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DSCF8452I had the pleasure of looking around a small woodland up on the South Downs today under the guise of giving some advice.  I haven’t got out much recently and it’s always nice to visit other woodlands. A bonus when it turned out to be a traditional Hazel coppice with Oak Standards and the most amazing Bluebell woods. So I can’t resist posting some photos.

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An intense riot of colour and smell on the woodland floor, the flowers damp with last nights rain and warming in the dappled sunlight coming through the thin canopy with the oaks just starting to come into leaf.

DSCF8456The wood has been neglected for years so the new owner has plenty of work to be getting on with. Oak standards have fallen over during the wet winter and the coppice is overstood and neglected. But the display of  bluebells shows that gentle neglect is not always the worst of management techniques, all it needs now is a little TLC and some hard graft.

 

 

DSCF7928-001My annual ‘blow away the cobwebs’ retreat takes me to the Gower Peninsula in South Wales for a couple of days. A chance to walk the cliffs and waters edge and see what the the winter has thrown onto the shore.

DSCF7916Not just about the coastline, though you are never far from it, Gower is criss-crossed by old ways running between little fields, ruined castles and standing stones on open moorland. As the sun rises higher through March it starts to creep into sunken paths it’s not seen since last Autumn. The wild garlic starts to grow, soon you’ll smell it.

DSCF7991I like to be there before it becomes crowded as it will be in the height of the summer. In March I have the beaches almost to myself – except for Oystercatchers, Gulls and the odd Shag in the water. ( In case you are not familiar with UK coastline I’d better point out that a Shag is a seabird very similar to a Cormorant. )

DSCF7963Then there are the cliffs. Scenery for which Gower is rightly famous. The stretch from Port Eynon to Rhossili is my favourite walk,  littered by headlands, narrow ledges, rocky inlets and caves – like  Goat’s Hole at Paviland – where the skeleton of the ‘Red Lady’ was discovered in the 19th century. Subsequently discovered to have been neither a lady nor red and 33,000 years old, you can easily leave the 21st Century behind as you walk towards the dragon like shape of the Worm’s Head at Rhossili.

 DSCF8045That’s helped by all the signs left from human habitation over centuries – drystone walls and limekilns lie mixed with the curved earth banks and ditches of prehistoric forts.

DSCF7947The mark of the 20th Century is not quite so well suited to the landscape. Unlike the drystone walls, limekilns, earth banks and ‘red ladies’  the mountains of plastic on the shore are not made from local materials and don’t blend into the landscape over the decades. Bio-degrading is a misnomer – they simply breakup into millions of small bits and pieces which are even harder to clean up and once small enough can enter the food chain. Somebody got here before me!  What used to be beachcombing has become beach-cleaning and every spring teams of volunteers work hard to remove as much as possible – good work! But it would be so much easier if we didn’t make and throw away so much unnecessary plastic in the first place.

DSCF8086Amonths of endless gales I managed to catch a couple of calmer spring days and as I write this blog I can hear the birds singing outside. Amazing how quickly you start to forget the wind, rain and floods once the sun comes out. The stonechat likes to sit right on top of the gorse scrub and ‘chat’ as I walk along – a very welcome reminder that Spring is on the way.

(Warning – Excessive Landrover content – you may want to look away now!)

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Anyway this is an update on the trials and tribulations of one of my old Series II Landrovers in this case Puff, my 1961 Long Wheel Base pickup. When last seen, and after an engine rebuild Puff was working hard on the commons. Just possibly a little bit toooo hard?

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But what’s this? Well I call it – Landrover Sad Face  :-(

Called Puff the magic landrover because of the registration plate PFF 623 and because one day it’s there and the next day it’s in parts again. Right at the moment is no exception to the rule.

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Just when it was all going so well. What went wrong?  Checking under the Landrover in late spring I found major problems with the chassis. No time to fix it during the summer so Puff sat waiting for attention and some TLC through the summer until the autumn. When I thought it would be a quick job. Should have known better. Should have known a lot better.

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Working on a rusted chassis is never fun – and even less so once the rain is continuous. So time to take the rear body off and throw some light and lots of rain on the subject. As soon as I remove one area I found the damage had spread along the chassis to the next. Before I knew if the rear spring hanger was off – and it’s still raining.

Most of the damage was likely caused by working on the commons through the winter. Probably an unexpected stump in the chassis area! The impact peeled back the bottom of the a cross member and tore along the bottom rail of the chassis – also cracking up the side of the chassis – which shows just how thin and vulnerable the steel had become.

Fixing it is possible – but with the likelihood of more work need each year and with the rain still coming down – I had a sense of humour failure! What I need is a Silver Machine………..

DSCF7759What’s this ? Four silver machines – maybe I’ve over ordered? Luckily for my wallet, everything is fine – mine was on the top – and the nice man from Richard’s chassis near Sheffield is on a whistlestop tour of the South of England delivering the ultimate Landrover chassis repair kits. AKA my Silver Machine. In the words of the song……

It flies

Out of a dream

Antisceptically clean

It turns everything green

Do you wanna ride see yourself going by

the other side of the sky

I mean a Silver Machine

I’ve got a Silver Machine………

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Finally I’ve worked out what Hawkwind were singing about after all this years – clear a landrover galvanised chassis – from those nice people at Richards Chassis (have I plugged them enough yet). OK  I am getting a little bit carried away and very nerdy. But I am so looking forward to working with Puff again on the commons and not having to weld him up for at least 20 years. But it seems there is just a little bit of work to do first. Meanwhilst back to the woods…..and it’s still raining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCF7675I had been intending to write about something other than fallen trees in February. It seems that my life this winter has been dominated by the incessant storms and their consequences the fallen trees and the wet weather.  It’s still happening! We’re told that this has all been caused by a wrinkle in the North Atlantic jetstream. Some wrinkle.

A few of the resulting storms have even been given names like the St Jude Storm, the Christmas Eve storm and the one two weeks ago which caused a lot of damage across the south of England and I’m calling the Valentine storm. I know that commuting to work can be a big problem in the South of England and the wrong type of leaves on the line is an excuse for train delays that we are all used to, but this time it was the wrong type of tree on the track.

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It all started back in October with the ‘St Judes’ storm – which now pales almost into insignificance in comparison with the later arrivals, but it did have some powerful gusts which caused a lot of tree damage in small swathes where it moved through. The gusts have been features of these storms reaching twice the speed of the winds. This makes the damage quite unpredictable. All the trees you expect to fall don’t whilst the next study tree is ripped in two by the gust. There have also been a lot of trees falling because of the saturated ground and either the whole root plate lifts or the roots just snap and the tree falls.

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These trees are a lot harder to deal with than those we fell intentionally as this snapped Birch shows very well. The violence of the force that snapped the tree causes a lot of shattering and tension in the branch wood all of which needs to be carefully released – it’s dangerous – and it’s still suspended in the air caught between more Birch trees. Not a simple job and it needs to be left until it can be completed safely but just to complicate matters it’s right across a Right of Way and next to a stream so access for machinery is complicated.

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With over 100 trees down across the commons we can’t get to them all immediately and we have to prioritise our work. Clearing the roads is the first priority – though it is the most unpleasant of tasks as the hazard of fallen trees is compounded by the hazard of bizarre behaviour by other drivers.

You put up signs, vehicles with flashing lights and work on the road with a chainsaw and as soon as one carriageway is clear – they drive by at 50mph and only slow down to swear at you for holding them up. On Christmas Eve I was stuck clearing a birch top that had only blocked one side of the road, still windy and raining and cars speeding past wondering why I was bothering  when I sensed a car stopping  and I heard a voice say – I do like a man with a chainsaw! No it wasn’t yet more strange behaviour by drivers but a Police Landrover who blocked the road and got out to help me clear the branches.  A rare treat indeed and thank you to those two West Sussex officers!

Unfortunately you don’t get to take photos in these circumstances – your mind is 100% engaged in dealing with the tree, the weather and the road conditions as safely as possible. I do wish that I had a photo of the situation that I found when I turned out at 7:45 on the morning after the Valentine Storm to clear the local main road. A two foot diameter oak tree had split at waist height and fallen totally blocking the road. But  it was crowned by a modified 4×4, you know the type with the air intake so high above the vehicle that driver will need scuba gear!  It was stuck on the trunk having tried to drive over it. It took three of us an hour to cut the 4×4 free and open one side of the road.

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Luckily there are few trees that fall across the roads. The next priority is the network of Rights of Way that cross the commons and any trees that have not completely fallen and remain in a dangerous state – or both. This bridlepath leading onto the commons was completely blocked by several fallen trees some of which had fallen into other trees knocking them down like dominos and a couple more that were still suspended over the path. Another tricky job to clear – and one that needs to be completed safely both for us doing the job and for users of the path.

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You might get the impression that all the trees on the commons have fallen over – but there are still tens of thousands more to go. The Birch in the picture look very pretty – but if you notice the spray (end of the branches) are all bending to the left you get a feel for the strength of the winds to which they are exposed.

All trees will fall over unless we cut them down first. It’s a natural process, the soil on the heathland is very poor and acidic, only a few inches in depth before you reach the natural bedrock sandstone so many trees are literally clinging on. As they reach old age they are stressed and succumb to disease and the next storm may bring them down. The fallen trees do represent an opportunity – we can use the wood as a zero carbon source of fuel and timber (for my polelathe), the trees will regenerate and before we know it there will another young crop of trees across the commons.

I’m off to work on a few more trees now – at least the firewood for next year is getting sorted early!

Trees Down

DSCF7308I’ve always said that wood is best stored vertically. But during the winter you don’t get a lot of choice and trees do fall down. Not all of them even fall down – as the crown of this oak tree demonstrated by splitting up the trunk and toppling over to plant itself upside down. There’s quite a weight in those boughs and it will be a delicate job to saw it up safely.

With the relentless wind and rain that we’ve been having for the last couple of months the number of trees down across the commons is mounting – and probably numbers well over a hundred trees by now. Plenty to keep me and our dedicated band of volunteers busy right through to the spring then.

So here is a little tour of a part of the commons and a look at some of the trees that have come down in the last few weeks.

DSCF7315When the gales come through the wind gusts to very high speeds and tests the trees. Any weakness in the tree and it snaps instantly. The brown wood in this Birch shows that it was starting to rot and the wind caught it.  These splits are known as ‘barber’s chairs’ or ‘widow’s seats’ because they can be very dangerous if they happen as you are felling the tree with a saw, as the tree splits it can lever upwards and cause a fatal accident if you are still working by the tree.  Still I suppose it saves having to fell it!

DSCF7427Not all of the trees manage to come down. Some of them lift their root plates and lean over to end up caught in other trees – technically known as a windblown hungup. It can take a lot of time to clear a tree caught like this – the weight of the crown hanging in the trees and the weight of the root plate on the butt are both dangerous. It’ll need a winch and/or a tractor but the ground is too wet for the heavy equipment right now – in the meantime it’s not going anywhere in a hurry as it’s firmly held at both ends!

DSCF7405More common are  the mature Birch trees that have just come to the end of their lives and had enough. This one is probably around 65 years to 70 years old. A fairly simple job to clear and plenty of firewood for the next season to boot – it’s blocking a couple of paths and is down on the stock fence so it will get priority.

DSCF7404Another mature Birch tree – this one managed to fall right across the Hazel Coppice we’ve recently planted, but very considerately managed to avoid crushing all of the young hazel’s apart from one. We cleared some Birch to make room for the Coppice and that probably left other trees more vulnerable which is why this one fell. Extracting it from around all the Hazel plants will be just that bit more of a pain – dealing with trees pushed over by the wind is often more complicated than felling the trees yourself.

DSCF7311Holly grows to be a large mature tree. This one fell right across the timber extraction track on the edge of the commons and I had to clear some of it just to get through with a load of firewood.But there’s only so much clearing of Holly that you can do at one go – so the rest will have to wait.

As the Holly came down it managed to fell an old Hawthorn tree – now it’s getting a bit like a game of nine pin skittles as the wind knocks one tree into the next.

We have had a few trees down across the roads as well – but clearing those is much more stressful – mainly because of the behaviour of other drivers. Nobody seems to have any patience any longer – it’s not unusual to be sworn at by drivers impatient for me to clear a tree – and ironically it’s not even my job to clear the road. So no time to take photos when working on the road.

DSCF7310Job done – time to get the wood home and put the fire on so that I can dry out a bit. And  yes I do drive this landrover around all year without the sides on it before you ask.

DSCF7370Odd thing spotted in the sky recently. A bit like the moon but brighter – don’t see it very often these days, I’d be lying if I said we don’t see the sun at all but at this time of year it’s always very low in the sky and doesn’t hang around for long.

The rain is hammering down as I write this and no doubt we’ll have more trees down tomorrow, at least I shan’t be short of jobs to do for the foreseeable future.

My 2013 in 13 photos

18012013530I know I was going to post shorter articles. But I’ve failed again as it’s time for my annual retrospective on the year seen through some of the photos I’ve taken. Almost chronological but I’ve taken some liberties to stretch a few points.  The year started with an Icy blast. Even my landrovers were shivering in the yard.

DSCF7861-001The icy blast continued into February. Working outside on the heath in the short days needed a good fire to stop us freezing up.  We cleared an area of scrub and Birch to join areas of restored lowland heath and on the odd occasion I leave a scuplture behind.

DSCF8421Make room for March! I could swear there was a landrover in that corner before somebody dumped a rusting and rotten pile of wood and iron in there. But I could sense a magnificent farm trailer just waiting to be reborn. Very handy too with plenty of logs and hay bales to move through the year. I really liked the traditional sturdy wooden frame so with plenty of help from Richard the trailer was restored. That’s all very well but where did that Landrover go?

DSCF6448-001Not called Puff the magic Landrover for nothing. First you see it and then you don’t but more of that later. Despite the signs of spring the weather remained so cold it seemed that Winter would never end.

DSCF8827May arrived and slowly the weather improved. The summer event season arrives and it’s peak time for selling all of the winters woodland products, beanpoles, peasticks, flower stakes, brooms rakes and charcoal. As well as getting busy on the polelathe.

DSCF9072The mowing season starts in earnest in June with the Green Scythe Fair and the West Country Scythe Championships in Somerset. I’ve been seduced by the lure of the traditional English scythe, you know the grim reaper one with the curvy handle. These haven’t been in production for the best part of 50years so it was great to have Mike Abbott demonstrating the steam bending of an ash snathe in Somerset.

DSCF9511By July the mowing season is frantic and I’d like you to understand the sense of urgency that imbues our scything. It’s not just a weekend posing with our scythes in front of a National Trust mansion – whatever gave you that impression?

P1020022Well ok so I do tractors sometimes? August saw Peter my vintage Massey Ferguson 135 with my Vicon-Lely Acrobat hay tuner in full swing. We made 830 bales of hay on a 9 acre traditional flower meadow in 30 degree (C) temperatures during our summer heatwave. Very good hay it was too, and no great surprise that locals flocked to the field to picktheirown bales so we sold the lot in a very short time.

DSCF8540I am losing the plot a bit. Ah yes it’s September and meanwhilst down at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum my friend Martin Fox the blacksmith has become infected with the English Scythe bug. As well as becoming quite competent swinging his blade through the grass Martin and I have been working on the repair and reworking of old English scythe blades. He’s even threatening to start making reproduction medival blades. Just as well, because people seem to turn up on my courses with a lot of broken old English blades and it does give Martin something to do all day!

DSCF0353Earlier in the year I came across some lovely little axes made by Magnus. These axes are made traditionally to patterns found at archaeological sites. The head is wrought iron which is wrapped and forge welded to form the eye socket and then the hard steel edge is welded to the head. Magnus is an armourer and a lot of the weapons he makes end up on TV just like this axe which is to a ninth century Viking pattern. It makes a great little carving axe.

DSCF8361-001Having been a hot summer  the sales of charcoal have gone well. I try to make more than I need at the end of the season before the weather turns – but the Gales of November came early and I didn’t quite make it.

DSCF6980-001The gales are still with us and they’ve been the major feature of December except now they’ve graduated to Storms with winds forecast at Hurricane force. We spent a few days on Cornwall’s north coast admiring the waves before retiring to a log fire in the evenings.

DSCF7306Yes. It’s disappearing again. The final photo of the year has to feature Puff my magic landrover. Everything was going so well and then…….. a meeting with a big stump on the heath ripped off a chassis crossmember and peeled back a section of the chassis bottom.  Not too good and a clear indication of too much rust in the chassis. The top half of the chassis is very good though – anybody want a top half of a landrover 1961 long wheel base chassis?

Well I’ve squeezed in a few of the things that have happened over the year, I’ve had to miss out so many things that made this year special but thats the nature of these things and it does lay a great start for lots of things to happen in 2014. If only I had the time. I hope you had a good 2013 and I wish you all the best for 2014 wherever you are !

 

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I’m Back! Season’s Greetings & best wishes for the New Year wherever you are.

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit behind with posts recently. It’s not for shortage of articles to write up, more a shortage of time and a major episode of writers block of some kind which involves staring at the screen and failing to post anything.

I’m even a little late posting this short greeting, but in this case I’ll make an excuse as we had a severe storm a couple of days ago and lost our power.

Christmas eve with the logburner and candles, no power, no lights, no TV, no radio, no internet and even the mobile network was down. We’d been planning to have a quiet Christmas, lucky really, as it looked as if it would be very quiet indeed.

Many of the houses in our lane still have open fires or woodburners so people weren’t getting too cold and with candlelights on in most houses it would have looked like a Christmas scene from a hundred years ago if it wasn’t for vehicles charging around trying to find the roads not blocked by floods or trees.  As the evening wore on Dave,a friend who lives up the lane, brought around some company and beer. I’d just begun to feel it was getting too late for the power to come back when suddenly the mobile phone signals returned, followed shortly afterwards by the power. The ‘real world’ returns.

 

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