaver. The present chronicler was absent, but is informed that the party made pegs, components for weaving fence panels, and continued with layering.

Sunday 19th March Avoncroft Museum had asked for some hazel stools to be felled at short notice - the idea being that the rods would be in prime condition for cleaving and weaving. All of these stools were felled and bundled. Meanwhile Pete reduced all the felled stools to neat ground level with the chainsaw. This comes just in time, as there are  already signs of regrowth.

Wednesday 22nd March Avoncroft Museum collected a large consignment of fresh hazel. Work continued felling some of the remaining hazel stools, converting the still considerable volume of raw material, and Charles found a large willow, which was just asking for trouble.

Sunday 26th  March Welcome the first official day of Spring, and the return of British Summer Time. The weather being as fine as one could wish, the work party indulged in a relaxing morning of green woodwork. A large section of ash trunk was into triangular sections, trimmed with axes, shaved with the drawknife, and turned on the pole lathe, on which there were several complete novices and no disasters.  Spirits were maintained by constant food inputs, from M&S fruit cake,  bacon butties cooked on an wood fire
, and an exotic omelette featuring exotic Italian sausage.

Some work was done: David and Amone brought in an owl box for future installation. This operation will not be one for the fain-hearted. They also cut some holes in the wire netting surrounding the pond. It has been noticed that there is no sign of frog spawn this year, and a possible reason for this is that frogs cannot get through the wire netting. The holes have been made at ground level, and are too small for canine access.

Several lower branches on the standards in the coppice were removed, thus giving a better shape to the trees.

Wednesday 5th April Another visit from Fairfield First School. Roughly forty children in two groups worked hard making woven fence panels and moving firewood.

Helen and Lizzie were impressed with the diligence and behaviour of the fence weaving parties, and the rest of us were astonished at how much wood was loaded and unloaded from our trailer.  We were also relieved that everybody followed our instructions on handling firewood, and hence nobody got a knock on the head.

The fence panels were delivered to the school and put to immediate use.

Bromsgrove advertiser sent a photographer to cover the event, which was judged a resounding success by all.
Sunday 9th April With the end of the coppicing season now in sight, efforts were concentrated on clearing loose material from the area which is soon to be fenced, and on making the large number of pegs that will be needed to secure the bottom edge of the netting. Charles tackled the last willow tree, so what he will do now remains to be seen.

Pete Broadley and two assistants attended to a long-planned project, namely to cut back the branches of the oak tree that overhang the wild pear tree. Hopefully this will allow the wild pear to grow in a reasonably balanced way. They also removed a large hanging broken branch, and cleared some space around one of our larger wild service trees.

This photo is not an ornithological study, but shows Pete in his climbing gear giving extra light to the pear tree!

Wednesday 19th April Whilst one group finished off the remaining layering, of which there was more than anticipated, another started putting up the fence, using the plastic netting used to such good effect last year. One of the many advantages of this material is that it is light and can be manipulated by one person. Whilst we expected that at least half of the perimeter would be covered on the day, we did not think that it would be dealt with completely.  The only drawback to this was that the team dealing with last-minute matters in the coppice had to walk further and further to escape!

Sunday 23rd April With the coppice now completed and fenced, it is now time to think about the rest of the wood. A small detachment, armed with African slashers and much determination, set forth to make a pre-emptive raid on the brambles that have strangled much of the regrowth in the felling areas dotted about the wood. Whether this the right time for this job remains to be seen, but to ensure that new growth among oaks and hazel is not smothered by brambles would seem to be common sense.

Alan and Darren made a 6ft x 6ft woven panel. The quality is excellent, especially as it was done in little over two hours

Several bundles of beanpoles were sold, and some progress was made on construction of the roof for our milled timber store.

Sunday 1st May. The charcoal kiln was loaded - a time-consuming but popular task

Wednesday 4th May. A small work party did some tidying work around the edge of the new coppice.

Saturday 6th May Large consignments of food and camping gear were shipped in an installed near the charcoal kiln. Three intrepid volunteers spent the night there in order get the kiln going  early on Sunday morning

Sunday 7th May The kiln was lit at 5:30 am. The campers then consumed what the prison authorities used to call 'a hearty breakfast', low on fibre and vitamins, and bursting with nourishing fats and cholesterol. By the time the usual Sunday stragglers arrived, the chimneys had been added to the kiln, and an even volume of smoke was rising from all of them.

The weather was superb; warm enough to sit around without getting chilly and with bright sunshine lighting up the fresh spring colours. The stands of bluebells in this area are excellent,

The burn was well attended. Ron Smart gave lessons in hazel cleaving, and found a very apt pupil in Greg, a recent recruit, who spent almost the whole day practicing this dark art. Spoon carving was on the agenda again, but this time we had a professional to set the standard. The pole lathe enjoyed the occasional twiddle, and wooden flowers were made by various methods and of varying quality. Eating, drinking and cooking was continuous. The sequence of dishes owed nothing to tradition.

Two 6x6ft woven panels were sold, raising £50.

The kiln was finally closed down and taped off at 6pm.

Wednesday 10th May. A day of odds and sods. All the beanpoles were collected from the coppice and deposited behind the shed. A merry half hour was then spent rolling the wire from the 2014-15 coppices down to the shed. The rolling propensity of a heavy and springy item with a diameter of three feet is quite remarkable! The question remaining is what to do with this wire. It seems a shame to throw it away, especially as doing so would be extremely awkward.  The session closed with an hour spent chopping up unused hazel for future charcoal burns.
Sunday 14th May  The kiln was opened after the usual brief round of speculative anxiety. The contents proved to be excellent, and yielded 29 bags of barbecue grade charcoal, and a further seven of smaller pieces, which would be ideal for use in a small forge. So all we need to do is to find a small forger.

The kiln was then refilled and made ready for a further burn scheduled for 28th.

Wednesday 17th May Not a day for working in the wood, the sky being dirty grey from horizon to horizon, and rain falling hard and persistently. Three intrepid men turned up in the vain that the rain would be short-lived and local, to find that some lesser species had deposited three large bags of plasterboard fragments on the car park. These could not be left, but were far too heavy to carry. They were dragged into the shed area, from whence Jane Ward's contractor has since collected them. This was one of the few occasions that we have not been able to make use of what the dross of society leaves us.

The intrepid men then went home, their hopes about the rain having come to nothing.

Sunday 21st May A well -attended work party with two new volunteers, Ellie and James.

Some of the remaining poles in the coppice were rounded up and dumped at the kiln, ready to be chopped up for a third burn. All the cordwood was removed from the coppice and stacked in the sales area.

Then, to provide some variety, the trailer was filled with stone for one of the larger footpath repairs. This was unloaded into builders' bags. where it will stay until infrastructural works get into full swing.  To avoid empty running, the trailer was then loaded with large rounds of oak, which are now stacked at the sales area, awaiting a grand log-splitting party.

Wednesday 24th May Following widespread criticism of the state of the bow saws, new Bahco blades were fitted to all the 21" saws.

The party then visited the small bridge at the craft area. This has been quietly falling apart for some time, and a repair has been requested. A design was swiftly agreed, incorporating two large oak stakes and a small load of granite with a geotex underlay. Construction took barely half an hour, and the result visually pleasing.  The acid test will come when the stream floods, as it always does in winter.

A further trailer load of oak rounds was brought in and unloaded, some loose stakes on the bridlepath were rammed in more securely, and on that the work party ended,

Saturday 28th May Alan and Lizzie camped out so that the kiln could be lit as early as possible. They were visited by Darren, with his usual selection of exotic al fresco food.  Their subsequent slumbers might have been sweeter had the muntjac been quieter; they kept up a barrage of barking for three hours!

Sunday 29th May The kiln was lit at about 5am, and ignition was more successful than with the previous burn. From all appearances this burn has been even all round the kiln. The fujel, however, was not as dry as for the first burn, and may result in a large proportion of brown ends. An energetic watch was kept on the proceedings, and great was the consumption of animal protein and cholesterol. 

Two bee keepers visited the site, and with them we have agreed that two hives will be located on the unfenced part of the coppice. This will require the laying of a stone base, which will be done by the next working party. With luck the bees will be with us within a month.

The kiln was sealed and  closed down at 5pm, and a well-kippered and fed work party left.

Wednesday 19th July A well attended mid-week work party, which carried on previous efforts to mow the scallops along the bridle path. It is striking how much can be done with a decent turnout, and work proceeded all the way up the bridle path and then left on to the perimeter path, where the hedge, which had begun to overhang the footpath, was cut back with impressive precision by one man and his billhook.

Sunday 23rd July:  The new shelter for milled timber was finally erected. The timber rests on three retired pallets, and now has a pitched roof covered in Antinox, a plastic sheeting usually used for protecting floors, but a cheap and effective substitute for corrugated products such as Undulene. Doubtless this new structure will become home to things other than timber, notably toads. The ensuing weather has been wet, and has shown that the structure is doing its job.

Wednesday 26th July A morning of showers and grey skies. The new notice boards were given a preliminary lick of chalkboard paint, and the heap of wood recently evicted from the tractor shed was moved and stacked behind the new wood shelter,  having been identified as an obvious fire hazard.

Sunday 30th July Three trailer loads of cordwood were brought from the western end of the wood to the stacks near the tractor shed. We estimate that about six trailer loads remain to be collected. Numerous toads were seen during loading, which is encouraging, since previous collections have been toadless, and there has been some concern that the toad population might be in decline.

Wednesday 9th August Another rainy Wednesday, remaining wet and cloudy for most of the day.  All the billhooks were sharpened, and are now ready for the next coppicing campaign, which is now but a month way. 

The black tool chest was emptied, and a complete list of its contents compiled. This was a necessary prelude to the relocation of all the commonly used tools, which, although secure against theft in the steel box, are annoyingly difficult to extract, not to say downright dangerous.

Sunday 13th August A hard-working day in sunny conditions. Three loads of cord wood were brought in, leaving only one small load to complete the gathering of firewood for this year. The toad population, which seems to have grown, required constant attention. All but one of the occupants of the wood pile were gently moved on without harm.  Since toads evidently find wood stacks an agreeable habitat,  it makes sense to construct some stacks that will not be taken apart for firewood.

There were a considerable number of fungi in evidence. The wood is not particularly rich in fungi, and they do not usually appear this early in the year. Notably common was the Amethyst Deceiver ( Laccaria amethystea ) , followed in frequency by the Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha) though most specimens had been attacked by slugs. One specimen of Boletus edulis was discovered. Readers please note that the removal of edible fungi from a SSSI is against the law. Anybody thinking of doing this had better be aware that in some years the Death Cap appears in the wood!

Wednesday 16th August A glorious summer morning, though not without some hints of Autumn. The remnants of cordwood were collected from the far western end of the wood, fortunately avoiding any damage to the local toad population, which seems to have migrated. The attractive purple fungi so plentiful a few days ago have completely disappeared.  

Attention then  switched to path improvement. The path starting at the tractor shed was partially cleared of overhanging branches, which if nothing else will make the job of the tractor driver more pleasant on wet days.  During this operation a mystery tree was discovered. Growing in a clump of holly, it has been unnoticed for years. At first inspection, it closely resembles wild pear, of which to date only one specimen is known in the wood. It may yet turn out to be crab apple!

We have received a further sighting of the Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly.

Sunday 20th August A fine late summer morning - sunny and cool - ideal conditions for woodland working. Turnout was good, and a seasoned workforce set forth to do battle with mud. Not before a detailed inspection of the suspected wild pear was made, which concluded that it was a crab apple.

Three areas of stone were laid on the uphill approach to the firewood stacks. Although the incline is quite moderate, it has caused repeated problems even for drivers of 4x4s. The main areas of difficulty should now have been tamed.

The party then moved on to minister to the wild pear tree. Over the years it has responded well to treatment; there was a time when it could not even stand upright. As it has grown, its need for space and light has increased. Several small birch and hazels were cut back to provide this. A large overhanging oak is now the main obstacle to growth. The removal of the offending branch will be a specialist job.

At the same time some running repairs were carried out on the granite path.

Finally some clearance was done around one our larger wild service trees.

Wednesday 23rd August Work started some weeks ago on one of the felled areas was completed. This was a bramble-bashing job to help the regeneration oaks. Many seedling oak trees were found and liberated from the clutches of the brambles. This work is now a major element of our summer programme, and is likely to remain so for some years.

Sunday 27th August: A superb day, and a strong turnout of volunteers. Just as well, as the task to be addressed was to clear one of the felled areas of brambles. This was without doubt the most heavily overgrown of all the felled areas, and was simply a sea of bramble, with little else visible. It seemed an almost insuperable task for a single morning, but good conditions and a dedicated team cleared the lot by 1pm. Fortunately, the seedling oaks noticed last year do not seem to have suffered, and should have a good chance of new growth next year.

Wednesday 30th August: A small group took on the undergrowth and overgrowth around the car park. It is a long time since this has received attention, and the resulting tangle of brambles and saplings has invaded the drainage ditches and provided a haven for discarded litter. A stern morning's work has now tidied the place up considerably, and the car park now looks a lot larger.

Sunday 3rd September: A cold, rather dreary day, which started with a review of the next area to be coppiced. Expected complications in establishing the boundaries did not materialise, and attention turned to the path which passes the shed.  Parts of this have begun to resemble a tunnel, and the aim of the day was to let more light in. All went merry as a funeral bell (to borrow a phrase from Three Men in Boat ) until it was decided that the side branches of a large willow were to be removed. This led to a sequence of cockups which in retrospect are amusing, but at the time were anything but. They included losing half the pole saw and a timber hook, to say nothing of eventually having to fell the whole tree. This demonstration of group clumsiness did nothing to damp the spirits, which were in any case notably maintained by Lizzie's courgette and lime cake, which was sheer poetry. Most of the overhanging branches have now been removed, and that is probably the end of footpath work for this year.

Wednesday 7th September A valiant duo took on the car park. The logs which surround it were relocated, and the ditches dug out to eased drainage. In response to recent requests, a temporary repair to the entrance was carried out. The worst of the potholes have now been filled in, and the more prominent bumps flattened. This, we hope, will serve until the Trust's contractor can do a more permanent job.

Sunday 1oth September: From the outset there appeared every chance of heavy rain, so work was centred around the shed. 

A bench that has been requested for the western end of the wood was started and completed all but installation, involving much work with brutal implements such as auger, framing chisel and adze. A memorial bench which is now awaiting its final site was treated with bitumen and tung oil, and a pallet carefully dismantled to provide wood to repair the saw horses, which are presently fit only for the knacker's yard.

A major step forward was made in getting all the tools easily and safely accessible. 

The rain did not arrive until operations were finished. 

Wednesday 13th September:  In a break with Wednesday tradition, there were no cloudbursts, despite some indications that outriders from hurricane Irma might drop in. 

The morning was spent preparing for the start of coppicing. Chopping blocks and sawhorses were rounded up and a turning circle for the tractor identified and tested. 

A rectangular area surrounding the saw horses was cleared and carefully flattened. The last thing one wants when converting produce is ubiquitous trip hazards. At the end of proceedings, there was already a goodly pile of stems and rods awaiting sorting and conversion. Charles maintained his one-man jihad against the genus Salix, so much of this heap is willow. 

All we need now is a decent turnout and some sunshine to get the coppicing season started!

Sunday 17th September A small group pressed on with organising the new coppice

Wednesday 20th September Felling proceeded apace, yielding some outstanding lengths of hazel, and encountering a most disagreeable thicket of blackthorn, which ought to keep Alan Garstang's walking stick business supplied with materials for years!

Sunday 24th September The Velo Birmingham event made getting to the wood something of a nightmare for some of us, but, paradoxically, the turnout was the best seen for some weeks, with some old faces putting a welcome reappearance. A fine day's coppicing was done, with an extra product- faggots - being added to our produce list. These, consisting of bundles of hazel twigs, will use up a lot of material otherwise dumped as brash, and will also yield mire useful income.

We now need a comprehensive guide to converting our raw material, and a blackboard for this has now been produced. Whether it will be big enough is a moot point

Sunday 29th October A fine Autumn day, devoted to the noble art of hurdle making. We are gradually mastering the art of cleaving hazel, and the ratio of cleft material to spoilt rods should soon approach two to one and better.  But at present a good deal of our efforts are feeding the fire. A lot depends on the quality of the raw material, and we are fortunate that thanks to the fencing policy adopted years ago, much of the hazel has grown straight and splits well. But there are those of us who can makes a pig's ear out of anything, the present writer included.

Wednesday 15th November Grey, windless and silent. Not the sort of day to inspire get up and go. The annual trackside felling programme began on this day, with a slect band of volunteers supporting the chainsaw work of Peter Broadley. Most of the morning was spent felling the understory. Most of this consisted of hazel, some of it of good usable quality. All of it has now been snedded and stacked. 

Felling proper began after lunch, and half a dozen oaks were brought down, cut into sections and stacked at the trackside. Pete's tracked cart was being temperamental, cutting out whenever placed under load. So it was good old muscle power to the rescue. 

Operations ended at 3:30, by which time the light was draining from the sky in that charming way so typical of November. And everyone was getting tired - always a sign that it's time to stop. A good start to be followed up on several future Wednesdays.

It is quite common to find occasional pieces of rotting timber which are bright turquoise green. This colouration is due to the presence of a fungus chlorosplenium aeruginascens. and the wood used to be used in the making of ornamental items known as Tunbridge ware. Although the coloured wood is common, the fruiting bodies - which are too small to rate as mushrooms - are rare. Some were found during the felling operation.

Sunday 19th November A refreshing contrast to the previous day, which exemplified everything miserable that November weather can provide. 

A ton of firewood was collected in the sort of van which not too long ago would have never made it up the slope. The recent improvements to the track have given ordinary vehicles a lot more grip.

Our master fence weaver Lizzie was unfortunately absent, owing to the after effects of a very unpleasant tooth extraction,but this gave others a chance to have a go at this arcane art. Understandably, the amount wasted hazel rose significantly, but everyone has to start somewhere. It occurred to us that the scraps of split hazel will dry very quickly, and will make excellent kindling, once chopped to a neat length. Waste not want not.

Work continued on felling and conversion in quite gloriously sunny conditions.

Wednesday 23rd November A cold blustery day, which was hardly ideal for tree felling, particularly the felling of trees which are tall and thin and wave about in the breeze. The tracked barrow, despite Pete's best efforts, still reused to work for more than five minutes, obliging us to remove all the logs and cordwood by musclepower alone. Work lasted from 8am till 4pm, by which time everyone was on their last legs, a condition exacerbated by the fact that the last tree felled was the biggest by a considerable margin. What was left of the workforce soldiered on with a suspicion that they would be there long into the hours of darkness. 

Nevertheless a very useful day's work, especially as we have managed to take two trailer loads of the felled material down to the stacks near the shed. All work that we won't have to do next summer!

Sunday 26th November Cold and bright; the sort of day which is just right for woodland work, as long as one does not stand around for too long. A day which may have been short on productivity, but long on calories. Jane and Andy brought along their outdoor cooking irons and a box of welsh cake mixture. Much enjoyable time was devoted to their cooking and consumption, although the first batch ended up in the mud! 

It was also a good day financially - two half cords were collected, Xmas decorations sold, and what with miscellaneous items, £124 was taken. 

A start has now been made on dragging the float grass from the pond. This is an arduous task, and certainly not one to be completed in a day by two people. Nevertheless there is now open water to be seen without the aid of a microscope, which is more than there was the day before.

Wednesday 30th November The felling programme continued, and reached something like the halfway mark. New parts for the motorised barrow are on order, but by the time they arrive from Japan, Sod's law states that all the hard work will have been done. So, another day of humping and grunting!

The bridge over the stream just north of the craft area gave way as a trailer load of logs was crossing it. Fortunately the space which it spans is little more than a foot deep, and the tractor was able to pull the trailer through without mishap. Nevertheless a repair is urgently required. 

Sunday 3rd December:  A good turnout of regulars had a day of varied tasks. The bridge over the stream north of the craft area was repaired with a pair of oak logs. This was a vital operation, since without the bridge, the length of the journey from the shed to the felling area more than doubles in length, The repair was remarkable simple and easy.

A strong force then attacked the pond, removing all but a small remnant of the float grass, and cutting back the brambles and understory surrounding the banks. The area looks a little bare right now, but the riotous growth of Spring will soon mask that. Materials to raise the water level were moved into position.

A small amount of coppicing was done. The stumps and sprags were lowered flush to the ground, which will add vigour to regrowth, and make the whole working area a lot safer.

Wednesday 6th December started dreary, and gradually brightened. A day of long hard work, lightened by the appearance of a new volunteer. The felling programme is now well advanced, and basic operations should be completed in the new year - though there will remain the jobs of fencing and redistribution of the brash, of which there is already a huge amount. Work started at 8am, and lasted through till 3:30. During that time four trailer loads of logs and cordwood were taken down to the sales area, and one particularly large tree, which we have been eyeing with interest since the start, was felled with a terrific crash. Needless to say it fell exactly as planned, but at least half of the working day was needed to cut it up. The trunk should yield some really good wide planks. 

Large amounts of cake were devoured.

Sunday 10th December A day marked by a total absence of work of any sort.  Heavy overnight snow had brought most of the midlands to a shivering halt, and getting to the wood, let alone working, was completely out of the question.

Wednesday 13th December On Tuesday, the wood was without any exaggeration, still less apology for cliché, a winter wonderland. But temperatures rose in the evening to a sweltering 4 degrees. Not much, but enough to bring down all the snow from the trees. The scene at 8am was damp and dreary, and ground conditions slushy, for which reason it was decided not to use the tractor and trailer. The prospect of getting stuck on a day promising heavy rain did not appeal.

A select band helped Pete Broadley by  removing logs and cordwood. It was harder work than usual, with fewer working hands and snow under foot. The effect of chainsaw dust on snow resembled a very large cappuccino, and was generally reckoned aesthetically mediocre.  Four large trees were felled and processed, which, considering that working conditions were about as unpleasant as has ever been seen at the wood, was pretty good going.

As usual with meteorology, forecasting bad weather is more accurate than forecasting good, and rain trickled in around eleven, paused, and finally became relentless.  With the ground rapidly changing in texture from viscous to liquid, a valiant but soggy band retreated to spray WD40 on the tools and disperse to hot drinks and baths. 

Sunday 17th December The weather sustained its dreary streak, but a goodly band turned up to work. Of this there was plenty to do, as the recent snow had brought down two sizeable trees near the car park, and these were blocking the paths. These trees were not exactly a great loss, as they had been looking pretty poorly for some time, leaning at various degrees. Gravity and the snow increased these to horizontal. They were soon cleared up, and yielded nearly a trailer load of cordwood. 

Work finished at noon, and all decamped to The Nailers for the traditional drinks and cheesy chips, of which a record amount was consumed. The photograph below was taken for the benefit of Willow class at Fairfield First School, who had donated the gift box of biscuits in return for our letting them work in the wood! 

Wednesday 20th December Conditions commenced dreary, but gradually improved. and by coffee time blue sky prevailed. Creature comforts included sausages and freshly roasted coffee, prepared with the African charcoal stove and a new coffee percolator. Both were excellent. 

To add to general good spirits, the tracked barrow was in working order, the fault having been traced to an ignition problem. Progress was excellent, even with a smaller workforce than usual, and by three o'clock the last tree had been felled, cut up and stacked by the track side. There it presently remains, since the tractor and trailer were causing unacceptable damage to the tracks.

The urgent part of the felling programme is now complete, and has yielded an unprecedented amount of firewood and potential milled timber. Most of the latter remains where it fell, being too heavy to move without a winch. Some of it will be milled in situ. There remains a lot of work, consisting of moving large piles of brash and fencing the area to keep out the deer. But this can be addressed in a piecemeal fashion, and does not require the attendance of first aiders. 

Wednesday 27th December Alan Blaney put in some work on his own. Everybody else was treating the festive season as a pretext for not working, including the present writer.

Sunday 31st December Some tolerable weather for this last work party of the year, although conditions under foot remain slippery. Recent snow had brought down some large branches, some of which remained hanging dangerously over footpaths. These were cut down, sawn and chopped into manageable sections, and stacked safely.

The Whallets brought along camp cooking gear and ingredients for a Spanish omelette, so getting a fire going was first priority - and not an easy task with everything so wet. But persistence prevailed, and by noon we were all eating a very welcome and tasty addition to the usual diet of cake and biscuits, of which there was a prodigious amount.

Most of the morning's efforts went into cleaving hazel and weaving another fence panel, which was complete by the time operations closed down. 

The recent wintry weather has left all the felled stems in an unpleasantly slimy condition, which made conversion a rather mucky business. 

So ends another very successful year, which has seen the addition of several dedicated and capable volunteers to the workforce, the learning of new woodland skills, and a very welcome boost to our already sound finances. Though the weather as these words are written is grey, wet and wretched, we can comfort ourselves that the days are slowly lengthening, and it will not be too long before signs of spring are visible to those with sharp and willing eyes.

Wednesday 3rd January A fine day following overnight gales, and an admirable excuse for a leisurely stroll around the wood to clear up fallen branches. Of these there were not that many, and the tour ended just after noon.

Sunday 7th January Alan Blaney carried out an upgrade of the lighting system in the shed. replacing ordinary incandescent bulbs with LEDs. Some technical problems have still to be solved, but even so, the quality of illuminations is a lot better. One can now do detailed work at the bench even when it is completely dark outside.

More work was done in the felling area: Several large logs were hauled out with the motorised barrow, the ground cleared of brash on the path of the fence which will be needed before spring, and a large pile of logs was shifted from one side of the track to the other. One more session ought to complete the extraction. A rather unusual fungus was found growing on rotting oak. This is tremella mesenterica, otherwise known as witch's butter. Despite the name, it is not edible, except for witches, maybe.

A third group soldiered on in the coppice.

Sunday 14th January An excellent days turnout, with productivity to match. The boundaries of the coppice - undefined up till now - were marked out. This showed how much work remained to be done, which is quite a lot. It also gave a good indication of the sort of produce still to be gathered in. It seems that most of the more useful stuff has already been felled, the residue of hazel being rather stunted. However, plenty of fun is still guaranteed, as there is a large and tangled thicket of blackthorn to be tackled. Chainmail and goggles at the ready!

Wednesday 18th January More of a jolly than a work party. Alan and Darren treated the rest to sausage, black pudding, bacon and trout, all cooked over an open fire or the portable charcoal stove. 

Two trailer loads of charcoal wood were taken down to the kiln. The heap of sticks to be cut up and processed is now enormous! Another woven panel was completed. 

What this session lacked in productivity was more than made up for in gastronomic enjoyment, to say nothing of cholesterol. 

Sunday 21st January A thoroughly miserable morning, with wet snow turning to cold, steady rain. The sort of day to deter all but the bravest or foolhardy. Of these there were quite a few, including two new volunteers, who seemed to like the place, despite the dreary conditions.

Coppicing was realistically out of the question; working in slush only guarantees frozen hands and feet and a bodily chill that takes two hours in a hot bath to dispel. The new hands were taken on a tour of the premises, which ended with the discovery of a larch birch tree hanging dangerously over the bridle path. This was cleared with axe and saw and now no longer threatens life and limb,

A sub group worked on some new oak posts to mark the dates of coppices. The posts were split from oak trunks, and were bristling with sprags and splinters. After much loving attention from drawknife, scorp and gouge, they are as smooth as one could wish, and ready for inscription. ( A scorp, by the way, is a drawknife whose blade has been bent to a semicircle, originally for shaping the inside of barrel staves. )

Spring may be getting closer, but there were precious few signs of that today!

Wednesday 24 January Another wet day, but mercifully not as cold, and five people braved the mud and rain.

Despite the damp conditions, a cheering fire was lit, around which the group steamed at coffee time. A useful amount of conversion was done - just as well, since the pile of unprocessed wood was threatening to get out of hand. One lesson emerging from this exercise is that the amount of usable hazel is very small compared to the last two years. Most of what we are cutting is birch and willow, which at present have little use beyond charcoal. We can only hope for a good summer and a collapse in the market for those abominable gas-fired barbecues.

The coppice was measured, as we need to know how much fencing to buy. It is roughly 85 x 85 x 60 x 40, starting from top west corner. Not much interest to the casual reader, but noted here in case the present writer forgets the figures!

Sunday 28th January Two new volunteers  - Lorraine and Paul - joined us and performed impressively, showing a surprising willingness to drag bundles of sticks up the slope for conversion. This is not a popular job! 

Work continued on making hazel fence panels until interrupted by a minor injury, which needed stitches, The victim was adroitly patched up by Lizzie Henderson and bundled off to the minor injuries unit. This is the first accident that we have had in  ten years. The cause was the use of an inherently unsafe method for starting a split in a hazel rod. It has been banned, and anyone found using it will have their axe of billhook ( whichever is the more painful ) endorsed, and will get NO CAKE FOR ONE MONTH!!!!!

Wednesday 31st January An elite trio soldiered on coppicing.

Sunday 4th February One of the largest turnouts on record - thirteen - placed a near critical load on cake supplies. 

Vandals have destroyed the Woodland Trust's welcome sign by the car park. This may have been part of an attempt to get a vehicle up the bridle path, which, if confirmed, will result in further steel barriers. Meanwhile whatever access space may have been created has been closed up with strong oak stakes.

Coppicing and fence weaving continued in pleasant conditions redolent of spring - an impression strengthened by the appearance of bluebell leaves. Another discovery was a fine specimen of the scarlet elf cap fungus (sarcoscypha coccinea).

New horizons in blodger making were opened up 

Wednesday 7th February Cold, sunny and calm - ideal working conditions. 

Although the permanent surface to the  car park entrance has made bumpy arrivals a thing of the past, sod's law guarantees that filling in one hole only starts another! Some holes had developed at the end of the tarmac, which were filled in, using the spoil from the recent road works. This repair will probably not last more than a few weeks, but given that it only took ten minutes, that really does not matter. 

Following the vandalism of the last weekend, an inspection was made to check that no serious intrusions into the wood had occurred. No signs were found.

Coppicing is now very well advanced, and the borders of the present compartment have almost been reached. A large stack of waste sticks left over from making saleable produce was cut up for use by the local schoolchildren when they make the next batch of bug hotels. This proved to be very labour intensive - it takes a good hour to make the material for one bug hotel! 

A most enjoyable morning's work. But while the eye might tell you that spring is on the way, the end of your knows says something quite different! We did not check, but it would not have been astonishing to have found that the bluebell leaves had gone back underground!

Sunday 11th February The cold spell continues, but thankfully in start contrast to Saturday. which qualified for the stern Scottish term 'driech'. 

A start was made on milling some of the oak logs which have been lying in wait for the chainsaw for a couple of years, and proved be still be in good condition. Unfortunately, the chainsaw soon became unhappy, and proved unable to reach full revs, which for milling purposes is useless. Two good boards 2" thick and 6ft long were produced before the milling team were forced to retreat. These are now seasoning under the timber shelter. 

Coppicing continued, and seems to have taken a great leap forward, such that another two weeks should see everything felled, leaving a considerable pile to be converted. Praise be to Alan Garstang, who has done so much to vanquish the blackthorn thicket, and even managing to get some decent material out of it.

The birdbox team went to inspect the owlbox on the western edge of the wood. Total owls in residence: zero, even after a recount.

Work on the fencing order soldiered on, this time without injuries! 

Wednesday 14th February Another miserable day. 'Rain by eleven' said the local weather forecast. Snow by ten was nearer to the truth. But the midweek brigade are no fair-weather coppicers. A good fire was soon going, which always makes work in grmim conditions more bearable.

Peter Gale, who runs courses at Avoncroft, dropped in to discuss material for fence weaving. It transpires that he can use a lot of the stuff that up till now has gone on the brash pile, even birch and willow. 

Much sterling work was done dragging felled stems to the conversion area, where there  is now even more to be done

Work was brought to an end by a steady worsening of the weather, the rain becoming unrelenting, driven by a chilly wind which seems to have been with us for a month. There was little point in ending what had been a quite productive morning by getting soaked to the skin. 

Sunday 18th February A well attended work party in quite tolerable conditions. A good start was made on the Avoncroft order.

Wednesday 21st February The western boundary of the coppice has now been reached, and the end of felling is well insight. A few relatively dry days have made conditions under foot a good deal less treacherous. Working in slippery mud is remarkably tiring!

Jane Ward, our woodland officer, called in to discuss the siting of a beehive in the meadow which the Trust acquired last year. All is now agreed, and the only matter to be resolved is how to get the hive to its location. If we can manage half ton of logs, we ought to be able to deal with a bee hive.

Sunday 25th February A noble effort was made in bringing most of the felled timber to the trackside, and excellent progress was made with the order from Avoncroft.

Wednesday 28th February was spent entirely on conversion. When stacks of newly felled poles become very large, as has now happened, it's a good scheme for those who like converting to get on with it, before everyone else looks at the enormity of task and despairs!

Sunday 4th March The last few days have witnessed some of the worst winter weather any of us have ever seen, with bitterly cold easterly winds and extended snowfalls. This began to relent on Saturday, and today temperatures returned to something like normality, with the snow rapidly turning to slush. A new beehive was to have been installed, but this operation was postponed due to the weather. 

A small band of dedicated volunteers reported for duty, and spent the morning checking the path to the meadow, where the new hive is to be sited. The last thing we want to do while carrying the hive is to subject it to sudden rocking or shaking - still less do we want to drop it - so it is essential that the path is free from unexpected obstacles. One fallen tree had to be removed, but apart from that the path seemed to be clear

Not much was done in the coppice as everything was covered in wet snow. This has an uncanny capacity to penetrate anything supposedly rated as waterproof and chill the wearer to a vicious degree. Roll on spring!

Wednesday 7th March Spring indeed seemed to have rolled on - though the following day confounded that prediction. 

In a change from the usual routine of coppicing, the morning was spent making oak stakes. A stock of these is always needed for urgent barrier repairs and to frustrate the intrusions of horses and quad bikes, Stake making offers great outlets for brute force and ignorance, plenty of which were on hand. Four six foot logs were quartered. Two of these had been lying around for at least a couple of years, and were in a pretty sorry state. But their heartwood was sound, and splitting them - or rather starting the split - was no walkover. 

Once the splitting has been done, all the sap wood has to be removed, as it rots quickly, and in doing so will cause a stake driven into the ground to become loose. Two hours of work with axe and drawknife achieved most of this, although there is still plenty to do for those who like their stakes to be perfectly smooth. 

All this was done in warm sunshine - quite a novel sensation. The turnaround in the weather makes it hard to believe how appalling the weather was less than a week ago.

Sunday 11th March There was no biting cold wind. The temperature was mild. The sun even shone, though not all the time. In sum, perfect spring working conditions. 

Most of the morning was spent catching up on orders. The Avoncroft order was completed, and two new fence panels were  made, using prime quality hazel rods. This made a considerable difference to their appearance. It also made the rods a lot easier to split. 

There are now very few stools left to cut, to the extent that layering was started. using a variety of techniques.

Sunday 18th March The snow returned. Two hardy souls made it to the wood, went for a walk, and went home. No cake was consumed. 'Nuff said!

Wednesday 21st March Back to more or less normal conditions. A large pile of poles had accumulated at the bottom of the coppice. To spare the general effort of moving it to the top of the hill, the material was taken out on to the bridle path and moved with the tractor. With the coppice now almost clear of felled material, layering and fencing can be given serious attention. 

Peter Gale from Avoncroft took away a trailer load of rods for his fencing course, and also got  roped into unloading our trailer!

Sunday 25th March A fine turnout in even finer weather. All the oak stakes made on the 7th were pointed and smoothed down, providing a good hour of work with drawknives and axes.  The party then moved on to the coppice where another woven panel was started and completed. 

This was to have been the day when another beehive would be installed, but sadly the recent appalling weather had killed off the colony. Fortunately the two existing hives are active, and reports from their keeper indicate that they have been able to make plenty of honey. 

Sunday 1st April Several 6ft logs were fetched from the felling area, which were then split and dressed. We now have a sizeable reserve of these highly useful stakes

Wednesday 4th April Cutting in the coppice was finally completed. Jane Ward and Pete Broadley laid out this year's felling area

Sunday 8th April. A trailer load of stone was delivered to one of the boggiest bends in the perimeter path for later improvements. This stretch of the path will receive heavy use during this year's felling session.

Wednesday 9th May A small group made a complete tour of the wood and compiled a list of things to be done. They then tidied the area in front of the shed, which had been looking extremely disreputable.

Wednesday 23rd May A party of children from Fairfield First School visited the wood, and made some rather odd-looking plant supports, plus several bug hotels. Utility value not know, but a great deal of fun and noise resulted.

Sunday 27th May The posts for the fence around last year's felling area were sourced, pointed, and driven in. Meanwhile a large log was milled into 2 inch thick planks. This is a fairly slow process, and got slower as the morning wore on. Milling is quite hard on the cutting edges of the chain, which had be changed twice. The final chain cut very poorly, and the exercise was abandoned with some of the log still to go. Inspection of the chain suggested that the depth stops were at fault. Nevertheless some fine planks were made.

The notice board was re-surfaced with a polycarbonate sheet.

Wednesday 30th May Fencing was erected around the area felled late last year. The charcoal kiln was re-shaped, having got seriously out of round during recen burns, and then re-filled. A large proportion of the latest charge is oak, and we are hoping that this will produce charcoal that is more resistant to breaking up. Hitherto, we have used mostly willow and birch. These are fast growing trees with a rather open grain structure, which, we suspect, is partly responsible for the large proportion on small fragments found when the kiln is opened.

Saturday 2nd June The second charcoal burn of the year, and as usual a relaxed mix of al fresco cookery, featuring Pepper Wood stew, spoon carving and shingle making. This latter is a new experiment, using some old oak rounds from the firewood stacks. This went very well, the technique of radially splitting a log held together with old bicycle tyres with a froe proving very effective. The resulting shingles were then smoothed down on the shave horse with a drawknife. This exposed the defects of our shave horses, which need a radical rebuild. 

Some of the party spent the night at the wood. 

Wednesday 6th June The session got off on a rather pessimistic note, since it had been found that the kiln was still very hot, raising the possibility that most of the charcoal has been burnt. Later inspection revealed that things were not as bad as originally thought, and much of the heat was due to the sun! 

A very useful morning's work was done beefing up part of the perimeter path. This will receive a lot of use during the next felling programme later in the year. A particularly muddy bend has been filled with logs and stone, and now seems to be passable with tractor and trailer without suffering visible harm.

Sunday 10th June A day awaited with some anxiety, as the contents of the charcoal kiln were by no means certain. On opening, the kiln was fond to contain a respectable yield, although the proportion of brown ends was high. The use of oak in order to produce a less fragile product was quite successful, but some larger pieces were only superficially charred. About twenty bags were filled, and four were sold on the spot. We have swapped kiln lids with Ron Smart - his lid sits lower in the kiln, and should allow us to seal it more easily and to more permanent effect.

A start was made on moving the brash in last year's felling area up against the recently erected fence. With only two people engaged on the task, it was slow work in very warm sunshine. Another hour with more hands will finish the job.

Wednesday 13th June The logs surrounding the car park have long passed their sell-by date, and are now best given over to grubs and beetles. They have now been replaced by several stout oak stakes, the only purpose of which is to stop careless drivers ending up in the ditch. 

The western edge of the car park tends to get overgrown with nettles, which then become a repository for litter, so the vegetation around the ditch has been cut down. Fortunately not a lot of rubbish was exposed by this exercise.

Most of the morning was spent preparing the stakes, both for the car park and other barriers which need to be erected soon. 

Tony took his first steps in letter carving.

Sunday 1st July Quite apart from the effect of the dry weather, the water level in the pond has for some time been a matter of concern. Steps have now been taken to rectify this, A large length of oak - the residue from a milling project - has been sunk into to pond bed to block the present overflow point, which is a good deal lower than it needs to be. This will probably not cure the problem entirely, as we cannot see whether it is watertight. This will only become clear when rainfall returns to normal, which is a distant prospect. Once any leakage points have been identified, they can be plugged with liberal shovelfuls of clay. 

Sunday 9th July This day was supposed to have featured a charcoal burn, but the continuing drought ruled this out. There was little enthusiasm for hard work in full sun! Most of the morning was spent painting marker posts for the corners of the coppices. Once this work had been completed, a leisurely survey of the next coppice was made. This is unlikely to yield anything like as much as last year's coppice, partly because the number of standards is too high, resulting in large areas which are heavily shaded.  The corners of the coppice were marked with tape, and the work party proceeded in search of blackcurrants - with considerable success.

Wednesday 11th July A small group carried out some remedial work on the path leading up to last year's coppice, which has been seriously rutted by extraction operations. Tribute must go to Greg, Steve and Charles for barrowing stone up a steepish hill to do this work - a sweaty and laborious task in present tropical conditions. 

This done, some trimming of overhanging branches was done on West Way, and a large fallen oak branch was tidied up.

Sunday 15th July A very good turnout, which certainly made a difference to what got done. Much stone was shovelled into the trailer and laid on the track to the kiln, and on the path leading up to this year's coppice. Marker posts were banged in to mark the corners of the 2015-16 coppice, this proving remarkably easy given the hard baked ground.

That done, a load of firewood was brought in from the felling area, using the newly straightened extraction route. 

Much of this work was done under cover of shade, and with the added benefit of ice cream - supplied by Alan - so no damage was done by the continuing heatwave. 

Wednesday 18th July A valiant party split half a cord of logs, which proved an obstreperous batch, full of knots. This should have given Charles some fun, but perhaps not in present weather conditions! 

Some path repairs were carried out on West Way, after  which the work party retired to inspect a large yew that has fallen across the Hockley brook. This is large tree, probably several hundred years old. Much of the root system remains attached to the ground, so there is a fair chance that it will survive for further centuries.

Sunday 29th July A large work party carried out improvement to Holly Way, filling in a muddy area of subsidence which makes tractor driving a little interesting.  

The rest of the morning was spent removing firewood from the winter felling area. One more session should complete this operation. 

A large amount of firewood was sold - £150 worth.

Saturday August 4th A small group sawed some large six-foot logs into 15" lengths and transported them to the kiln site. These are to be split into roofing shingles. At the time of collection, chances of success were debatable. 

A trailer load of essentials and not-so-essentials was delivered to the kiln site in preparation for an overnight camp and and an early firing of the kiln.

Sunday 5th August The campers started the burn at about 7am. There were some initial ignition problems, but by 9am all three chimneys were emitting an even volume of smoke. 

There followed the period when there is little to do save rotate the chimneys. This was filled in with various carving projects, smoothing of  oak posts, and cleaving of shingles. The latter proved remarkably successful, although it was found that even a small imperfection in the grain of the log can make cleaving quite awkward. One log yields enough trimmed shingles to cover just under a square yard - better than expected.

The kiln was closed down and taped off at 5pm, and was cool by the next morning. 

Wednesday 8th August A select trio set forth to bash bramble and bracken on a site felled some six years ago. This has been bashed before, but the fact that the shape of many of the regenerating trees could in some cases scarcely be seen underlines that maintenance is needed until the regrowth is sufficient to shade out brambles and - particularly - bracken, which can reach a height of ten feet if supported by a tree. Some work remains to be done, but the worst of the infestation has been dealt with. 

A gratifyingly large number of seedling oaks were discovered, and given a better chance to grow unencumbered by vegetable pests.

The trio then moved to the meadow, to see what butterflies might be in evidence. Very few. The meadow is seriously parched, and the butterfly season is nearing its end.

Sunday 12th August A striking instance of Sod's Law in operation! The wood has been in the grip of a sustained drought, broken only recently by scattered showers. The plan for the day was to empty the charcoal kiln, but persistent light rain made this impossible. Charcoal is ruined by moisture. so operations at the kiln were limited to covering it with plastic sheeting, in the hope that this will pre-empt any spoilage of the contents.

The prospect of bramble bashing and anything involving hand-to-hand battle with wet vegetation did not enthral, and it was decided to revamp the saw horses, which have become rotten and rickety. One was dismantled, another rebuilt, and one new one made. 

The stacks of firewood were reorganised.

Wednesday 15th August The kiln was emptied, and the results were rather disappointing. The total yield was twenty bags. This is better than nothing, but the fact that nearly half the contents consisted of brown ends shows that something went wrong. The explanation would seem to be that the burn never reached high enough temperature, which in turn might have been caused by water getting into the kiln. There was an almighty hailstorm a few days before the burn, and this could have been responsible.

Sunday 19th August The kiln was refilled for the fourth and last burn of the season. This was a very hard-working session, with four people sawing billets for nearly four hours with nothing but cake and coffee to sustain their efforts. In the end exhaustion prevailed, and the job abandoned some ninety percent complete.

Wednesday 22nd August The remaining work on the kiln was knocked off in very little time, and the party then proceeded to complete the bramble bashing started on the 8th. There was more to be done than expected, but a strong work party got the job done before coffee time II, and then returned to base. The saw horses were retrieved from the kiln area and brought back to the shed, where they were given a thorough painting with wood preservative.

Saturday 25th August The kiln was ignited at 5:30 am, and heated up rapidly, probably because of the large volume of brown ends. Due to local atmospheric conditions, the smoke did not rise into the sky, but formed a local fog. This burn was a low-key affair, with only three people in charge, who whiled away the time making shingles and carving spoons. The kiln was closed down at 4:30

Sunday 26th August A grey and exceedingly wet morning, which began with covering the kiln with plastic sheeting. Hopefully this did not come too late. 

In between loading firewood into customers' cars, the party took a trailer load of granite up to the next felling area, and left most of it there in a builder's bag. From thence it can be barrowed to various parts of the perimeter path which are in need of maintenance. What would not fit in the bag was shovelled into two muddy depressions, after which the work party squelched back to base, where it was unanimously decided that enough was enough, and the work party was closed just after noon.

Wednesday 30th August The entire morning was spent sawing billets and loading them into the kiln. Everyone was quite knackered by the time the lid was finally put on.

Sunday 3rd September The moment of truth at the kiln! The previous burn yielded 20 bags of variable quality, and a lot of brown ends. This burn was a dramatic contrast, with 40 bags and virtually no brown ends. Bagging the product took little more than an hour, and the rest of the morning was spent applying stone to some of the muddier parts of the perimeter path.

Wednesday 6th September The car park was smartened up; new posts were hammered in to mark the edge of the drainage ditches, and painted white. The bird table was renewed, and the pipe which runs under the western end of the car park cleared of mud and grass.

A drainage pipe at the far end of the bridle path was replaced, and another, which runs under the bridge on West Way was dug out and cleared - this area is prone to flooding in winter.
Finally some posts were hammered in to mark the corners of some of the recent coppice compartments

Sunday 10th September: Faced with the problem of where to store the latest batch of charcoal, it was decided to clear the overhead storage area. This yielded a lot of hardboard, plywood and miscellaneous odds and sods, including four folding display boards. These were erected side by side in the timber storage area, and covered with a green tarpaulin, thus forming something like a large green tent, which was large enough to store everything removed from the shed. Subsequent inspection shows that it is completely waterproof.

With all the charcoal now stored overhead, a useful area of the shed floor is now clear to rationalise storage of some the more murderous tools.

Wednesday 13th September A fine autumn day. Several logs were milled into planks, which proved a remarkably easy task using special rip-chains. Recent attempts to do this with a cross-cut chain were very hard work, and little better than an exercise in wasting petrol.

A large area of brambles was cut back with exemplary neatness. Another patch was started, but proved something of a struggle, and was left to be completed on another day

In preparation for the start of the coppicing season, most of the bowsaws were fitted with new blades

Sunday 23rd September. A day that started cold and persistently wet, which was not the best of starts  for a new volunteer (Jane Tranter). However, the cloud soon cleared, and work proceeded in bright autumn sunshine. The drainage pipe at the far end of the bridle path was buried and revetted, several stakes that had been pulled out by vandals were rammed back in their original  holes with more than usual force, and the rest of the morning was spent coppicing.

Wednesday 3rd October For several years we have been nurturing a wild pear tree. When first discovered, it was a sickly sapling, barely able to support its own weight. By dint of staking and creating space around it, we have enable to grow to some twenty feet, and it is now sufficiently robust that even Greg can lean against it. However, it has been surrounded by tall and fast growing birch, and it overshadowed by a large oak. This means that its growth habit is rather too spindly.

Pete Broadley climbed the oak and removed all the overshadowing branches, and various people felled about ten of the birch trees. This generated a lot work in processing the resulting waste, but by the close of play the site was tidy, and the peat tree now has plenty of space and light, which we hope it will use to advantage. 

Sunday 7th October A day of leisurely coppicing, leisurely, except for one Alan Garstang, who to the envy of nobody. spent the morning dealing with a blackthorn thicket. This has a long history of hostility to all mankind, but Alan managed to mine it for some excellent material for walking sticks. 

The quality of material from this coppice compartment is vary variable, with goat willow predominant in may areas

Wednesday 1oth October The second day of the felling programme. The weather was ridiculously warm and bright, and it was a mercy that we were largely working in the shade. With ideal working and felling conditions, 15 trees were felled, cut up and tidied. With about 50 trees to be dealt with, we should finish the programme by early November, but that of course depends on the weather. There is now a sizeable stack of logs to remove, and work on that will start next week. There was a good turnout, and seven people working, our efforts were not strained. But by the early afternoon we were down to four, and by 2pm the work force was definitely flagging, and a sensible halt was called

Sunday 14th October A cold, wet day, which was supposed to improve, but resolutely refused to do so. Nevertheless, four hardy souls reported for work. The rain being both heavy and persistent, working outside would have been a short cut to hypothermia,  Instead, the chance was taken to get some odd jobs done in the shed. 

The shave horses, which have long been noted for their ricketiness, were given a good overhaul, and are now a lot more stable and functional. All the billhooks are now suitably sharp, a handle-less claw hammer now has a handle, and a start has been made on installing some new tool racks. 

Not bad for a day which might easily have been a case of rain stopped play.

Wednesday 17th October - Wednesday 21st November This period was entirely given over to the annual felling programme, led by Pete Broadley. An area roughly one hundred feet in diameter had been laid out in cooperation with the Woodland Trust, and contained about fifty oaks stems of varying girth and quality. 

Given the amount of work to be done, the usual working hours were extended, starting at 8:30 on Wednesday mornings, and finishing at about 4pm. 

All the felling was done by Pete, providing many object lessons in controlling the fall of large trees. Only one failed to fall as planned, and even that deviated by only a few feet. The volunteer support team's main task was to move all the brash beyond the line to be followed by the fence when erected next spring, and to stack all logs and cordwood. All of this work was done in ideal conditions - mostly dry, sunny and cool - but there is no gainsaying that it was hard graft. To add to our labours, quite a lot of the resulting firewood was taken down to the sales area near the shed

The project was completed well within the time allotted, and looked neat and professional. At the time of writing (21st November) several cords of timber remain to be extracted. When this is done will depend on the condition of the tracks, and hence the weather. The route involves some quite tricky tractor driving, and a heavily loaded trailer can cause the front wheels of the tractor to lose their grip when tracks are muddy. 

Hugh Jenkins,
8 Jul 2016, 05:06
Hugh Jenkins,
8 Jul 2016, 05:07
Hugh Jenkins,
8 Jul 2016, 05:07
Hugh Jenkins,
5 Oct 2015, 02:41