Owning and restoring my own woodland

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Three years ago I bought a four acre, mixed broadleaf PAWS woodlot in Yorkshire.

I was a retired telecommunications engineer and knew virtually nothing about woodland management but was keen to learn.

I heard from a woodland neighbour that the Woodland Trust would do a survey and write a report. It was a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to help owners of small neglected ancient woodlands, to start the process of restoration. Robin, the project officer walked the woods, took notes and duly wrote the report and a suggested management plan which I have tried to follow. He has returned many times and been a valued mentor and friend, organising talks and visits to other woods. He kick-started my woodland restoration project.

The wood was dark, overrun with bramble and at one end, overstocked with 40-50 year old sycamore which badly needed thinning. As a one-man outfit and living fifty miles from the woods, one of the main challenges is the sheer lack of man power and hands-on time. The other one is the constant battle with bramble which suppresses natural regeneration and ground cover.

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Ancient Woodland Restoration

Nevertheless, visiting less than once a week, I have successfully re-coppiced a small hazel coupe and planted around thirty new trees there. I’ve opened up a small area amongst the sycamore which I replanted with oak saplings. I'll continue to enlarge this area. I’ve cleared a small open area of bramble and bracken and planted a small mixture of native trees. Where I have managed to keep bramble down, in spring the wood anemones and bluebells positively thrive. One area which had been used to rear pheasants and was virtually devoid of any ground cover is now bursting with wild plants and hundreds of new saplings.

Woodland management is essential to get the best out of your land and what grows on it (Photo: WTML/ Phil Formby)
Woodland management is essential to get the best out of your land and what grows on it (Photo: WTML/ Phil Formby)

I’ve created an area for overnight camping when I can cook on an open fire and practice bushcraft skills (nettle and bramble cordage is surprisingly strong). I’ve built a small shelter and a shave horse to practice green woodworking using my own timber. I’ve made and erected numerous bird boxes and built brash dead-hedges for nesting.

Last but not least are the new friends I’ve made who are my woodland neighbours. So, not a bad achievement in three years! I’ve enjoyed every minute there.