Time flies when you’re having fun.

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1 month in and I think it’s time I introduce myself. My name is Gabby and I have taken over from Hannah as the ranger in charge of Northwood.

meAfter finishing a conservation degree at University, I joined a small team of National Trust rangers in North Pembrokeshire, who were tasked with the care and maintenance of coastal heathlands and grasslands. The area under our supervision spread from the Cardigan border in the North, around St Bride’s Bay to St Anne’s head, including some well-known tourist destinations such as St David’s head and Marloes sands.

Not only were the team in charge of a vast area, they also cared for a herd of about 40 Welsh Black cattle and 30 Welsh Mountain ponies. Sometimes referred to as our free lawnmowers; these animals played a vital role in grazing our heathlands to keep them in favourable condition for the likes of chough and other rare coastal species.


So what have I been up to in my month here?

Why not start with the most recent development. Yesterday I was accompanied by our regular Thursday volunteers to construct more tree guards, this time in War Ag.2. The plan was to construct 2 to keep us on track. With the sun shining and a cold breeze to motivate the group, the holes were dug and the posts in. Normally we would’ve stopped for a tea break once the rails were attached but some clever ranger forgot the kindling for the Kelly kettle. So to stay warm the group ploughed on with hammering on the pickets and it wasn’t long before the 1st tree guard of the day was finished.

This seemed as good a time as any to stop for an early lunch and finally a cup of hot tea. It wasn’t long before the cold wind was being felt and another tree guard was started. Much to my delight it was finished in what was then a record time of 2 hours. When asked the question would you rather finish early or have a go at another the group decided that they probably had enough energy for a 3rd.


They say practice makes perfect and this was the case when it came to the final tree guard of the day. Having got the swing of things and the hammers with the 1st two tree guards, the 3rd almost came together in a flash. The weather couldn’t have been better and when we finished at the end of the day the sun was just starting its descent behind the Nore, and illuminating the new tree guards that stand proud at the top of War Ag. 2. The 3 built yesterday join the 2 built the week before with the help of the SDNPVRS. This means I’ve now built 1/5th of the number of guards that are to be built this year, success.

As well as mastering the art of tree guard construction I’ve been teaching. My first lesson as the Northwood ranger was taught to children at Yapton Primary school, on comparing Northwood to Rainforests. We had a great morning comparing the different animals and I was thrilled to see how excited they were. I left them with the challenge of creating leaf animals and will post photos of these at a later date.

I’ve also visited Bury Primary school and joined in with their forest schools afternoon, learning about stone age natural art. Since cave men couldn’t simply pop to the shops for a brush we learnt how to make our own. By hitting the end of a hazel twig with a mallet the fibers break down and create a paintbrush. This was then used for dipping in mud paint and used to paint cave paintings.

Apologies for the lack of photos, I will work on this for next time. I’m excited for what the next month will hold.


Hawfinches, Green Men and tree guards in Northwood

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We’ve had another busy month here in Northwood. As part of our wood pasture creation, the final two 5ft chestnut tree guards for War Ag. 1 field have been constructed and installed thanks to South Downs National Trust volunteers and our regular Northwood volunteers.  This makes a total of 36 guards in this field alone.  Most of the completed guards already have trees growing inside but when winter is well underway, we’ll be planting up the rest of the guards with English oak, beech, whitebeam and field maple.

We haven’t finished there though…..thanks to a Natural England grant (Countryside Stewardship Scheme) we are receiving funding to create an additional 25 chestnut tree guards in two of our other Northwood fields (War Ags. 2 and 5/6). With help from our volunteers teams – who can probably make these guards with their eyes shut, these guards will be popping up during 2018.

The largest finch, the hawfinch was spotted at Northwood Junction last week – a first for this location. Special thanks to Linda and Ken Smith who reported the sighting of two of these beautiful birds.  Ken and Linda are Northwood volunteers who carry out Breeding Bird Surveys in the project area each year, thanks guys.

The hawfinch is a rare sighting due to declining numbers over recent years. These birds were most likely passing through Northwood during migration but maybe next time they’ll stick around for a bit longer.  Listen out for their hard ‘click’ sound and watch out for them foraging on the ground for fallen seeds or perched high up in the tree tops.

The largest finch, the hawfinch spotted in Northwood (credit:RSPB)

We’ve also been making Green Men with Bury Primary School, learning about the changing seasons. The children were very creative with their clay and natural materials as you can see from the photos below.  As a follow up session, the children will also be writing about the differences their Green Man would observe between seasons.

Next year is going to bring lots of new and exciting projects but I won’t go into it right now. I’ll let my colleague Ranger Gabby fill you in as I will be going away on Maternity Leave next week. Ranger Gabby will be taking over the Northwood project reins whilst I’m away for the year.

I look forward to following the blog with you all and finding out what 2018 has to bring to The Rise of Northwood.

Check out the new Rise of Northwood leaflet

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Nestled within the Slindon Estate is the National Trust’s largest woodland restoration project known as ‘The Rise of Northwood’  We have a new leaflet hot off the press, full of information about the area’s wildlife, history and emerging woodland.  Collect your copy from one of our Slindon Estate Car Parks or the Slindon Forge Café and find out what’s happening within the project.

The newly awaited Rise of Northwood leaflet

The leaflet also includes a self guided 3 mile walk and map to help you explore this changing landscape.  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

A copy of the leaflet can be picked up from:

Duke’s Road car park (grid ref: SU950073). Slindon, between the A27 roundabouts.

Park Lane car Park (grid ref: SU960077. Off Park Lane, Slindon, between the A27 roundabout and the A29 crossroads.

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.


Northwood Survey Working Holiday 2017

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The sun shone (with only a few light showers) throughout our third annual Northwood Survey Working Holiday Week. Thanks to 12 very enthusiastic volunteers and some very knowledgeable specialists, we collected a variety of wildlife records.

During the week we surveyed flora with Dom from Species Recovery, Moths with Derek and Mike from Sussex Moth Society, birds with Chris and Chris from Chichester RSPB, Invertebrates with Mike from Ammophila and a spot of owl pellet dissection on the last afternoon between ourselves.


Every year we do this week long survey we spot a new sighting for Northwood. This year it was a nightingale.  It was a bit late in the season to hear its beautiful song but we were able to see its chestnut rump before it flew out of sight.  There’s bound to be several new moth sightings too but I still need to tackle that data as it went on for more than six pages.  Wish me luck!  Moths are mostly active at night and can be lured into a moth trap via a light inside. They enter through a funnel and get trapped inside, first thing the next morning they are recorded and released back into the wild.  A special thanks goes out to our fabulous volunteers Carole, Jim and Fionn for camping overnight to shut down the traps at dawn.

Once I’ve imputed the data from all the surveys carried out during the week, I’ll put it into a report and upload onto the blog so watch this space.

The 2017 working group were fantastic this year and thanks to all their hard work and long hours sticking head into sweep nets and noses into ground flora, we’ve had our best survey week ever for species records – thanks guys!

The 2017 Northwood Working Holiday Volunteers

Mischievous Little Critters

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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.

Field vole (photo from Wildlife Trust)


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.

A idy little ball of grass - nest of a field vole

A Riveting Riving Experience

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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!

Wth the chestnut wedged in the riving brake, the frow can split the wood more effectivelyThe pressure is on when every man and his dog are watching over!Practice makes perfectThe finishing touches - pointing and cutting to size


Many eyes make light work!

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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!