Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Beech Life

There has been a lull in the weather  recently, almost enough to make you think that Spring is  around the corner. Then, just when  the first celandines  flowered in the woods and wild garlic was in the air, another blustery wind blew through with driving rain and hail, and we were back slipping through the mud again.  Despite this, we have got off lightly, the land is not underwater and it has even been possible to get a bit of tree work done between the squalls.

Back in the late 60's they felled most of the trees here that had any timber value, leaving any that were gnarly, forked or badly barked by the cattle that wintered beneath them. Some had been pollarded, perhaps to feed the cows in late summer and are now growing thick, multi stemmed and greedy for any available sunlight.
We over- wintered our cows here in '95 and '96 and the neighbour's pygmy goats used to be frequent visitors, leaping the fence to feed on anything and everything that grew there. Add  red deer, roe deer, wallabies and hordes of marauding grey squirrels and it's a wonder that there are any trees here at all.

Natural England suggested we took down all the beech trees as they were not native to the area and they were keen to see a return to ancient woodland species like oak and thorn, but beech trees bring something else to the woods, not least the luminous green moss that coats their trunks like velvet socks.

Although we have decided not to follow Natural England's advise, some of the beech that have been most damaged by the squirrels are starting to shed big limbs. Beech are also notoriously shallow rooted and so we have started to take out some of the weakest trees opening up the canopy to let more light in to the woodland floor.

Some of the trees were leaning over shading out the younger trees beneath
 We have also started running our Bushcraft and Nature Awareness sessions here and it is important for obvious reasons that the weakest trees are made safe.

The long crack running up through this trunk makes it ideal insect habitat.
Taking out some of these big old beech will let plenty of light into the wood, giving other species a chance to survive. The beech woods are beautiful especially in May when the bluebells are out, but they can be cold, windswept places in winter giving little protection or cover for the birds and other wildlife. Even at the height of summer they are dark almost gloomy places, shading out any new life that tries to establish itself.

Beech was traditionally used for furniture making up around the home counties, but this beech wood has a distinctly Cornish character to it and doesn't easily lend itself to fine woodwork. It would be shame though if it was all to end in the wood burner, so there are plans to make some big bowls and a wooden spoon or two.