Fired up for cop­pic­ing – and jacket pota­toes

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - WILD LIFE -

SPRING is tak­ing hold at Fine­mere Wood. The bright green tips of bluebell leaves are emerg­ing from the ground, the broad, wrin­kled leaves of prim­roses are ap­pear­ing through­out wood, and ev­ery­where is the prom­ise of colour and of new life.

But the vol­un­teers have had lit­tle time re­cently for gaz­ing won­drously at na­ture. They al­ways wel­come a chal­leng­ing pro­ject to get their saws stuck into. This win­ter the race was on to com­plete the big­gest task they’ve ever been pre­sented with, to cop­pice a large section of wood­land be­fore Fe­bru­ary was out.

Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary saw these ded­i­cated men and women leave their warm and cosy houses, brav­ing snow, ice and gen­eral win­ter bleak­ness to cop­pice tree af­ter tree af­ter tree. The area was so dense with mul­ti­stemmed hazel, field maple and wil­low, that no mat­ter how much was cut, the end was still far from sight.

To cop­pice such a large area, cut­ting stems right down to the ground, may seem a dras­tic and de­struc­tive thing to do, but all these trees will grow again, and with new vigour. Each stage of growth will pro­vide a rich habi­tat for an ex­ten­sive range of in­sects, birds, mam­mals, and count­less other crea­tures that are los­ing space in the wider coun­try­side.

Left to grow, hazel trees may live for 80 years, but cop­pice them and they can live for sev­eral hun­dred years.

Hazel is of con­sid­er­able value to a wide va­ri­ety of wildlife: the leaves pro­vide a food source for many cater­pil­lars of moths: the flow­ers are an early source of pollen for bees af­ter win­ter; the nuts are eaten by small mam­mals and by birds, such as the nuthatch and the jay. Cop­piced hazel pro­vides shel­ter for ground nest­ing birds and (although not in Fine­mere Wood as yet) the en­dan­gered hazel dor­mouse.

There needed to be treats to tempt these wood­land vol­un­teers to toil ever on­wards. Bon­fires were lit, around which they gath­ered to warm their fin­gers and toes, en­ticed by the blaz­ing flames and pota­toes baked in the hot em­bers. Re­newed with en­ergy, the vol­un­teers re­turned to their task, and once again echo­ing thuds were heard as trees hit the ground.

I watched in ad­mi­ra­tion as the team cut trees, pil­ing chopped wood into pleas­ingly neat stacks, and those with a fas­ci­na­tion for fire, feed­ing the hun­gry flames. The sense of well­be­ing I felt as I watched these ex­cep­tional peo­ple, the bon­fire warm­ing me to the core, was sec­ond to none.

The vol­un­teers laboured on and on, un­de­terred by the enor­mity of the task, and en­joy­ing ev­ery mo­ment of it and rel­ish­ing the pos­i­tive im­pact they’re hav­ing on the wood’s pre­cious wildlife.

Now, in March, birds are nest­ing and the vol­un­teers have had to cur­tail their chop­ping ac­tiv­i­ties and turn to the next stage of pro­tect­ing this special place for wildlife.

Why not join BBOWT’s vol­un­teers and help pro­tect lo­cal wildlife. Find out more at www.bbowt. org.uk/vol­un­teer

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