Tales from the Wood

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The Art of Hedgelaying

Way back in history, when I lived on a farm in Staffordshire, hedgelaying was part-and-parcel of everyday field maintenance. It ensured that field boundaries were stockproof and the hedges dense and secure, It gave the hedgerow-birds good tight cover for nesting and provided seasonal employment for the local 'Hedgers and Ditchers'.

I was lucky enough to be taught the art by two of Staffordhire's best; Bill Windley and Geoff Key (1985 British Champion) but despite the illustrious tuition, I was never more than a jobbing, rather than a hero hedgelayer and never did particularly well in local competitions.

But, I really loved it; there's nothing better on a freezing winter's day than a few hours grubbing around in a hedge bottom - it keeps you warm as toast and you can see a real transformation, as the neatly sloping pleachers follows your billhook and axe.

Now living in Norfolk, I've found much less evidence of hedgelaying: beets and potatoes have taken over from sheep and bullocks. However, staring me in the face, for too long now, there is a good 150 yard stretch of overgrown hedge bordering the wood, and it's ripe for laying.

The principles of hedgelaying are fairly simple, you thin the individual hedgerow trees, cut through each stem with a slicing cut, leaving just enough bark and cambium to enable the sap to rise, and then, carefully bend the stem (now a called a pleacher) down into the previously layed section.

Iv'e made a questionable start, but by the end, I guess I'll be back to average!



Hedge Laying 1

Hedge Laying 2

Hedge Laying 3

Hedge Laying 4



Emma et al

So soon after the planting, a series of storms (the most recent being Emma) did their very best to flatten the new sweet chestnut coppice. A little disheartening, but most saplings survived the ordeal and after rehousing in new tree guards they are now ready for their first spring.

Storm Damage 1


Storm Damage 2

Sweet Chestnut Coppice

Probably a rare event in modern arboriculture, but at last, the first sweet chestnuts are planted as part of a new coppice.

The 1000+ specimens are being complemented with 20 clumps of oak which will eventually be thinned to leave 20 oak standards. The chestnuts will be coppiced on a 14 year cycle as will the hazels planted on the edges.

Interestingly, there has already been a distinct character-change in the bird life visiting the site, with barn owl, green woodpecker and linnets being regular visitors.

Also, those mixed oak and conifer edges look perfect for woodlark, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.



Planting

The Bronze Foundry Project

Now that the newly felled hectare of wood is ready for replanting, a good deal of small-wood has been stacked in situ. These stacks will season over the coming year and what isn't collected will be left to decompose naturally, serving as habitat piles.

The idea is to eventually make charcoal from the small-wood and use this for a small, woodland bronze foundry. Quite experimental, but based on some good archaeological research on charcoal-fired furnace technology combined with contemporary concepts, particularly ideas related to wood gasification.

To this end, I've just completed a small test furnace (in this case, propane fired and based on a design by Olivier O. Duhamel) which I'll use for ceramic-shell bronze casting. This, I hope, will provide a sort of 'control variable' for the new project and will also get me back into the practice of metal casting, which I've neglected for a good few years now.



Felling Complete


Furnace



Beachcomber Jewellery - Adaptive Construction

A day's course on Cromer beach. The weather, thankfully, was very kind and despite being one of the cleanest beaches in the UK, we still managed to find lots of materials.

Back at the education room in the Henry Blogg Museum and overlooking the sea front, we assembled our finds into a beautiful collection of sculptural jewellery.



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The First Load

It's good to see the first load of wood leave the wood without a hitch. All overseen by Luke who's been supervising the whole operation from the beginning. He's the 3rd generation of this amazingly skilled, Norfolk forestry family and with his son and daughter are making a wonderful job of the initial felling project.

Replanting should begin in early winter and I've just heeled in the first oaks and hazels of the 1,100 new trees.



Luke


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