April Showers bring May flowers

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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.

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Orchid you not, April was blooming marvelous!

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20180421 - blooming fieldsHaving started at Northwood in the depths of winter I had yet to see the true scale and beauty of this woodland creation project. On many trips around War Ag 3 deer enclosure I couldn’t quite see the 13,000 trees that have been planted by volunteers, but now wondering around, you really do get a sense of woodland rising up around you.

At the start of April, the Northwood volunteers came out for a post and pre-season tidy up. Finalising all the jobs that needed doing and that had been left in the race before spring.

As already mentioned our Thursday volunteers then took up the mantle of tidying up and helped to install the new noticeboard at Northwood Junction, along with a new leaflet dispenser. I was also delighted to release to the public our new Northwood’s War leaflet containing information on the First World War history surrounding Northwood. As part of our First World War centenary commemoration at Northwood we are displaying pages of the camp diary at the Noticeboard.

We held our first ever Slindon Safari, where we took local visitors on a guided tour across the estate, taking in the special places including Rowes Barn, the Folly, Northwood, Gumber Farm, the cross dykes and Warren Barn. This was our chance to show off the estate and the work that we do, and allowed the locals to realise the scale of the works we do. It was a very successful day despite the grey weather around us.

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Northwood was then host to a few very special visitors; Hannah along with baby Bea and Twiggy came for a catch up. With Northwood in all its glory, we took them both for a walk around, to show what work has been done and what we will be doing over the next few months. It was also a chance for Hannah to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything; I’m pleased to say all’s going according to plan.

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The excitement continued with the construction of the final 2 tree guards, which brings our total to 27 for the winter! Thank you to the South Downs National Trust volunteers who braved a gloriously sunny Sunday to come and work hard, rather than just enjoy the weather. The final two tree guards went up without a hitch, as they say practice makes perfect.

The most exciting moment for me in April has to be the discovery of the first green-winged orchid of the season and the project in the fields. It shows how strong seed banks are in that having been left for a few years these plants can emerge after being ploughed for the last 60 years.

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And finally for schools, I’ve been into Slindon Primary school helping out with their new forest schools programme and have helped the kids with den building as well as learning about caring for woods by making woodland sprites, or in my case a rubbish sprite.

New Northwood’s War leaflet

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If you go down to the woods today, be sure to stop at Northwood Junction to get your hands on our new Northwood’s War leaflet. This new leaflet contains information about the role Northwood and Eartham Wood played during the First World War.

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The leaflet also includes a self guided walk and map to help you explore the history of the area.  A PDF copy will also be up on the Slindon Estate National Trust website soon, but in the meantime, get in touch if you’d like an electronic copy: riseofnorthwood@nationaltrust.org.uk

To accompany our new leaflet we will also be displaying a different page of the Camp Diary, written by the Canadian Foresters, on our new noticeboard at Northwood Junction. Check back every 2-3 weeks for the next installment.

 

A copy of the leaflet can be picked up from:

 

Northwood Junction (grid ref: SU959098). Follow Top Road north down past Courthill Farm Lane, past Courthill Farm and park at Northwood Junction where the tarmac ends(informal parking area).

Slindon Forge Shop and Café, Reynolds Lane, Slindon BN18 0QT.

I can’t be-leaf it’s finally spring

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With spring looming and the end of planting season in sight it was time to get down and dirty and plant a new hedgerow. In between the bouts of snow we were lucky enough to have some dry and relatively warm weather to accompany our hedgerow planting. Over a week and with the help of many volunteers, including a work experience volunteer, we managed to plant about 300m of hedgerow, even using some saplings grown in our nursery.

We’ve also had our final planting session with the Chichester Natural History Society of their donated trees. Again their members braved the elements to finish planting their trees and protecting them from damage from deer. A huge thank you to everyone involved over the 3 planting sessions. I’m really looking forward to seeing these trees in full leaf.

At the end of the month I was joined by staff and volunteers from the Nyman’s Estate, who helped finish the construction of a tree guard and fully install 2 more elephant proof guards as they became known. Again the weather was against us however it eased enough at lunch so we avoided any soggy sandwiches. Thank you to the team for their help, it’s lovely to meet more of the National Trust’s wonderful volunteers and to hear what another estate gets up to.

Our wood pasture would not be complete without the livestock element. Work has therefore started to fence off the entire area for future grazing. Discussions are also being held with contractors to install water troughs for the livestock. Watch this space as there could well be cattle coming to Northwood soon.

We were very kindly donated 2 more standard trees for Northwood. Having already completed the tree guards for these trees, and being reluctant to dismantle a lot of hard work, it was time to call in the big guns. With Tom in the tractor we were able to airlift the 2 trees into place, without damaging them or ourselves. The family who had donated them thoroughly enjoyed the task of planting, even if it did dirty some brand new white trainers. The trees now stand proudly at the top of the hill.

I’ve also been into Slindon Primary school armed with loppers and bowsaws, to help the year 3’s and 4’s to clear a scrubby patch behind their classrooms ready for Mark and Rebecca Ford to install a new willow nest. Like a whirlwind the job was done in no time at all with everyone getting involved and having a go at using both tools. I know I went home exhausted and I’m sure they did too. The following week we went on a walk around the village and played 2 rounds of Springo Bingo, where we were looking out for all the different colours we could see as well as spotting birds, bees and any other flying insects.

 

I have also been into Bury Primary school where the children and I have continued with writing their nature booklets and spotting the differences between the seasons. With many birds starting to make nests this time of year we then went into the classroom to make our own birds’ nests complete with eggs.

With spring well and truly beginning to spring, there are many new and exciting wildlife sightings to be seen, including the TRON (the Rise of Northwood) tree troll. It has been spotted lurking around our tree guards, please explore the area and see if you can spot the tree troll for yourselves.

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Everything’s going all white.

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What a month we’ve had in Northwood, I’ve barely found time to sit at my desk, but luckily the snow has meant that I’ve finally had time to sit and write this.

We started this month with the help of the Chichester Natural History Society (CNHS) who braved the cold and driving rain, on a Saturday no less, to plant the first installment of their donated trees into War Ag 5. Despite the weather and the soggy sandwiches we had a lovely productive day, getting 4 trees planted and guards completed, as well as planting some sapplings into our deer fencing in War Ag 3.

Their return visit 2 weeks later couldn’t have been more opposite in terms of weather. Bright sunshine and a chilly wind saw us through the second instalment of trees into Northwood. Again everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day so much that we have arranged for a final session in March. A big thank you goes to David Hart for organising the troops and getting them to site despite the weather.

The Sunday after the CNHS had been was also the polar opposite. We had beautiful sunshine and instead of planting trees we were chopping them down. With the help of both the Chichester Conservation Volunteers and the RSPB Pagham Seals, we were able to coppice at least 200m of hedgerow. After chopping the stems as low as possible we then laid the brash over the stumps to protect them from the deer. There is still a tiny stretch for us to complete before the end of the year.

Our Northwood volunteers were then out in force and helped construct 3 more tree guards. They were both overjoyed and rather disappointed to hear that for this year at least that was their last tree guard. I have also had our regular Tuesday volunteers out for a change planting up the remaining tree guards, in War Ags 1 and 2.

My final volunteer task day was spent with our new Wednesday volunteers group, installing 50 bird boxes into the woods, on a very cold and snowy day. These are part of a 5year research project being run by Ken and Linda Smith, previously of the BTO, who are hoping to compare blue and great tit nesting parameters in mixed woodland and beech plantation. If you happen to find a nest box that looks similar to these on the ground around Northwood, please leave it there and report it to the rangers.

As for school visits I have been into both Slindon Primary and into Bury Primary schools to teach the children about identification keys and how to use them. The children enjoyed the challenge in working out insect orders. They were then set the challenge of creating their own leaf ID key, using 9 commonly found leaves. I look forward to a return to Slindon to see how the children have gotten on with these.

And finally I got a few days inside. These have been spent learning how to use GIS properly, which has been really useful in completing grant applications and planning applications for new developments for Northwood. I’m not going to say too much now and leave you with the excitement of new things to come…

New Year Resolutions

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20180103 - Snow on scultpureOne month into the New Year and normally I’m thinking about how I’ve already failed to keep up any of my new year resolutions. This year is not the case. With the help of the volunteers, I have definitely hit the ground running at Northwood and not just because of all the mud. After initially forgetting to take any photos, I have since remembered and taken lots.

The Northwood volunteers assembled at the start of the New Year for a bit of after care. I mean both care for my volunteers after the indulgence of Christmas but also care for the trees in tubes around the perimeter of War Ag. 3. As well as checking on how the survival of the trees, many tubes and tree were straightened, having been knocked over in the strong winds, so hopefully we won’t end up with too many wonky trees. One tree guard I checked was home to a small rodent who was just as shocked to see me peering down the tube as I was to see it (You can just make out its nose on the right hand side of the photo).

Lee and Lucy (the new East Head and estate rangers) then joined the team and were soon put to work helping to finish clearing around the incinerator, checking the trees in the copses and replanting where necessary, and helping to continue the planting of a hedgerow behind the nursery.

As well as caring for the trees we still have a few to plant into our wood pasture, so it’s tree guard construction time again. I’ve had lots of volunteer help to either half build or fully build tree guards. We have left some tree guards unfinished as we are waiting on the arrival of the large standard trees kindly donated by the Chichester Natural History Society. Northwood volunteers got the ball rolling and built the first half a tree guard in an afternoon. Then the SDNPVRS took over and with a bit of encouragement and competition built 4 halves in one day.

Our Thursday volunteers were then unstoppable and again completed 3 whole tree guards. So far I had avoided building any tree guards in the rain, however my luck changed when it came to a new Wednesday volunteer group (which now meets on the 4th Wednesday of every month), where we got absolutely soaked. My thanks go out to them for sticking with me for the morning and getting drenched.

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As well as building tree guards I have been in to visit acorn class in Slindon Primary School where we spent the afternoon playing leaf identification games as well as doing natural art outside. Winter trees were the (only) inspiration this time. Using any twigs and leaves found on the floor the children created their own trees, as well as a few animals, including a bird and squirrel.

 

History, Hedgerows, incinerators and tree huggers

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This month we’ve been busy taking a break from tree guards. Instead we’ve been doing odd jobs around Northwood. With the help of the South Downs National Trust Volunteers we successfully coppiced the hedgerow along the side of the nursery. Coppicing will allow for multiple shoots to regrow and a thicker hedge to become established. After coppicing we then layered the branches over the top of the cut stems to protect any fresh regrowth from any hungry deer passing through. It was lovely to see the robin investigating our work.

Having finished the coppicing we turned to planting a new hedgerow to link up the woodlands to our coppiced hedgerow. We have used the trees grown in the nursery to create this new hedge. Not only was the digging up of the trees hard, but the replanting was even harder. The area isn’t known as Stoney Bottom for nothing.

Next came the Rise of Northwood volunteers task day. Being our last session before Christmas there was a feeling of celebration despite the lack of numbers. This just meant there were more cookies for all of us. The task for the volunteers was to clear around a 100 year old incinerator. It sounds a bizarre task for the Northwood team but it’s all about exposing Northwood’s war time past.

To celebrate 100 years since the end of the First World War we are putting together a leaflet to highlight the hidden remnants of the war effort. This ranges from carvings in trees to the old overhead cable ropeway to the airship sub-station for patrolling the channel.

This month I have been into Slindon Primary school, teaching the children about leaf identification. Having collected at least 5 different leaves from the playground we took them inside to look at the differences in shape, colour and texture. To help the kids think about this we did some leaf rubbings and also made some leaf animals (mostly reindeer due to the time of year).

I have also been into Bury Primary school where we explored how to identify trees in winter. It was a very cold and frozen morning in their woodlands and so it was important that we keep moving to stay warm. We started off with a game of hug a tree. Feeling up the trees while blindfolded to create a mental picture of what the tree looks like through touch alone, and then trying to identify which tree species it was.

After hug a tree we looked at the differences in the texture, patterns and colours of the bark of the trees in their woodland, primarily looking at Wild Cherry, Ash, Field Maple and Oak. After investigating one tree I sent them running off to find another example of the same tree.