Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Last weekend saw the start of our 2009 / 2010 season of coppicing. Jill and I decided we'd make a start and try and gauge just how much coppicing we can do between us in one season. That will give us an idea of how big to make each of our cants. The hazel coppice we have is only around 5 years old, and is still quite small to produce the sort of lengths and diameter of poles that are really useful for bean poles, hurdle fencing, pergola stakes and the like.

During the weekend of the 10th October we felled an ash tree to continue the process of bringing the ash back into coppiced rotation (as outlined in our felling licence from the Forestry Commission).

We also walked the perimeter to check for loose and broken overhanging branches. Nothing was found.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Birds nests and hornets

On Saturday (26th September 2009) we spent time putting up four new bird boxes (with 35mm apertures). We also opened the two boxes we had put up last March. One we know had been used to raise a family of bluetits, and inside we found a beautiful mattress of mosses and feathers. In the other we found two dead hornets – possibly the reason that the box wasn’t used for nesting.

Our friend Chris came over for tea during the morning, bringing Jack the dog with her. Chris brought Tunnocks with her, too – yummy!

We spent some time looking at where we want to start coppicing at the end of October, and have decided that a good place would be toward the north side, about half way along.

We also had a walk around the outside and took photos of the black bryony.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Silver Washed Fritillaries

Today, Sunday, we had a gathering in Rainbow Wood. We invited a bunch of different friends over for morning coffee and fruit cake (bought at the Henfield summer fair and made by the WI - and it was delicious). We lit a fire and kept it stoked to boil the kettle.

The morning promised to stay wet, but after an early shower or two the wind picked up slightly and the sun came out. The extra bit of warmth provided by the sunshine soon had the silver washed fritillaries on the wing (picture on the left). There were plenty of other butterflies, too - among them we saw red admirals.

The ash we felled earlier this year has bounced back with lots of new shoots - some of which are now about 1 metre high, and hopefully, will soon be out of reach of browsing roe deer.

We also have Enchanter's Nightshade Circaea Lutetiana with its irridescent white flowers.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Wet Weekend

Well!! So much for the best laid plans of mice and mortals. We had planned for several weeks to make the weekend of 11th and 12th July a camping weekend. My brother Julian, his kids and a friend Steve, with his kids, were going to spend a fun weekend in Rainbow Wood. From very early on in the week, our plans looked spoiled as the weather folks kept showing this swirling mass of rain and cloud, followed by a cold front, sweeping in from the Atlantic. The moment of decision arrived, and a few phone calls later everyone had been told - camping is definitely off!

It started to rain in the early evening of Friday; drizzle at first, later turning to quite heavy rain. The floor of Rainbow Wood would be getting squelchy, the trees would be getting heavy with water drops and the fire wood for our camp would be taking on the burning characteristics of damp asbestos.

Saturday's weather didn't improve. Drizzle all day, which was occasionally relieved by heavier downpours. However, not to be defeated, Jill and I got the chainsaw out at home and finished cutting the ash we had felled earlier in the year into woodburner sized chunks. The pile grew quickly and we even managed to get it all into our wood store at the top of our garden. (Our wood store is an ancient Andersen shelter from World War II, which would have been capable of supporting a family of four during air raids.)

Monday, 29 June 2009

Tree Creepers

This last weekend we camped over in Rainbow Wood with a couple of friends, Jen and Chris. We had a really wonderful time basking in the warmth of one of those rare balmy summer's evenings. As the sun set we marvelled at the crows returning to their favourite trees to roost, wheeling and calling until the last few arrived and settled.

Unfortunately, sometime in the early hours (it was still dark) an intruder alarm was set off in the far distance. It was loud enough though to keep me awake for an hour or two until it fell quiet. As compensation, the dawn chorus started at first light, gathering momentum and rising to a crescendo as the Sun rose.

At breakfast, cooked over an open fire, we sat and watched a tree creeper going about its business looking for insects whilst performing acrobatics on the trunk of an ash tree.

And Jack the Dog came, too...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Wood Burning Poem

There hasn't been much activity in Rainbow Wood since my last post; we have just enjoyed being there. Tonight (Sunday) we are having friends over for a BBQ and social. We wanted to camp, but the weather has not been too kind this week and made it quite muddy underfoot.

While browsing someone elses blog this afternoon I came across this poem about burning logs. I rather like it, though I have seen something similar before.

Logs to burn! Logs to burn!
Logs to save the coal a turn!
Here’s a word to make you wise
When you hear the woodsman’s cries.

Beech wood fires burn bright and clear,

Hornbeam blazes too’
If the logs are kept a year
To season through and through.

Oak logs will warm you well

If they are old and dry.
Larch logs of the pine smell
But the sparks will fly.

Pine is good and so is Yew

For warmth through winter days,
But poplar and the willow too
Take long to dry or blaze.

Birch logs will burn too fast,

Alder scarce at all,
Chestnut logs are good to last
If cut in the fall

Holly logs will burn like wax –

You should burn them green.
Elm logs like a smouldering flax,
No flames to be seen.

Pear logs and apple logs

They will scent a room,
Cherry logs across the dogs
Smell like flowers in bloom.

But Ash logs all smooth and grey,

Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way
They’re worth their weight in Gold!


Monday, 25 May 2009

Jays, Damsel Flies and Unwanted Visitors

This weekend we had the great thrill of seeing a jay in Rainbow Wood. We have occasionally seen them when we've been on holiday in Cornwall, but to see a jay so near home was wonderful.

We also have lots of damsel flies with their bright blue iridescent bodies in stark contrast to the vivid green of the leaves of this year's spring growth.

The family of blue tits nesting in our bird box have succesfully fledged this weekend, too. We didn't actually see them go, but we are pleased to have been able to provide a home for at least one family of these beautiful birds.

Last week we also discovered that we have a crab apple tree, and it's fruiting. That'll provide lots of apples for winter birds that stay in the wood.

On a slightly more disturbing note, we had someone 'visit' on Saturday night and vandalise one of the ash trees by carving a rather stupid face into the bark. They also left us their discarded food wrappers and drinks bottle. We don't mind uninvited visitors provided they respect the space we have created and respect the trees and wildlife.

The last job of the weekend was to walk the perimeter to check for wind damaged trees and overhanging branches. All was well.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Bird Boxes

On our visit to the wood today we went to investigate the two bird boxes that we had previously installed - one on 'Middle Tree', a 70 years old oak, and one on 'the Faraway Tree', possibly 100+ years old. The boxes were installed back in February and the one on Middle Tree has a hole diameter of 25mm and the one on Faraway Tree has a 35mm hole. The boxes, which we bought from the RSPB, were put on the north side of the tree to provide shade from the summer sunshine (if we get any!!).

I am pleased to say that the box on the Faraway Tree has blue tits in residence. If they succesfully nest then next year I would like to install more boxes and put cameras into one or two of them.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

First Camp

Jill and I decided that Saturday night (2nd May) was a good night to stay over in the wood; with champagne and jacket potatoes in hand we set forth and pitched camp in what has affectionately become known as ‘glade 1’. (I’m sure we can find a better name at a later date!!)

It did rain during the night but we were warm and cosy in the tent. The dawn chorus from all the birds was fantastic – if a little early at first light (4:30 am).

Monday, 20 April 2009

Early Purple

We have two early purple orchids in Rainbow Wood.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Felling Licence

A few weeks ago we applied to the Forestry Commission for a felling license to try and keep everyone informed of our intentions to manage the woodland in a sustainable, traditional way. As with all applications a copy of the license application was sent to the District Council and the Parish Council for information and comment. Our request was for the thinning of a few of the more mature oaks and to bring back the ash into a coppiced rotation. The ash hasn't been coppiced for around 50 years.

We have just heard our application has been successful.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Last Coppice

Yesterday was our last coppicing activity until next autumn. The sap is rising in the hazel and the leaves are beginning to emerge. We also did some bramble clearing ready for our fist sleepover with friends.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

First Cuppa

This morning Jill and I set off for the woods with a shiny new kettle and a jar of hot chocolate. We had some brash that needed burning as a result of coppicing some hazel for bean poles.

While we were out we took the opportunity to patrol our perimeter and check for overhanging branches. All was well - no diseased or dead wood over the paths and rides.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Visitors, Responsibilities and Public Liability

Because of our increasingly litigious society, Jill and I decided to take out third party liability insurance for Rainbow Wood. Although we take every care to ensure a safe environment, it seems that we must protect ourselves against injury to people and their pets in our woodland - whether or not we have invited them to be there! We even have to insure ourselves against the possibility of trespassers marauding through our wood and injuring themselves.

We keep a running log of any regular patrols of the boundaries and woodland that we undertake, and also log anything we consider to be a hazard such as branches overhanging the boundary footpaths. We also undertake to patrol after storms to check that nothing has become dislodged. Anything we indentify as a hazard is then dealt with - eg lopping branches and felling unsafe trees.

In many respects this rigorous attention is counterproductive to the natural state of the woodland as it destroys the ecosystem and natural processes of
decay much needed as habitat for birds, bats, insects, mice and other small mammals.

Since ‘Right to Roam’ can be exercised over large tracts of hillside, many people imagine that all countryside, including woodland, is now open access. Unless a wood was previously ‘common land’ no such right exists. Rainbow Wood is ancient woodland and has never been used as common land.

Readers - please see ‘Managing Visitor Safety in the Countryside’ - www.vscg.co.uk/

Monday, 16 March 2009

Clearing the Access

Dave and I set off this morning with picks and shovels to clear the access to Rainbow Wood. Jill and I had already made a start last Saturday by clearing out the ditch; we removed 9 rather large logs that someone had piled in there. Dave and I took a 3.5m length of pipe and placed it into the bottom of the ditch. We then started to back fill the ditch with soil from the mound which was conveniently placed just beyond the bargate. The water in the ditch now flows freely and the access track into the wood is looking a lot more accessible than before. All that remains now is to lay some Bodpave Grass Pavers. These form an 'eggbox' pattern that provides strength for the vehicle to drive over, but allows the grass to grow up through it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


Yesterday I went for a walk over near Stopham Bridge, West Sussex, to see the wild daffodils. It is a bit early, but there were some fine blossoms to be seen. It would be nice to have native wild daffodils in Rainbow Wood.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ecology and Felling Licenses

This week we have had two visitors to Rainbow Wood - Ben the ecologist and Dave from the Forestry Commission.

Ben walked around the wood with us pointing out some of the plant species we have; eg laurel spurge, bugle, and the more obvious primroses and bluebells. We also have woodpeckers, robins, wrens, pheasants, black caps, blackbirds and blue tits.

Dave from the Forestry Commission talked about bringing some of the ash back into a coppiced rotation and taking out one or two of the oak and the more mature ash standards to let in more light to the floor. This would encourage a greater variety of flowers and wildlife (particularly butterflies).

I asked Dave about the need to remove some of the dead branches from the oak standards - but Dave pointed out that these provide excellent habitat for bats, small birds and insects and are best left.

Jill and I were not sure if we needed a felling license as it seems unlikely that we'll exceed the allowance of more than 5 cubic metres in any one quarter. Anyhow, Dave suggested that it would be a good idea to apply anyway.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Shave Horse

I've been very busy over the past week making a shave-horse. A shave horse is used to work the pieces of green wood cut during coppicing. The horse clamps the work-piece in place by using forward pressure of your feet against the work board and the top of the treddle. Using a drawknife to smooth and shape pieces of green wood, all sorts of things can be made quickly and easily. A piece of split hazel about 25mm across can quickly become a plant label or one side of a bread holder for feeding birds.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Charcoal Burning

Today, Jill and I have been helping our neighbours in Tottington Woods make charcoal. We normally make charcoal in a huge kiln (2.5m in diameter and 1.5m high), but today we were demonstrating the process to the local sea scouts group - 10 and 12 year olds.

The old oil drum is first packed to the top with chunks of seasoned wood from last years hazel coppice, and then kindling is placed on top. The whole drum is then turned over and placed on bricks to allow the air in to get the wood burning. The drum, when turned over, has four holes in the top to allow the smoke and gases to escape. The term 'charcoal burning' is a bit of a minsnomer as it's actually the wood that is burnt to make the charcoal. The charcoal isn't burnt until you put it on the barbie to cook your food.

Once the smoke turns clear (after about an hour and a half) the four holes are covered over with four metals sheets, and soil is piled on top to create an air seal. The vents at the bottom are also sealed with soil to exclude all the air. The drum is then left to smoulder. When it has completely cooled (about 12 hours) the drum is lifted off, and hopefully the wood that was stacked inside has turned to charcoal.

This is the finished product from our oil drum.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

First jobs

One of the first jobs Jill and I want to do is to make a hard standing for our truck. We have enlisted our old mate Dave to lend a hand.

At the entrance to the wood there is a shallow ditch with a single bar gate just beyond it. This opens out into a space suitable for parking. The ditch presents a bit of an obstacle, and we decided the best way to tackle it was to dig it out and put in a drainage pipe to carry the water. We will then cover this over with plastic 'egg boxes' to spread the weight of the truck, and then cover it all over with gravel, allowing the grass and other plants to grow up and the water to drain away.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

In the beginning

At the beginning of December 2008, Jill and I decided to buy a piece of woodland. We had been searching for a number of years, but the woods we saw were either too big, too small, or too far away. The woodland we wanted had to be within walking or cycling distance of home and accessible by vehicle to allow us to transport our produce. The woodland we found fitted all the criteria. It is 3.6 ha (9 acres) of oak and ash standards with a few silver birches. The understorey is hazel coppice.

Rainbow Wood is ancient woodland; the oaks are mature and the hazel has been coppiced (last coppiced five years ago). We intend to carry on managing the woodland in the traditional, sustainable way, coppicing the hazel to make bean poles, plant labels, stakes, hurdles, charcoal and other woodland produce. This method of management opens up areas of the woodland in rotation allowing native flowers, such as orchids and bluebells, to thrive. It also allows shrubs and brambles to develop as food and habitat for butterflies and insects.

Rainbow Wood is part of a larger woodland (32 hectares) in West Sussex. To the south lie the South Downs, to the north is open pasture. The northern boudary is marked with an ancient woodbank and a seasonal stream. Woodbanks were used to mark boundaries in previous centuries. The earth is dug from a ditch and piled above to make the bank. On top of the bank dead branches and twigs are layered. They make a good boundary as the sides are steep and are generally cattle proof. In Rainbow Wood the old branches and twigs are long gone.

Buying the woodland was quite straightforward. It's a bit like buying a house with searches and land registry, but somewhat simpler as there was no chain. We saw the advert on the 'Woodlands' website - www.woodlands.co.uk

Once we had declared our intention to buy, we instructed our solicitor to do the conveyancing, and within a few weeks, we had signed the contract.