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.
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 professional from Artizans of Wood, chiselled away at our recently felled sweet chestnut trees to create a fantastic new interpretation hut, Littlewood lookout. The team split into two teams, 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 it all together.
Once all the cruck’s, 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 seemed to 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, 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 and you’re learning. The final stage involves “shaving” the rough surface of the laths using a shave horse and drawknife. At the time of writing we have been successful in making over 400 laths, how many more we need is the million dollar question.
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 felling a 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.
We’ve been very lucky with the weather and only had 1 whole rainy day while working on this project and the odd shower, shame we don’t yet have a roof.
There is still lots of work to do, including continuing with making the laths, then weaving them into the structure as well as installing the roof. This work hopes to continue through September and opening before the weather turns, so it can be utilised by the public for shelter.
On behalf of the whole team I would like to thank Paddy and Dylan from the Artizans of Wood for their patience over the week and the next month with this fantastic project. I would also like to thank the SDNP Sustainable Communities fund for providing much needed support in this endeavour. I would like to thank our volunteers for their help and patience with making the laths, the end is almost in sight. And finally thank you to you, the general public, as I know you will engage with this project and help us make it a success.
Having started weeding the nursery with the Scouts, at the end of May, it was time for the grown-ups to take over and finish the job . Thus the Northwood volunteers gathered together on two separate hot sunny days, at the start and end of the month, to spend a little time looking after our planted trees. By weeding around them we are reducing the competition and hopefully helping the trees to grow. We have cleared around the trees in the nursery, the newly planted trees in tree guards and our new hedgerow. Once cleared a layer of wood chippings was then used to surround the base of each plant to reduce the number of weeds re-growing thus making our job easier next year.
Not only have the weeds been growing but so has everything else and it was time to mow the fields. Plots were left long so as to provide nesting sites for skylarks. Skylarks are suffering due to changes in the timings of modern agriculture and thus it is wonderful to hear them singing and thriving in our wood pasture fields.
The rangers got stuck in again with installation of the new gates into Northwood’s wood pasture. On surprise, surprise, another hot sunny day myself, our assistant ranger and our full time volunteer, spent the day in the dirt digging the gates in. There are some days when you want to bury your head in a hole and there are other days that you do. After a very hot day and to the tune of the yellowhammer, the pedestrian gate and one of the field gate posts were installed, this time in the right place first time.
With another volunteer day accompanied by another sunny day, and having seen barely any / no rain for many weeks it was time to start watering our trees. Having only planted them late in the winter, their roots are not established enough to reach the water deep in the ground. While one volunteer took charge of the watering the other Thursday volunteers helped to pull ragwort. Over 20 rubble bags full later and it was time for me to leave for school, and the others to head onto other estate jobs.
This month I’ve been into both Slindon and Bury CofE Primary Schools. With Slindon Primary School I’ve helped out with their forest schools programme for their acorns class, which included natural paints, made from the chalk, clay, leaves and mud in the forest. The best canvas for painting on was found to be their skin or the skin of others, leading to many Amazonian style face masks. I left with my name on my arm, in case I forgot it, and a rather lovely long tailed horse. I have also attended several of the classes with the youngest catkins class, where they have enjoyed learning about the different trees in the forest and learning how best to climb old oakey, a fallen down old oak tree.
Meanwhile the children of Bury school learnt about what inhabits their pond. We found many a large dragonfly nymph, as well as 3 newts, which must’ve been caught by almost every child. We also found a few tiny tadpoles and even one child, who jumped in after attempting to lift a net that was too full of debris. The children also learnt about why pond dipping is important for determining the health of our pond. Each species is given a number from 1-5 which relates to how clean the water has to be to support them. Newts and dragonfly larvae, both need relatively clean water, thus each score 5. Our total for their pond was between 15 and 20, which indicates the pond was in ‘good’ health.
Our final volunteer task of the month was with the SDNPVRS who helped the rangers to prepare the site at Littlewood for the commencement of building of Littlewood lookout. More on this in the next installment.
If looking for a walk to enjoy this beautiful weather make Northwood your choice next week, 2nd– 6th July. Come and see the ranger team helping Artizans of Wood in the construction of a new round-wood timber framed building, Littlewood lookout. Located at the heart of the Rise of Northwood project it can be found alongside the public bridleway that crosses through the center of the project. This project was only possible with funding from the South Downs National Park Authority Sustainable Communities Fund.
After a busy few months I was off at the start of the May on a jolly holiday and left my Northwood volunteers in the capable hands of our Assistant Ranger Sam. With a change of Ranger came a change of scenery for the Northwood volunteers as they were due to split some of our coppiced sweet chestnut for making tree stakes. Unfortunately the weather conspired against them and they ended up erecting deer proof fencing around the coup. This meant that our Thursday volunteers were provided with the opportunity of splitting the chestnut and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
My return still felt like I was on holiday as I was allowed to sit in the back of a series 1 Land Rover and be driven across the estate as part of a series 1 Land Rover Rally. This was also an opportunity to stop at Northwood and explain the project to a new and interested audience.
One of the biggest changes to have happened to Northwood over the recent months is the erection of stock fencing to surround 3 of the fields. This is so we can convert the land into wood pasture, another priority habitat. This also means we can maintain the views from the project. To accompany this fencing we therefore need access gates and part of this job has fallen to the Rangers. We all set out one sunny Monday morning full of energy for Gate Day Part 1. The installation of 4 large oak gate posts and 2 gates was quite a mammoth undertaking and it proved to be when the digging began. Several hours later and many achy arms later we had 3 posts in and one gate hung. It is true that too many cooks spoil the broth, and that we don’t always get it right, alas 2 of our posts were mere inches to close together, and thus the gate wouldn’t latch properly. Another day another slightly altered group of Rangers returned to the scene of the crime for gate day part 1.2 to dig up and replace the 2 incorrect posts. This was accomplished rather less painfully than first thought, however it still resulted in many an achy arm. Finally the 2 gates were up and all posts in the right place. Success. Now I only need to convince (bribe them with cake) to help me with the final 2.
Our Wednesday volunteer group had a rather less painful affair in helping me to remove the invasive species such as sea buckthorn and buddleia. We have removed these species in particular as they are beginning to spread and take over. You can’t complain when you get to wander amongst the newly growing trees in the sunshine, surrounded by many colourful flowers. And what a month May has been for wildflowers and animal sightings. We’ve stumbled upon a hare form and even a baby roe deer was discovered in the fields. As for flowers the fields have been yellow with dandelions and hawk’s-beard; speedwells, orchids, broom rape and wild strawberries. Northwood wild strawberry jam anyone?
As well as discovering all things above the ground we have also explored what is hidden below the ground. The Worthing Archaeology Society (WAS) joined us for a week of digging in WA2 to try and help further uncover the secrets revealed the year before. Digging in a field surrounded by flowers and friends isn’t a bad way to spend a bank holiday. It wasn’t long before the gazebos went up not initially to keep the sun off their backs and then to keep the rain out of the trenches. Lots of exciting things were uncovered over which they could puzzle. More information on their finds will be given later, when they’ve had a chance to process the whole experience.
As for processing experiences I’m still coming to terms with getting to ring blue tit and Marsh tit chicks. These chicks were those found in our nest boxes that we installed over the winter.
The 1st Yapton & Ford Cubs came out and enjoyed a scavenger hunt on the way to the nursery, where they helped me out by weeding around the growing trees to give them more space. In the short amount of time they got a lot done, including pulling a thistle almost the same size as them. On the way back they were instructed to find something to remind them of Northwood and the session to contribute to a floor tree mural. Thanks for coming and helping.
As for Slindon Primary School I have continued helping out with their forest school programme and we have been making our own bug hotel (as labeled), the winner (not pictured) being crowned ‘Bugingham’ Palace. The children have also been learning about the different trees in the forest, such as Oak, Holly, Ash and Beech.