When I see the lower leaves on the hazel start to go yellow with the odd leaf fluttering to the ground I know I can start cutting hurdle rods again. Prior to this age old activity I have been on the farm during harvest. One of my jobs is to sow cover crops. These are drilled directly into the stubble either literally as a catch crop between harvest and drilling in the autumn or left until sowing begins again in the spring.
I have drilled winter turnip rape, oats, rye mixture, interval kale, sunflowers, mustard and radish this year. There are many more and this practice is an integral part of eco/environmental farming which is practiced around my village.
The cover crops use up any fertility in the soil that could be leached out, improve soil structure and increase the organic matter. There is little tillage, that is, minimal or no cultivation, definitely no ploughing which is disastrous to the structure and uses up large quantities of diesel in the process. The following crop is then normally direct drilled into the cover crop residue. Get down on your hands and knees and the benefit of this arable husbundry is clear to see, increased organic matter. scurrying ground beetles and spiders by the score. This is fantastic for seed and insect ground feeding birds. There are plenty of raptors around here, kites, buzzards, kestrels, hobby’s during the summer, and barn owls which shows there is plenty to feed and prey on.. Evidence a plenty that this type of farming although intensive is better for the natural environment. But there is still a long way to go.
It was a joy to be back in the woods working up hazel ready to be turned into hurdles. To see the white of the butt end of the rods in orderly heaps and smell the rich cycle of life, of decay and renewal which goes on year after year unnoticed by passers by.
In between hurdle making and delivering firewood I have been coppicing derelict coppice on a nearby estate. I had produced a 10 year management plan for its woodland with the aim of reducing non-native conifers and others such as Hybrid Black Poplar, improve the woodland by opening up rides, coppicing either side of watercourses to create areas of dappled shade and full sun. In places to reduce the holly ingress. Holly is great for birds to feed and for some to nest in, the dry leaf litter is ideal for hedgehogs and other mammals to bury into. However it can be invasive gradually taking over and shading out ground flora.
All the woods cover terrain unsuitable for any forestry practice during most of the year except the driest months . Many sites have been dug over for marl in the past leaving massive pits which have been colonised by ash, oak , hazel and holly. Most of the woods have not been cut since the second world war.
Coppicing either side of a watercourse in one wood has revealed what looks like the remains of two dams, could these have held water to power machinery further downstream?
Evidence of the very mild autumn is finding holly in flower, throughout the wood, Ilex aquifolium normally opens flowers in May!
Mild and damp air streams can make this job uncomfortable, waterproof or no waterproof; I normally wear a long sleeved thermal top plus chainsaw trousers and boots provided you keep moving, to feed a fire by cutting and dragging certainly keeps you warm enough. I use plenty of dead wood to start the fire, time spent getting a good solid heart to the fire saves so much time later in the day. I try not to let any hollow areas form in the fire, each piece and branch needs to be in contact with burning material, the old adage “butts to the wind boy” is a must.
I have never cut hazel of this size before, it must be at least 60 years old, there is no fast way of cutting this stuff, just stem by stem, I’m endeavouring to leave a shoot per stool so I can layer and propagate as I go.
These old hazel stems have some beautiful lichen and moss attached. The cord wood is stacked to create habitat piles whilst the rest is burnt keeping my fire going.