Off their Rockers

Although it was mentioned briefly in last May’s news roundup, here is a fuller description of the greenwood chair project that appeared in the recent Bucknell newsletter.

In the last Bucknell Newsletter, I described the history of Brineddin Wood in Chapel Lawn, and how the Redlake Valley Community Benefit Society is working to improve biodiversity there. I briefly mentioned that wherever possible, more sustainable uses than firewood would be sought for any timber extracted. From lack of management in recent decades many trunks are not straight, so much felled timber will be of poor quality. Some, however, will be good enough for fencing materials and some also for craft purposes including greenwood chair-making, so earlier this year the Society teamed up with greenwood chairmaker, Mike Abbot, to find out how well Brineddin Oak performs compared with the more widely used Ash. Two carefully selected trees were felled in February.  Throughout March and April, while the wood was still green, four ‘guinea pigs’ worked with Mike to make ‘Wee Wor’ (Shropshire dialect for ‘wonky’) chairs, which are small nursing chairs on rockers based on the traditional ‘Clun Chair’. The pictures and quotes here tell their own story, but the outcome is that the oak is good for the straight pieces, but doesn’t respond well to steaming, so ash is still needed for the rockers. 

Bob James from Bryncambric cleaving some lengths  
Ros Patching from Clun making a leg with a scraper plane.
Di Cosgrove and Mark Limbrick with a pile of parts 

           

Duncan Fulton from Lydbury carefully drills a hole 

A very full day was later spent learning how make the seats from Danish paper. Mark and Di from Chapel Lawn, Duncan from Lydbury North, and Ros from Clun are delighted with their achievements. For Di Cosgrove, this was an entirely new experience, and one which she enjoyed immensely.  Her chair sits prominently in the kitchen and is admired by all visitors.

Now, apart from fitting the rockers, the four chairs are complete. Other uses for the wood may be found. One idea is to see if the outer ‘sapwood’ lends itself to basket-making. If any readers have suggestions, do get in touch.

Brineddin ‘Wee Wor’ Chairs with Brineddin Wood in the background.

Patrick Cosgrove, June 2022

Generous donation received from local business.

The Riverside Inn at Aymestry has a four-pronged approach to sustainability. Full details are here, but briefly the four themes are: local farm to plate food and drink, reduction of waste by reusing, reducing and recycling, reduction of its carbon footprint (including free EV charging), and support for wildlife and ecology preservation.  For the last of these it invites customers to make a discretionary £1.50 ‘Net-Zero’ contribution with their bill, the proceeds of which are donated to local projects. The latest beneficiary is the Redlake Valley Community Benefit Society. As a result the Society is now getting closer to repaying the interest-free loan which, alongside other donations and additional share purchases, was made to enable it to purchase ‘Henry’s Quillet’ in 2019. The directors of the Society are extremely grateful to George and Andy at The Riverside  for a generous donation of £250.  

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.