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.


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


Bramble and Barbed Wire Fencing – Ugh!

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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.