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Our woodland management plan

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We do have a woodland management plan for our 3.5 acres of forest which, as those who have visited know, is a very special part of the mix of habitats and experiences that our garden has to offer.  The problem is that aforementioned management plan is in my head…

So having been invited to host a visit on the 18th June for members of the Small Woods Association is an excellent prompt for me to commit it to paper.  It will also have the benefit that Ian and I will have, hopefully, a common understanding of what it is we want to achieve with our bit of forest and how we are going to do it!

The intention has always been to write a management plan since we first bought the ex-Christmas tree plantation adjoining our garden 4 years ago.  However, actually doing the management (and gardening) tends to fully occupy the time that would otherwise be available for writing the plan..

We have been gardening here with trees and amongst trees for nearly 40 years and now over the past 4 years, managing the adjoining 3.5 acres of conifer woodland, opening up the canopy, allowing natural regeneration to occur and light to be cast upon the hazel

Part of the hazel coppice

and willow coppice and garden. The forest provides firewood, construction timber (for example for the natural swimming pond), coppice products, foraging opportunities, woodchip for compost making and paths and biodiversity and public access (on days when the garden is open to the public).

So without further procrastination here are a few photos (in no particular order of priority) of work in progress/challenges to be sorted/success stories so far which will inform the issues to be addressed in THE PLAN.

First issue to be addressed was fencing the area to keep out the semi-feral forest sheep and immediately, instead of having bare ground and conifer needles, we now already have, in the Spring, swathes of wood sorrel

Wood sorrel makes a come-back

cowslips,

Cowslips

golden saxifrage,

Golden saxifrage

bluebells, wild raspberries, flowering currant

Early Flowering Currant

and lots of natural regeneration including cherry, holly, ash (all desirable) but also bramble

Bramble

sycamore and Western Hemlock

Western Hemlock – a weed!

which are not so desirable – more detail and explanation in THE PLAN.

Letting in more light is a key to managing what we have – mostly Norway Spruce planted as Christmas trees before I came here – nearly 40 years ago – and having received no management during that time.  The trees are now  70-80 feet tall (some bigger).  There are 2 stands of magnificent Douglas Fir

Magnificent Douglas Fir and a little Elm

which are even taller.  Having acquired a felling licence to fell 5 of them to provide timber for the construction of our natural swimming pond we know that they are even bigger – some were 150 feet tall.  These need a bit more than Ian and his chainsaw.

Matthew Corran in his office

There are also a few Sitka Spruce and Grand Fir, a couple of mature Ash and a huge Sycamore

Potential for a tree house

(in which this Summer we will be building a tree house for our grandson).  So another project to be flagged up in THE PLAN is to check out exactly what we do have in terms of species and label them so that visitors are able to appreciate that they are not all ‘fir trees’.

Not content with what we have we are also planting new….

.. Christmas trees..

..and…

..oak trees – in a fairy ring

Firewood – lots of it – we are not exactly ‘off grid’ but we heat the house and cook and boil the kettle on wood.

Firewood production -part 2

Coppice products for the garden – the usual pea sticks

pea sticks

wood chip for paths etc.

Future path

Biodiversity – standing dead wood

Fallen dead wood

and eco-piles

What’s living in here?

for the bugs and beasties and woodpeckers and badgers…

Introducing other stuff like wild garlic,

Wild garlic competing with wild raspberry

watercress and other species of elder with longer flowering periods.

Foraging – we hosted a fungi foraging day in Autumn 2016 and now know a little bit more about what we have and what is edible.

Turkey tails

Puffballs

The moss garden.  In January and February through into March mosses come into their own.

Lovely mosses

Cherishing what we have and protecting from invasion by other species such as grass and adding to the diversity is a project in itself in one special area in particular underneath the big sycamore next to the stream.

Fixed point photography.  We have noticed big changes already as we have fenced the area and started thinning out the trees to let in more light.  We must record these changes.  We are very good at doing stuff and taking a photo after.  We are not so good at doing the ‘before’ photos and recording what’s happened in response to our intervention.

And of course

Cedric, the seed king

Then just outside the forest, along the river bank we have vistas such as these

Swathes of wild daffodil

and

Our ‘borrowed’ waterfall

Watch this space.  We will have THE PLAN before the 18th June.

Fungus Foraging

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Saturday saw 20 or so people descend upon us for a Mushroom Foraging day.  Organised by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods and executed by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods, we had an amazing afternoon searching among the trees and along the river bank.

Mark’s knowledge on fungi and how to use them was extensive and amusing as well as being excellent on the palate!

The throng assembles

The throng assembles

After introductions all round, Mark got proceedings underway with a quick dash of elderflower champagne and Sweet Cicely liqueur!

He explained the different ways in which fungi operate and how they work in concert with different types of vegetation and particularly with trees. Different trees have different fungi. Some, such as the highly sought after ceps are impossible to cultivate and will only grow in the wild in the exactly perfect conditions they need.

Setting off into the forest, Mark suddenly stopped and pointed out a couple of mushrooms underneath the Cedric tree sculpture.  These were Cavaliers, edible, but not a great flavour.  The difference in appearance between the newly emerged ones and a couple that had almost ‘gone over’ was remarkable and went to demonstrate how difficult mushroom ID can be.

Cavaliers and Cedric

Cavaliers and Cedric

When doing an ID there are several factors to take into account

habitat

colour

size

type of gills

smell

There are so many types that all these need to be taken into account.

Moving on we came to a big clump of what most of us recognised as Puffballs.  Seizing a couple of older ones Mark flicked the caps and released clouds of spores.  These were no good for eating, but the fresher growths, with marshmallow like interiors are apparently really good in risottos!

Mark with Puffballs

Mark with Puffballs (and foraging cat, Smudge)

As we moved on Liz pointed out various plants like ground elder and Herb Robert which have important roles to play in herbal medicine as well as being good to eat.

Mark had picked up some shaggy inkcaps on the road up to Nant y Bedd and explained how and when to eat them.  Apparently there’s a variety called the Common Inkcap which isn’t actually that common, but shouldn’t be consumed before or after alcohol as it causes a very nauseous response and has been used to ‘treat’ alcoholics!!

Deeper in the woods we found some Orange Grisette under the birch trees, which are good to eat and are often found with birch.  The physical form of the Grisette is very similar to that of the poisonous Fly Agaric, although the latter’s bright red is a bit of a giveaway.  Mark had brought some of these with him and used this as an opportunity to explain the life cycle appearance of many fungi.

Fly Agaric and Orange Grisette

Orange Grisette and Fly Agaric

Honey Fungus is another species associated with birch, among others, and is usually found as the tree dies.  Apparently edible it needs boiling before cooking.  Not sure I’ll try that!

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Heading down to the river, someone spotted a few large mushrooms by the gate under the Lawson Cypress.  Mark had to admit that he’d walked past them twice the day before when he did a recce! It pays to look down when mushroom foraging.  It was a group of shaggy parasols, well camouflaged against the leaf litter.

Shaggy Parasol

Shaggy Parasol

Heading along the river bank we were introduced to the “Native Spice Rack” with plants such as Wild Angelica, Hogweed, Wood Avens, Sweet Woodruff and Meadow Sweet (which apparently cures hangovers – the other way of course is to keep drinking!) In the Spring the very young buds and flowers of Rowan are also useful.  Various tinctures were passed around at this point but I missed most of it as I was lighting fires for the Big Bake Up afterwards.

I did get back into the swing of it just in time to find out about a fungus that may be a cure for prostate problems.  Going by the name of Turkey Tails it is found on decomposing logs of birch and can be made into an infusion.  Mark also showed us something known as Chaga, which comes from growths on birch trees in certain places and is very highly sought after.  (Memo to self: look very carefully at all our old birches)

Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails

Finally we assembled by the pond and whilst Mark and Liz got the cooking pots on the go, we were entertained by Lottie Muir, the so-called Cocktail Gardener, who explained some of her cocktail recipes and asked us to taste them – hard work isn’t it?

Thanks to Mark, Liz, Lottie and all those who came along and enjoyed an excellent afternoon and evening.  Hopefully we’ll be able to host more events like this in the future.

PS:  By an odd coincidence the RHS magazine, The Garden, has just published it’s November issue with an article on “Weird and Wonderful Fungi” with photos by Jonathan Need, who photographed our garden earlier in the year!

PPS:  One of the participants, Ian of FoodiesHeaven blog fame, has also written about the day in more detail than above.  Find it here