THE COUNTRYFILE PRESENTER GOES BEHIND THE SCENES ON HIS SHOWS AND FAMILY FARM
HONOURING AN ANCIENT WOODLAND
For as long as I can remember, my Dad has been obsessed with wood. It’s a passion he’s instilled in me. “Just smell that timber son, feel the grain, beautiful...” was something I heard a lot growing up. Admittedly, as a kid I never saw the magic of a piece of freshly cut wood, but now I totally understand where he was coming from. ‘Wood’ is such a small word for something that, whether we realise it or not, is integrated into most of our lives and so often taken for granted.
I feel extremely fortunate that our family farm has 25 acres of ancient woodland, housing some huge sessile oak and ancient holly trees tens of feet high. Apparently holly was planted around the oak saplings to keep roaming deer from eating them.
The trees, with their underscore of ancient pasture, bluebells and wood sorrel, show us the changing seasons effortlessly. Just now the big old oaks are turning yellow and orange. The tiny green berry buds of the holly tree are getting ready to burst with colour. However, it’s not all romantic colours and birds singing in the background. There is a lot of decay in an old woodland – trees blown down with roots exposed, self-seeded birch keeled over after a 50-year lifespan, decaying into a wet ground covered in lichen and solid horseshoe fungus. At one end of the wood is an old rookery – the birds gather every evening close to the house at the top of the hill, then, with great squawks, descend en masse into their nests at dusk. The ground beneath is sour and bare, scorched with years of their muck burning the soil.
We have tried to keep the woodland ecosystem as healthy as we can while in our keeping. We’ve planted oaks, hazel, blackthorn and alder to encourage birds and butterflies. This has proved fruitful, with wildlife numbers rising year on year – treecreepers, cuckoo, woodpeckers and tree sparrows are just a few who enjoy the woods.
A pond scraping encourages invertebrates; more frog spawn appears each spring. Gorse can be troublesome and, left unchecked, could take over the woodland floor. Carefully timed limited grazing is the best form of defence, so we have introduced a small flock of Hebridean sheep to help tackle the problem. They will happily munch through it, their tiny feet having no impact on the delicate flora. Fallen trees are sawn and stacked to dry out for use in our woodburners and stove, and for bugs and grubs to live in. We make bird and bat boxes, returning the wood to the trees in a whole new way. “Wow, just look at the grain on this,” I hear myself saying to my son as he learns how to use a saw, knowing full well that one day he, too, will appreciate its value.
“We’ve planted oaks, hazel, alder and blackthorn to encourage birds and butterflies”
BELOW Matt’s woodland is a beautiful, ever-changing world of growth and decay, as old trees fall and new saplings rise