Coppicing weekend and the return of the Dexters

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In November we had our coppicing weekend. We invited 15 volunteers to live and work with us for a long weekend, Friday to Monday. Everyone who said they would come did, which meant we had to squeeze them all into benders and empty dwellings and spare rooms and get a bit cosy! It was very wet and muddy so their dedication is appreciated even more.

Coppicing is a type of woodland management that has been in use for a long time in Britain. Certain types of trees respond well to being cut off close to the ground, regenerating with long straight shoots which can be used for firewood, charcoal making, hurdles, basketry, fencing, thatching spars and many more things. Hazel, Willow, Ash, Sweet Chesnut, Hornbeam and even oak have been coppiced traditionally.

Coppicing increases biodiversity as when a stool is cut more light can reach the forest floor allowing wild flowers to grow. Larger trees can block out light and stop other species thriving on the forest floor. Woodpiles left to season (or just rot!) are a wonderful home for insects and small animals.

In the first picture you can see Sophia and Heather cutting the main stems of the stool (the previously coppiced hazel tree). First we cut the main stems usually at about four foot off the ground so when we cut close to the ground we have a decent piece of firewood that will fit in the cart.

The stems are then cut down lower and at an angle so that rainwater can run off. If cut off horizontally they are more likely to rot and cause damage to the tree. We then shape some of the straight bits of hazel into stakes which are driven into the ground in a circle around the stump. These are then woven with brash to form a rough basket around the tee to stop the deer from eating the young shoots. We call them Fairy Rings which sounds a but mystical. Someone suggested Angel Baskets! The rings will last long enough for the stems to grow, and then they will of course biodegrade. Unlike the plastic tree guards you see littering woodlands and verges all over the country.

We were also treated to venison stew during the weekend. A dog injured a young deer very badly so it was dispatched, hung, butchered and eaten by us. It was sad that the young deer was killed as we have seen it and its family grow up on our land, springing away startled many times as we approach and surprise them.

So the coppicing weekend was a great success, we got a lot done and had a lovely time, despite there being standing room only at dinner time! We had a couple filming for their film We the Uncivilised which is all about land based projects in the UK. We have been filmed quite a lot recently, but as long as that is used to inspire others then it is a good thing in my opinion.

Linking in nicely to the lack of space at the volunteer weekend is the new project of building a really quick little house for volunteers which Pedro and John are working on now. Pedro reckons he can do it in a month, lets see…

The frames are being assembled in the picture below while John removes the bark from another tree.

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The barn still has some work to do on it, mostly cladding the walls with stockading. (The rougher bits of wood that cannot be used for planks or beams that are sawn in the sawmill.)

We have been cladding the outside of the kitchen and also some of the inside, which is pretty hectic as their is always someone cooking in there and they don’t like having hammers and planks of wood getting mixed up with their leeks and cabbages. Its nice to think of the kitchen being a little bit warmer this winter though! We also need to re roof the kitchen as the current boards are rotting through and their are a few drips.

So in cow news, our young dexters have returned from where they were grazing and they are a lot bigger. They were frisky calves when they left and now Brisket is a proper bull with a shaggy coat and strong body and Rhubarb is possibly pregnant after an escapade with a neighbouring bull. We will have to wait and see. We will certainly be eating Brisket.

We have also just got our jersey called Lady who is calving at the end of February. So in March we will have lots of milk. Rhubarb has been asserting her dominance with her little horn which we need to keep an eye on. Poor lady has a little cut on her side. If she gets any more we will separate them. You can see where ‘moody cow’ comes from.

Our feral cat had her third litter of kittens this year which some people tried to look after but they sadly died. They were only four or five weeks old.

Death is a part of life. We need it to continue.

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