Walking through Northwood, I think back to five years ago when we planted our first Northwood tree. 12,999 trees and 21 native species later and we have a flourishing young woodland right in front of our eyes. Some of these adolescent trees are now even taller than me (and I’m 6ft tall!).
Not only is the 20 hectares of establishing native woodland doing brilliantly, but so is the natural regeneration. Large areas of saplings have popped up all over Northwood thanks to the surrounding rich seed source. Many of these young trees are being protected by plastic tree tubes, others are safely tucked up in scrub where grazing animals can’t quite reach them.
Talking about grazing animals, there’s also the 45 hectares of wood pasture being created in the heart of Northwood, where 60 five-foot wooden tree guards have already been constructed and installed within the open fields. Each guard protects a single tree of species such as English oak, beech, field maple and whitebeam. During the last couple of years these fields have also been converted to organic status and there are now organic shorthorn cattle and llynn sheep happily grazing on site, gradually creating a rough grassland habitat for a wide variety of wildlife to thrive in.
It’s incredible to see what we’ve achieved in just five years, imagine what the place will look like after another five years! The local wildlife certainly approves, you can tell because it’s moving into Northwood at a pace! Already this year we had our first site records for the purple emperor, green hairstreak and chalk hill blue butterflies.
None of this would have even been possible in the first place without the hard work and dedication from our volunteers. Without them, we would not have planted so many trees or been able to monitor them in their early establishment; Nor would we have made all the wooden tree guards on site, record all the vital wildlife data and so much more. Yes, we could have paid contractors to do all this work but that did not feel right; By inviting the community in to help, not only did they come in droves to support the project, they also became part of the Northwood legacy.
A huge heartfelt thank you to all who have been involved in making Northwood what it is today, and may this support continue as the woodland grows.
I may be whittling on and sounding sentimental but that is because this will be the last blog post for The Rise of Northwood. Five years into the project, it’s now progressing to an exciting new stage of its development. The initial set up and design has been completed to establish this woodland, and now it’s time to focus on monitoring and aftercare.
One last thing – Please do come and visit Northwood from time to time and take in the view from our Littlewood Lookout. The woodland is constantly changing and with new wildlife continuing to discovering it, you’ll be sure to spot something new with each trip you make.
Oh and finally……put a date in your diary for Northwood’s 10 year anniversary walk in Sept 2023!
Thank you for all your support over the last five years.
It’s finally happened……We’ve had our first purple emperor butterfly sighting in Northwood!
National Trust Images: Matthew Oates
This secretive insect is one of the rarest butterflies in the UK; it’s also one of the most beautiful. If you’ve not been fortunate enough to see one before, the male has black wings with distinct white markings. However, when his wings are at a certain angle to the sun, a purple sheen can be seen due to light being refracted from the wing scales. The female doesn’t have this purple flash, instead she has a deep brown wing.
They spend most of their time up in the woodland canopy, particularly oak, feeding on aphid honeydew. The best time to spot them is in July and August, particularly early morning or late afternoon. This is when the male comes down from the canopy to feed on moisture from the ground, providing them with much needed salts and minerals. You might even spot them feeding on animal droppings.
Northwood provides the perfect habitat for the purple emperor caterpillar as their main food plant is willow, which we have a lot of thanks to natural regeneration. We’ll be monitoring the young willow trees later in the year, hopefully finding some caterpillars tucking into their leaves.
If you’re in Northwood over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for that flash of purple!
It’s been an exciting month for The Rise of Northwood project from habitat creation to award winners!
We recently had a new pond installed in the heart of Northwood. This is big news as it is a very dry part of the South Downs, with no water bodies (rivers/streams) passing through. There are several ponds dotted around in Slindon Estate but none within the project area. Providing a water source will encourage all sorts of plants, birds and animals to the area. In fact, within a week of the pond being installed I saw yellowhammers drinking and bathing so I’d like to think they’re giving this new habitat the thumbs up (if they had thumbs). It doesn’t look like much at the moment but natural colonisation by plants and wildlife will occur surprisingly quickly.
Shockingly, during the past century, nearly 70 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside. This has obviously had a negative effect upon wildlife so one way we can help is by creating ponds in our own gardens (even if they’re mini ponds). Check out the RSPB website for more details on how you can do this: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/water-for-wildlife/
Volunteers have been busy looking after the wood pasture trees and their protective wooden guards. From weeding the surrounding ground (to reduce competition for water and nutrients) to making minor repairs to guards that livestock have taking a liking to. I say minor repairs as the guards have been so well constructed! Each tree has a mulch mat surrounding it to supress weeds but still allow moisture to enter. We also topped up the area with mulch (old wood chippings) to really fight those unwanted weeds off. Now it’s up to the trees to grow.
At the beginning of the month myself and fellow Ranger Gabby had to ditch the spades for a day and travel up to Sherwood Forest Center Parcs as we’d been nominated for a National Trust award. The award was for leading the way for restoring nature – specifically with engaging communities. What a surprise it was to hear our names read out aloud as the winners. We didn’t give a speech but if we did I would have said thank you to all the enthusiastic and willing volunteers who have stepped forward during the last five year and have given up their time in to making this project what it is….a huge success! You know who you are and you are all part of this incredible legacy. Thank you (again).
Earlier in the year we removed old barbed wire stock fencing that ran along one of Northwood’s bridleways. By removing this fence we were able to widen the verge and improve its condition by going back this week and cutting away all the encroaching brambles. Hopefully with a few more cuts we’ll start to see some more life in this newly established ‘green corridor’. With sunlight and space, wildflowers will soon appear along with pollinating insects and possibly even small mammals and reptiles.
To help us monitor our Northwood reptiles, we have corrugated tin sheets placed in various locations on site. During the months of March to October we’ll be regularly monitoring what’s hiding underneath them and sending our results to the National Amphibian & Reptile Recording Scheme. This week we tidied around the tins, clearing away any overgrown vegetation so tins are easily accessible with minimal disturbance to what’s underneath. Reptiles like these tins because they warm up during the day and create the ideal basking conditions. In previous surveys we’ve recorded slow worm, adder and even a weasel!
Also this week we had our monthly Northwood Task Day. The rain held off and we planted an amazing 60 meters of hedgerow including species such as field maple, hazel, spindle, hawthorn, blackthorn and dogwood. Hedgerows are such a vital year-round habitat in the countryside, from protecting nesting song birds in the spring to providing small mammals with berries in the autumn.
This week we put up two barn owl boxes, just in time before these birds of prey start looking for their nesting sites. These triangular boxes are best situated in mature trees, isolated in a hedgerow or on the woodland edge. Ideally the tree needs to have few or no low branches and be close to rough grassland. Northwood is the perfect location – The wood pasture fields are saturated with the barn owls favourite rodent on the menu – the field vole. However, they also prey on bank voles, shrews, mice, rats and small birds.
After their numbers fell dramatically during the 20th Century, Britain’s barn owl population is beginning to recover. Much of that is thanks to the work of conservationists providing safe places for breeding pairs to raise their young. Barn owls are cavity nesting birds; they don’t create their own nest holes and often use hollow trees. By installing these boxes we can mimic a natural nesting site and encourage these birds into our boxes. By doing so, we will then be able to monitor and record their breeding success.
We won’t be checking the boxes over the next few weeks though as these birds are very sensitive to disturbance, especially in the early stages of nesting season. Barn owls are given the highest level of legal protection possible under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is against the law to disturb a wild barn owl when nesting unless you are someone who holds a specific licence.
They often lay their eggs as early as March so fingers crossed our boxes will have lodgers in soon, we’ll keep you posted.
What better way to kick star the New Year than with a Northwood Task Day. Ripping out ancient stock fencing and repairing numerous tree tubes were the jobs of the day.
When we took over the ex-arable Northwood fields, we also inherited over 6km of unnecessary barbed wire fencing. The fencing was mostly overgrown with vegetation and falling apart in areas, not to mention an eyesore. For wildlife to pass freely (and walkers, in sections) without getting harmed, it all needed to go. Believe me, it’s not the easiest stuff to remove and the brambles certainly don’t help. We’ve been gradually picking away at it over the last four years and hopefully this month we should see the last of it.
Thanks to high winds and curious critters some of our tree tubes have needed a little extra tender loving care this month. Either the wooden stakes supporting the tubes upright had loosened or the cable ties holding them up had come apart (some might even say nibbled apart). With some maintenance they were back up and fully protecting the tree saplings inside again.
We’re always so grateful for the time our volunteers dedicate. These aren’t the most exciting or even enjoyable tasks that Northwood have to offer but they’re tasks that need doing to help Northwood flourish. So thanks again team, and here’s to 2019….now with less barbed wire and healthier growing saplings.
Apologies for the radio silence of late, but my time was otherwise diverted, continue reading to find out more. Normally the rangers look forward to a quieter time during the summer and a chance to catch up with work. This year however we set ourselves the challenge of building a round wood timber framed interpretation hut for the Northwood project – Littlewood lookout.
Over the course of a warm and breezy summers week in July the entire ranger team, helped by the professionals from Artizans of Wood, chiselled away at our recently felled sweet chestnut trees to create a fantastic new interpretation hut, Littlewood lookout. The team was split into two groups, team tall (the guys) and team short (the ladies), to create 2 A-frames that would become the front and back to our hut. They carefully debarked, scribed, sawed, chiselled and gouged their way through their “logs” to create some wonderful joints that hold the whole thing together.
Once all the crucks, tie beams and jowl posts had been lined up and jointed together, our ‘flat pack’ building was disassembled and reassembled ready for frame raising day. A week’s delay in frame raising due to illness, allowed for the final touches to come together and allow the anticipation in the team to build. When the day finally arrived the whole team were excited to see how their hard work had paid off. Slowly but steadily, with the help of a telehandler and watched by our volunteers, the frames were raised into position and fit together perfectly.
Then came the real hard work, the making of the laths for the walls. This as with the rest of the building utilises ancient techniques and man power. Laths are lengths of wood (sweet chestnut) used as panels to help form the walls of the new timber structure. The volunteers were shown how to strip the bark off the wood using a drawknife. The debarked log was then split, down the length of the 3ft log, using a L-shaped tool called a froe into 1/2 then 1/4 then 1/8, 1/16 and if we were lucky 1/32 and 1/64, whilst keeping the pile of spoiled wood to a minimum, easier said than done with lots of knots in the wood. The final stage involves “shaving” the rough surface of the laths using a shave horse and drawknife. Over the course of August we, including countless volunteers, made about 650 laths by hand.
While the volunteers were whittling away at making the walls, the rangers and the Artizans of wood, adding the finishing touches to the frame, this included our forked windows, bottom rails and installing the branched oak tree for the centre of the building. Our steam bent rafters then went on to the ridge pole and Littlewood lookout was transformed into either an upside down boat, or a whale rib-cage, the choice is yours.
Time off over September allowed us to regain our strength after a busy few months and start on the roof. With the weather turning more and more wintery it was time to get the walls in and roof on. The walls were made by alternately weaving the laths around upright posts (zales) and slotting into grooves. It was great to see all our hard work in splitting being put to good use. With the walls growing up and up the building was starting to take on its final form. Next stage the roof.
First we had to mill the batons, thanks to the Black Down team for showing us how and helping us to mill enough battening. Next the scaffold towers went up to allow us easy access to the roof. Nailing the batons took its time to ensure they were evenly spaced and parallel, not the easiest on a wonky and curved roof. On to the battening the shingles were attached, each one overlapping at least 2 of the rows below to create a water tight roof. Those which had been signed by members of the public and our volunteers were put on display. Slowly and surely the roof grew and grew and with the end in sight we managed to finish the roof, with help from volunteers and despite losing a day or two due to the weather.
Delaying the official opening by a week to avail of the better weather meant we had extra breathing space to tidy up the works site and get it all set up ready to be officially opened. It was wonderful to have a mixture of ages and a range of backgrounds, including those from the village, representatives from the SDNPA Sustainable Communities Fund as well as both internal volunteers and volunteers from the SDNPVRS. Having met at Northwood Junction the large band of 40-50 intrepid explorers wiggled down footpaths and across the fields to reveal a fantastic view from a distance. Once everyone had gathered a very short speech was given before Jane Cecil cut the ribbon and declared Littlewood Lookout officially open. Once opened everyone was allowed time to explore the building and enjoy a hot drink, including fire warmed mulled wine and a mince pie or 2.
So what’s next for the building? Interpretation will go up inside regarding the wider Rise of Northwood Woodland Creation project as well as interpretation/information to aide people using the space as an informal bird hide and a learning space. To the main frame there is still work to do, to close the top at both the front and back to provide more shelter from the elements. Benches and stools will be provided to encourage bird watching and as a rest stop.
On behalf of the whole team I would like to thank Paddy and Dylan from the Artizans of Wood for their patience over the entire length of this project and for all their guidance. I would also like to thank the SDNPA Sustainable Communities Fund for providing much needed financial support in this endeavour. I would like to thank our volunteers for their help and patience with making the laths and helping support the team in the final stages, the huge number of biscuits was very welcome and very much appreciated. And finally thank you to all who came to support us with the official opening, it was wonderful to have so many other people also excited by this project.
I am delighted to report that since being officially opened it has already been utilised by the public to shelter in when the weather has turned. I hope that as more people discover its location in the woods they can also use it to shelter or bird watch in the beautiful South Downs environment.