Fired up for coppicing – and jacket potatoes
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