Spring News Round-up – it’s all about cake

Three things to report for the last few months in the quillets.

Work-parties continued while the leaves were down and the birds not nesting. The last work-party was billed to be as much about cake-eating in the open air as working hard, but such scurrilous rumours are undermined by this photograph of cleaving timber from a fallen tree before moving it – not a piece of cake!

A collaboration with chair-maker Mike Abbott was to find out how well Brineddin oak lends itself to greenwood working. The answer is not perfectly, but still not bad, although a lack of flexibility makes it not quite as workable as the more generally used ash. Nevertheless, our four guinea-pig chair-makers were highly delighted with the final products.  Some cake was consumed.

And finally, we welcomed seventeen members of Shropshire Wildlife Trust for a visit to the quillets where they learned about the flora to be found there, the history of the wood, and the Society’s hopes for the future of the wood. Cake was also eaten on that occasion! Thank you, Karen.

Work Party News

The March work party was quite different to others. Storm Arwen had brough down an oak right across the public footpath into an adjacent field. Fortunately the crown had broken its fall so the fence was more or less unscathed apart from a few staples being required. Bob James brought his chain saws, and before long the tree was cut up into smaller pieces – some to sell for firewood and two lengths to cleave into fence posts at a later date. There was a record number of 13 volunteers on this occasion – including two youngsters and their parents (all the way from Madagascar!) – an ideal number for a chain gang to pass the smaller branches up into the wood where they were used to create a dead-hedge as shelter for wildlife. The photo of the cross section of the fallen trunk is interesting. Although probably no older than eighty or ninety years, a small patch of rot can be seen in the centre. We’ve noticed this in other trees of that age, which rather supports the view that the density of the trunks in the wood is stressing the trees as they compete for moisture, nutrients and light. This is what can happen when woods are left unmanaged.

Meanwhile, Simon Jameson was experimenting with deer prevention measures. Although not as effective as fencing, he’d heard that taping off a small area might deter deer from entering and grazing. We will watch this space with interest! If it works, and the ground flora regenerates, it might prove useful as a temporary measure when coppicing hazel.

Wild daffodils?

Once all that was over and tea and cake had been taken, everyone walked back past the daffodil-lined footpath. We really must find a botanist to tell us if they are truly wild daffs or a small garden variety. Many thanks to everyone who took part. Our final work party of the season will be on Sunday 24th April – once again gather at the car park at 10.00 to walk across.

Let’s get poetic

'Tis spring; come out to ramble 
The hilly brakes around, 
For under thorn and bramble 
About the hollow ground 
The primroses are found.

So wrote A. E. Housman in The Lent Lily. However, Mark and Patrick pictured here were less concerned with rambling the hilly brakes in search of primroses, and more with freeing the young hazel trees that are being choked off by the vigorous growth of bramble inside the deer exclosure.  
Since erecting the deer fencing five years ago, it has been conclusively proven that by keeping the deer out the ground flora will spring back and coppiced hazel has a chance to regenerate.  You can see to the rear of the picture how bare the ground is beyond the fence. Although more will follow, new undergrowth so far consists largely of bramble. Often unfairly derided, bramble provides good cover for nesting birds and food for wildlife. Hundreds of creatures use it at different times of the year: insects visit the flowers for pollen and nectar, including bumblebees, honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and lacewings. Hazel is also a valuable source of food for wildlife. Its leaves provide food for many moth species and  coppiced areas of hazel where light penetrates provide more open flowery habitats that support many fritillary species of butterfly. Dormice feed on both blackberries and hazel nuts, but with a depleted ground flora throughout most of the wood, no evidence of their presence has yet been noted.  Dormice live at low densities, are poor colonisers and have a low reproductive rate, so time will tell if we manage to attract them back. But we live in hope as there is at least one anecdotal report of their presence nearby. 


Guinea Pig Required

The Society is currently thinking about how best to manage its quillets for biodiversity, which will involve some carefully thought-out felling. We have not fully developed our plans, but one principle we wish to observe wherever possible is to find sutainable uses for any tmber that is of good quality.

Eminent green wood chair-maker, Mike Abbott, has very generously agreed to conduct trials with us to find out how well Brineddin oak lends itself to chair-making. Mike will be running a four-day course using recently felled timber from the quillets, He has three people signed up, but there is still one spare place available on a first-come first-served basis. The end result will be a simple but beautiful green wood chair

The first two days shaping the components will be at Chapel Lawn on Wednesday and Thursday, 16th/17th of this month. The second two days will be later in the spring to assemble the chairs – dates to be negotiated between Mike and the four participants and to be held near Ledbury. Depending on progress, a fifth day might be required to weave the seat. As this is experimental, the cost is heavily discounted at £100 in aid of Society funds. No previous experience is required.

There are at least two chairs worth of heartwood here

If you wish to take part, please email me, Patrick Cosgrove, at pccosgrove@icloud.com, and the first taker will be the winner. The idea of course, should the wood prove suitable, is to run full cost courses in the future. Please note that the plan is to run the February days in a garden marquee, so it may be a little chilly. A sandwhich lunch will be included and there will be tea/coffee on tap. It is also possible, although not yet definite, that we will be filming the event, so best not to apply if you’re camera shy!

The Great Step(pe)s

Not quite on the scale of Russia, but impressive nevertheless, last week’s work party not only repaired a few rotten steps on the original ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but completed the second flight that connects with them via Henry’s Quillet.

This means that anyone wanting to venture deeper into the wood without having to tackle the gradient, can now take a short circular route that is far enough away from the public footpath to really appreciate the tranquillity afforded by the trees.

Ollie and Martin replacing rotten steps

Congratulations and thanks to all involved for giving up a series of Sunday mornings to make this possible. All are invited to visit at any time to enjoy this new dimension. All are also invited to take part in future work parties. Work required at present includes removing brambles from deer netting and young hazel, and protecting shoots growing from the stools of recently felled trees. Dates are: Sundays 27th February, 27th March and 24th April, the final one being as much of a get-together as a work party. For all dates, assemble at 10.00 am in Chapel Lawn Car Park and then walk across to the quillets.

Plan of rustic steps

The Redlake Valley Hedge fund

Our Society still has almost £3,000 to pay of the interest-free loan from a generous backer that enabled us to buy the second quillet in Brineddin Wood. But with no regular source of income, that presents problems.

To the rescue – Society board member Bob James from Bryncambric Farm at Chapel Lawn.

Bob has farmed here all his life and has a wealth of invaluable practical skills. At his suggestion, it was agreed that traditional hedge-laying might be a way of raising money. So that is what we’ve been doing recently – in two ways.

The first way was for volunteers to work with Bob on small hedging contracts costed at £10 per metre. The first photo here is of a recently completed hedge-line near Llangunllo looking very smart in bright frosty sunshine. In the second picture taken the next day, Bob is tamping down the heathering rods In order to bind the pleached stems, croppers and stakes together ready for new growth to finish the job in the coming months.

The second way was for people who wanted to learn how to lay a hedge to work with Bob on his own fields, and in return make a donation to Society funds. In these two photos, John and Elly Bibby from nearby Obley are making good progress on a hedge just below the Iron-age hill fort. They enjoyed it so much that they came back for more and may even come back again. 

We often say, the Community Benefit Society is about more than just a piece of woodland. In this case, how true, as it brings people together who, although not living far apart, might not otherwise have met and enjoyed each other’s company.

NOVEMBER IN THE QUILLETS

Four things to report this month.

Firstly, to bring your attention to a couple of discussion papers that the Society’s Treasurer, Anthony Morgan, has written. The first, written in 2020, summarises the condition of Brineddin Wood and possible ways in which the Society could manage its quillets with a view to increasing biodiversity. The second, written this month, describes how our thoughts have moved in the direction of more coppicing of oaks, but only if we can raise the funds for a more extensive deer exclosure. The papers can be found at item 7 on the Documents page of this website.

Secondly, although excellent news that the debt outsanding from the purchase of Henry’s Quillet has now been reduced by £2,000 to £3,000, fund-raising remains a priority. We hope to make further inroads on that amount this winter by offering our traditional hedge-laying service to local land-owners.

Next, a few photos to act as an an update on our previous post (see below) about planting a couple of Hampshire oak seedlings. Our ‘alien invaders’ are both now installed at the top of the rustic steps, carefully staked and guarded.

Finally, six intrepid step builders who braved the bitterly cold aftermath of Storm Arwen and constructed thirteen more steps leading up through Henry’s quillet. Equally bitter will be their disappointment if the new steps are not visited, used, admired and commented on.

ALIENS HAVE LANDED!

The Redlake Valley Community Benefit Society has occasionally carried out some light thinning of oak trees in its two Brineddin Wood quillets – especially weak specimens – to let light in and encourage a richer shrub layer and ground flora, which in turn will increase invertebrate and bird life. Sometimes felled oaks will regenerate from the stool (stump), particularly if no older than 70 years of age, but if not, replacement is the alternative means of ensuring succession. In this case, in a small clearing created at the top of the rustic steps, two young oaks have been planted, grown from acorns of Quercus robur, the Pedunculate (or English) Oak. The oaks in Brineddin are all Quercus petraea, the Sessile Oak, so-named because unlike Q. robur, the acorns do not have a stem and sit directly on the twig. These ‘invaders’, grown from Hampshire acorns – are a small experiment to see if they thrive here.

Grown from a New Forest acorn

Generally, Q petraea grows at higher altitudes in thinner soil, while Q. robur thrives in richer soil at a lower altitude, but their ranges overlap and hybrids of the two species occur. In the very long term, it may be that climate change enables Q. robur to naturally extend its range uphill at the expense of Q. petraea.  In this instance, we’re hoping to give these two a helping hand.

A Busy October

After a period of enforced dormancy, the Society is on the move again.

CHAPEL LAWN THREE-IN-ONE

Although the ‘Redlake Valley Now and Then’ mini-festival had been cancelled because of rising Covid cases, some outdoor events carried on under the banner of ‘Chapel Lawn Three in One’.

For the ‘Wetland Wander’ on Thursday 7th October, seven people arrived at New Invention to be given a guided walk around the new wetland there with AONB Project Oficer Alison Jones. Alison explained how the rushy area at the bottom of the sloping field had been deculverted in July 2020. The aim was to help reduce sediment in the River Redlake and to assist the slowing of the water flow, as well as the creation of new wet woodland by planting 90 trees. Already, the variety of wildlife has increased markedly, with many sightings of damselflies and dragonflies, snipe, stoats, wrens, and heron. Wildflowers are beginning to push back into the new wetland, notably Marsh Bedstraw. Water shrimp are in profusion among the Watercress stems and roots, which will provide a source of food for many other species. Each year will see more changes as the trees grow.

On the following day, 16 people accompanied local naturalist, Rob Rowe, on a foraging walk along the valley, with a pause for a hedge-laying demonstration by Michael Bright. Alongside many other fascinating facts, the foragers learned that sliced burdock root makes delicious chips, comfrey leaves can be used as a poultice for arthritis, and coltsfoot leaves rolled into a ‘cigarette’ are a good way to clear a wheezy chest. Between Pentre and Wheelbarrow Bridge there was an unresolved discussion to try and determine whether the ‘Pentre Pippin’ leaning across the road is a wild crab apple tree or an old garden variety. 

Then, on the Saturday, the Kemp Valley Apple Group visited the village hall to press and pasteurise apples. Altogether, about 200 litres of delicious juice were produced and taken away by those who had brough fruit. The general consensus was that all three events should be repeated.

AGM

A brief but necessary AGM was held partly in person and partly by Zoom on 27th October . Annual accounts were presented and declared in good order. All six board members agreed to continue in post.

WORK PARTIES IN THE QUILLETS

The first of this season’s work parties took place on Sunday 31st. After heavy overnight rain and a couple of morning showers, six volunteers busied themselves continuing to build steps on ‘Henry’s Quillet’. Amazingly, ten steps had appeared by coffee-break and another four added before the supply of materials ran out. Many thanks to all who turned up, worked hard to use up available materials and drink the coffee! The next work party is on Sunday 28th November: meet at 10am in the Chapel Lawn village hall car park. All welcome. The aim at present is to complete the new, shorter flight of steps into the lower reaches of the wood, and to improve the level pathway that connects it to the main flight, thus creating a short, circular walk that provides a perspective of the wood not fully appreciated from the public footpath.

CHAPEL LAWN THREE-IN-ONE


Wetland Wander’ on Thursday 7th October

This will be with Alison Jones, the Advisor for Farming in Protected Landscapes with Shropshire Hills AONB. It will be from 10.00 to about 12.00 am at Stags Head, New Invention, SY7 0BS where Sarah & Simon Jameson bought a field next to their house at auction in September 2018. Since then they have been managing the land for biodiversity, including the creation of a strip of wetland by deculverting a large land drain, planting trees and enhancing the hay meadow for wildflowers. The wetland project was funded via the Shropshire Hills AONB with the Woodland Trust and Environment Agency. They have planted nearly 1000 trees with help from the AONB and Woodland Trust. One of the ponds was enlarged via the Shropshire Wildlife Trust Shropshire Ponds project. There is more information here: https://sarahnewinvention.wixsite.com/we-bought-a-field .To book a place Phone Sarah Jameson on 01547 528546 or email images@sarahjameson.co.uk . There is a small charge of £3 to offset publicity and other associated costs.

Wild Food Foraging Walk on Friday 8th October

This will be run by Rob Rowe, a well-known south Shropshire naturalist who has now run quite a few foraging and plant hunting days, searching for edible and medicinal species. This combines Rob’s botanical skills with his love of names and story and is a good way of engaging people and drawing them in to the natural world on our doorstep. Rob has lived and botanised in South Shropshire for 40 years and during that time has conducted plant surveys for many organisations including the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, Caring for Gods Acre, and local Community Wildlife Groups. He has also helped set up the Marches Meadow Group and the Middle Marches Community Land Trust and is  currently helping with a hedge project with CPRE Shropshire, the Countryside Charity who are also supporting this event.

Walkers will be searching the hedgerows for seasonal edibles and stopping en route for a hedge-laying demonstration. The starting point is the Chapel Lawn Village hall car park, SY7 0BW, at 10.00 am. Appropriate clothing and footwear for the time of year is required. Again, there is a small charge of £3 to offset publicity and other associated costs. If you would like to attend, please phone Patrick Cosgrove on 01547-530347/07757-559409 or email pccosgrove@icloud.com

Apple-pressing on Saturday 9th October.

This will be with the Kemp Valley Apple Group and will be outside Chapel Lawn Village hall, SY7 0BW,  from 11.00 am until about 4.30 pm. Apples can be juiced and also pasteurized which means that the juice will last for 12 months or more. As well as their apples (and pears can be mixed in), people need to bring along their clean bottles and plastic containers. Plastic containers of any size are suitable for immediate consumption or for freezing juice.  75 cl wine bottles with screw lids are necessary for pasteurising. Pressing – 50p/litre. Pasteurising 40p/bottle. In order to avoid having to wait too long when you arrive, please book in advance with Sara Randall on sara@randallfulton.org.uk or 01588-680096. Payment will be by cash on the day.