This has to be the best time of year for walking in the woods. The display of colours from the Beech trees is magnificent this year and nowhere better than the Forest of Dean where we’ve been for a few days up on the edge of the Wye Valley, but I’m afraid my photos don’t really do the colours justice. Mind you the weather didn’t really cooperate, though warm it’s been dull and dank if not pouring with rain most of the time.
As well as walking through the Forest we explored a few paths up and around the River Wye, through the Gloucestershire countryside and came quite unexpectedly upon an old orchard where management has clearly been on the sparse side for many years. Several of the trees were quite overgrown with Mistletoe – though maybe it’s actually a Mistletoe orchard?
Away from the Forest the footpaths seemed quite thin on the ground and never quite linked up but we did find some great old hedges with lovely ancient oak trees.
This one has grown a monster burr, you can see from the gate in the photo that the burr is a few feet in diameter and it actually reaches most of the way around behind the trunk.
Back in the forest I was (as usual) astounded to see so much lop and top left lying around felling sites, and not just softwood but hardwood as well. On this site several beech trees had just been cut up and left where they were felled. I know I’ll be told that it’s all in aid of biodiversity and the bugs like it, but I mean! In today’s times of austerity we’re all having to tighten our belts and how many bedrooms does a bug really need? This is a renewable energy source just wasted and I’m sure that the biodiversity of the site would actually benefit from the removal of some of the excess brash and still leave plenty of spare bedrooms for the bugs!
I suspect it’s all caused by the relentless intensification of forestry during the latter half of the 20th century, very much the same as with agriculture. The more wood you produce the lower the price goes and the more wood you need to produce to keep making money. So you get a bigger loan, buy bigger machines with more computers and GPS that work all day and night to keep paying off the loan and it’s no longer cost effective to remove the brash or even some of the trees.
But it doesn’t have to be like that especially with the price of firewood on the rise. Woodsmen like me keep operating costs down by working for themselves, avoiding loans and using a minimum of equipment. There are plenty of volunteer groups, charcoal burners or firewood operators in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire who’d be more than happy to clear up sites like this after the contractors leave and reduce our fossil fuel imports and carbon footprint at the same time. I think we ought to be putting pressure on the FC to reintroduce licences for collecting brash and firewood.
Back on the river the sun crept through for just a few minutes. Bizarrely, in view of my previous rant, a small team of tree surgeons were carefully deadwooding some of the river bank willows (lest they fall on the tweed hat of a fly fisherman perhaps?) and then removing all of the wood from the site with a 4×4 and a trailer – from the sublime to the ridiculous? No bugs welcome on this river bank then?
On the way back I couldn’t resist stopping at a hedgerow full of fat juicy sloes! Normally we only get to pick a few small ones, hard as bullets but these were big soft juicy gobstopper size sloes just demanding to be soaked in Vodkin.
Just a few minutes picking yielded enough for a few litres of Sloe Vodkin and as I write they are in the jars already after a quick session in the freezer just to finish off the softening up process. The jars are Labelled ‘Hole in the Wall’ as we found them on the walk back from a tiny hamlet labelled ‘Hole in the Wall’ on the map, just above Ross-on-Wye.
As we neared the end the sun rushed rapidly down below the horizon, another classic Walk with Trees in the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean.
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