I’ve been a bit quiet with posting lately but that doesn’t mean it’s been quiet in Northwood! There’s been a buzz of activity over the last few weeks, particularity with the rapid growth of our young trees. Only a few years old, they’re already sticking their top branches up above the grass line for visitors to spot them. Northwood is now starting to look like young woodland.
Not only have the planted trees been doing well, but so has the natural regeneration. Oaks are popping up all over the place with the occasional tiny beech, ash and hawthorn. And as for the willow, well that almost as tall as me (and I’m 6ft!).
The Wednesday South Downs National Park Volunteer team along with National Park Ranger Chloé were recently out helping to protect these young saplings by surrounding them with plastic 1.2 metre plastic tubes. There has been such a good level of natural regeneration this year, it would be such a pity if the deer and rabbit got to them first.
With all the hard work from so many volunteer groups ‘tubing up’, we should have a woodland before you can say Rise of Northwood!
Although, as we discovered the other day, it’s not just the deer and rabbit we have to watch out for. Whilst checking an area of trees planted last year, with the help of Chichester Conservation Volunteers, we discovered that something else had been killing off the trees.
Each tube we lifted off a dead tree had a grassy ball inside belonging to a field vole. These were nests that were no longer in use but the damage had already been done. Once inside the tube, the voles would build a nest and fell the tree. Even if the tubes were pressed firmly into the ground, they can never be 100% vole proof. From 450 trees checked, 82 had been damaged by vole. But fear not, these little critters haven’t beaten us yet. Plan B will be to replant those damaged/felled trees in the autumn and protect them with a much thinner tree spiral guard instead. Hopefully this time, the tube will be not as ‘cosy’ to set up camp. We’ll also bury the guards into the ground a little just for good measure. I’ll keep you posted on how we get on.
The Northwood trees are starting to green up now despite the very dry weather we’ve been having. Some of our planted saplings are already reaching four years of age and can be seen poking their leaves up above the weed canopy. The natural regeneration is also catching up quickly.
Just walking through the fields today, it’s difficult not to step on any of the tiny trees. Willow and silver birch is spreading fast and occasionally I stumble upon a little gem of a beech or oak. In a few weeks, the leaves will be fully out and the natural regeneration will be a lot easier to see. For those saplings outside of our deer fencing, we’ll protect them from browsing animals with tree tubes.
For our tree tubes to stay upright, we stake them to the ground using chestnut. We usually buy in our stakes from a local company but this year we have other ideas…..
Last winter, on another site on the Estate there had been chestnut coppicing taking place. The larger chestnut will be used for building material but the smaller stuff is perfect for what we want.
After making a riving break on the coppiced site, we are now able to split our own chestnut and make our own tree stakes. Riving is the splitting of wood in the direction of the long fibres inside. You use a tool called a froe to make the split. For a froe to do its job properly, you need a riving brake to wedge the chestnut in place. This allows effecting levering whilst splitting. Smaller chestnut can be split in halves and the larger bits can be quartered. To finish it off you use an axe to point one of the ends (to help hammer into the ground easier) and cut the stakes down to 4ft. Easy peasy!
The South Downs National Park Friday volunteers and regular National Trust volunteer Dominic joined us for the day to try out this technique and after a bit of a refresher and a few failed splits we soon picked it up and were riving experts by the end of the day!
Last week we had the entire Bury C of E Primary School loose in Northwood! With the aid of two minibuses and two trips we successfully ferried all the children and teachers over for a session of woodland discovery and den building. Lots of energy was burned off running through the War Ag. Fields and lots of eyes helped me check for sapling survival in over 400 tree tubes. The good news was that only four dead trees were found. We even put our wildlife detective caps on and discovered a pile of pheasant feathers, coming to the conclusion that the bird had been taken away by a fox. Did you know that if the quill of the feathers are chewed it’s been eaten by a mammal and if it’s still all intact, it’s most likely been plucked by a bird (like a sparrowhawk).
I’ve also been over to Bury Primary School once a week this term to help spring clean their pond and swat up on their bird identification skills. A lot of teamwork went into clearing out the pond, as well as the surrounding area. New growth is already shooting up and toad tadpoles are swimming around. Even the odd smooth newt has been spotted.
We also had the National Trust Nyman Rangers and volunteers in Northwood last week constructing one of our 5ft tree guards. With the lull of hot chocolate alfresco, the guard was put up in record time. Nyman’s come out to Northwood every year to give a helping hand so massive thanks guys and we look forward to your 2018 visit!
What a busy month it’s been…
There’s been so much activity in Northwood I’ve barely had a moment to sit down in the office and update you all about it.
Over the course of 4 days (and several minibus trips) we’ve had the entire Year 3 and Year 4 of Yapton Primary School (about 90 pupils) out planting two new tree clumps in our War Ag. 3 and 4 fields. This makes a total for 4 clumps in these fields now, each consisting of 200-250 trees. Once these pockets of woodland start growing, they will play an important role in the movement of wildlife, acting as natural stepping stones and wildlife corridors from one wooded area to another.
In the short time they had, Yapton Primary worked their socks off and planted a total of 450 trees including species such as oak, beech, field maple and whitebeam. I was also blown away by their knowledge of nature and woodlands – well done guys.
We also had the pleasure of seeing RSPB Pagham Seals again for their annual trip to Northwood. This year they wanted to get stuck into some practical work to help the project and boy did they get stuck in! In just one afternoon we managed to coppice 40 meters of hedgerow and then lay the brash over the top like dead hedging to limit the browsing of new shoots by deer. Coppicing involves rejuvenating hedging by cutting it down near to ground level, encouraging vigorous regrowth and the return of a thicker and healthier hedgerow. Thanks to the group/leaders and to their parents/carers for joining in too.
The Archives Team from West Sussex Records Office joined us for a morning of tree planting over in the War Ag. 3 fields. This was a particularly special day as the team wanted to plant up an area in memory of a close friend and colleague who had recently passed away. I learnt that this friend was fond of nature and the outdoors so this session was especially fitting. The sun even came out for us and I saw my first honey bee of the year. Over 70 trees were planted, mostly beech and I look forward to seeing the team again later this year for a spot of after tree care.
And finally, we have several wooden tree guard to construct this year for our wood pasture area in War Ag 1. 14 already stand tall from last year’s hard work but 16 more need to go in this year. To kick start this year’s challenge we held a South Downs National Trust Ranger Day where Rangers and Volunteers from different sites came down to help us. We had Woolbeding, Black Down and Birling Gap make it over and together we constructed 6 guards. There was also a BBQ lunch midway just to keep everyone’s strength up! Thanks to all the teams for giving their time to the project and for helping us get closer to our year total.
Earlier this week the 1st Yapton & Ford Scout Group HQ was transformed into a wildlife detectives lab where Yapton Cubs were set the challenge to find out what our Northwood barn owls like to eat.
To do this they simply needed an owl pellet to dissect. Ranger Hannah was at hand to assist as she’d been out earlier that day to collect some. Pellets were handed out and the cubs got to work.
If you didn’t already know, pellets are the undigested parts of a bird’s food, such as hair or bones, which are regurgitated (coughed up through the beak). During the session, several rodent skulls were carefully removed and the group could identify that field vole and common were the most popular meal for our active barn owls.
Not only owls produce pellets, kestrel and sparrowhawk do too, even crows and sparrows. Although the pellet will look very different depending on what the bird eats. To find out more about barn owls and their pellets go to the Barn Owl Trust website: http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/barn-owl-facts/barn-owl-pellet-analysis/
The South Downs National Park Volunteers were out in Northwood last Friday, having a break from tree planting and tree guard construction and trying their hand at widening one of Northwoods bridlepath verges.
Before work commenced, there was a bramble hedge looming over the bridleway, stopping light from reaching the once grassy verge. Our task was to cut back the bramble to where an old stock fence was hiding, remove the fencing and then roll back any off the remaining bramble over to the other side of the hedge. By widening this verge, we are creating more open ground habitat.
Sounds easy eh….well that’s what we though before we started but as we soon discovered, the bramble was very spikey and so was the barbed wire fencing hidden in the middle. Not to mention the mass of stock fencing buried in the ground. But we ploughed on through and got it done.
We didn’t want to remove the entire line of bramble as it provides cover and shelter for nesting birds and protection for small mammals (such as harvest mice) from predators. As well as a food supply in late summer and autumn with their juicy blackberries. Did you know that bramble is the food plant to over 60 moths!
After a few grass verge cuts and some raking off, a strip of grassland will gradually appear and in time we will hopefully see a range of sun loving plants and insects benefiting from this new habitat. Thanks to the South Downs National Park Friday team for all their help.
For our first volunteer task day of 2017, we headed out to finish the last of the ‘beating up’ in the Northwood planted area (War. Ag Field 3). The tree growth within the deer fence fared well throughout 2016 so we decided to plant just 10% of the original number of trees that were planted back in winter 2014/15. This totaled to about 1,500 trees. Despite a little bit of rabbit damage around the perimeter, the rest of the trees looked pretty healthy before autumn stripped them of their leaves. Those trees closest to the fence perimeter may just need a bit more tender loving care in the form of plastic spiral guards.
Towards the end of the volunteer task day, we were encouraged to speed up the last of our planting when we looked up and saw the colour of the sky!
We still need to plant 1000 saplings in other areas of the project site but no need to worry as we have Yapton Primary School, Year 4 and 5 coming out to help us in February/March. Last year they joined us and planted about 200 saplings and are very keen to beat their last total, we’ll let you know how they get on!
If you would like to join us for our monthly task days please get in touch. We’ll be meeting again on Wednesday 15th February.