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.
Having 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
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.
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.