I couldn’t live where there were no trees – something vital in me would starve
L M Montgomery
Last October Michael and I joined the local community woodland group. This was partly due to a genuine interest in trees and the natural things around us but also because we thought it would be a sociable thing to do; and after playing outdoors for twelve months, I can say that it was definitely a good idea. We’ve made charcoal and collected beeswax, eaten more than our fill of barbecued sausages, planted a couple of hundred trees and generally frolicked in the fresh air. And we’ve learnt that it’s not always a bad thing to chop down trees, because some of them have to be culled to ensure the health of the entire woodland.The way to the woods
Being woodland management novices meant that we spent the first few months simply doing what we were told – those of you who know us will realize what a challenge that was! We’ve now reached a point where we’re not afraid to speak up and make suggestions (even if they get shot down in flames within minutes by someone who knows better) or to protest at something we think is plain daft. Usually this has to do with the Grizzly Adams mentality that seems to affect men of a certain age, when for some reason that is lost to me, common sense flies away on the breeze and gung-ho becomes the prevailing mentality.
If you’ve never spent a morning watching a small cohort of people (of assorted body types and mostly old enough to know better) flinging themselves into a flat-bottomed barge before punting across a canal, then you’ve missed a treat. To be fair, only once has this activity resulted in someone getting a ducking, which happened when the barge had got itself stuck n the mud. Steve just leaned a little too far out from the bank, the long pole he was using was sucked down and in a slow motion display that was somehow terrifying and hilarious at the same time, the inevitable happened.Michael relaxing on the barge
Ours is a mixed woodland, mostly alder and hazel, though it has its share of oak, chestnut, holly and hawthorn amongst others. The alder is particularly successful because of the damp conditions; historically its timber has been used for boats and clogs, and at one time there was a thriving clog-making culture in the area. When exposed to air (for that read dampness, especially in these parts) the cut surface turns a bright orange, and according to the woodland trust the green dye from alder flowers was used to colour the clothes of outlaws (think Robin hood!) and also the clothes of fairies…Alder … note the fairies hiding in the background…
Throughout the year we’ve been able to enjoy the seasons close-up, from the bright autumn foliage (my personal favourite) through stark winter and on to the spring, when the woodland was filled with bluebells and we occupied ourselves with the hanging of bird and bat boxes.
Hanging a bat box
Summer came early and although we always feel we get a lot of rain, in fact this year has been pretty good. There was a flurry of activity amongst the beekeepers of the group whilst the rest of us kept out of the way – though it didn’t stop me from getting stung on the face! Surprisingly it wasn’t as painful as I’d expected it to be, probably because it was pulled out within thirty seconds or so.Our beekeepers – including one very small member of the team, visiting her grandmother!
Now we’re back to autumn and as well as wrapping up ourselves, Michael and a couple of others have been making hedgehog huts. Sadly, this one-time common animal is faced with extinction and there are all sorts of strategies unfolding to try to rescue them before it’s too late. Hence the huts!
The view from the top of the hill. You can just see the Sugarloaf through the trees, across the Usk Valley
This coming Saturday we’ll be holding an outdoor party to celebrate Apple Day, to which the entire village is invited. The idea is that people come along laden with bags of apples which they can have pressed and turned into apple juice, and that we also sell some of our goodies, including these hand-dipped beeswax candles…
I know, they look like goblins’ fingers…but it is almost Hallowe’en!
When you see someone putting on his big boots you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen
A A Milne