Tales from the Wood

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Bonfires and Habitat Piles
As coppicing progresses and the produce graded, there are always bits and pieces (lop & top) which need to be managed somehow. Although most of the stick-wood has been stacked for kiln firing, some of the more twiggy stuff has to be cleared from the forest floor and burned. Now, there is some debate about this: where the bonfires are located, there will always be an area of burned ground and ash, this can be minimised by well designed fires and reducing the number of fire sites. The ash hyper-enriches the immediate ground layer and can encourage species untypical of English woodland. However the ashes could be scattered more sparsely through the woodland as, after all, the minerals and nutrients it contains, once originated in the same soil. Another approach is the humble ‘habitat-pile’. This is in reality a stack of woodland waste which is left to rot down and thus encourage insects and of course insect eating birds and beasts. I’ve opted for both techniques and use habitat piles mainly on the forest boundary. My reckoning is that this will be enhance the ‘Edge Effect’: that ecological paradise between wood and meadow.

Talking of bonfires, when I started hedge laying, many years ago, the gentleman that taught me, Bill, always maintained you could burn any wood - wet, green, thick, thin. The secret was, that you started with any dry wood available, brought it up to a ‘good orange heart’ and then laid anything over the top in a good straight line and always lying with the breeze. Never use un-snedded wood (branchy un-trimmed wood ) which creates a cold hollow and will be sure to kill the fire. Below you can see this in action. The fire consumes wood faster than you can feed it, and at the end of the day all the unburned ends are ‘turned back in’ to keep it tidy and safe. The bottom left. shows a habitat pile after a year of rotting down next to a fresh pile of ash ready for scattering.