Category Archives: Woodland Conservation

For items related to woodland conservation and biodiversity

Low Impact Extraction to aid Woodland Restoration

Restoration of Native woodland on Ancient woodland sites has been growing in importance over the last decade as a mechanism for recovering previously lost or diminished habitat. For those conifer Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) that are deemed suitable for full or partial restoration, there are many pitfalls to avoid to achieve this goal successfully.

One such activity I’ll cover in this post is the extraction. The wrong choice made could seriously reduce the benefits of restoration to a woodland site. It could even make the situation worse than before the restoration, so careful consideration should be made for each site. If new extraction routes are required to get machinery in, and timber out, then this alone could cause serious damage to the existing ecological conditions and/or restrict the restoration development afterwards. The choice of extraction equipment is vital to give the site being restored the best chance to recover, create the right type of ground disturbance and avoid damage through soil compaction.

Over the years I have experienced two different types of low impact extraction the first being horse logging and the other with an Iron horse low ground pressure machine. Implemented correctly, both of these extraction types are very good for PAWS restoration. My experiences with horse logging were a few years ago when I volunteered some time to the Working Horse Trust based in Eridge, East Sussex. The Ardenne heavy horses that I worked with at the Trust are beautiful and powerful animals, capable of shifting significant amounts of timber through narrow extraction routes, without damaging the woodland floor. My lack of equine knowledge didn’t worry me as there were experienced and friendly people on hand to help. I seriously considered horse logging as a profession to integrate into my business.

Ardenne Heavy Horse with logging arch

Ardenne Heavy Horse with logging arch Weald WoodFair 2009

Iron Horse extracting 18' coppice poles

Iron Horse along a woodland ride extracting 18′ coppice poles

However, after weighing up all the pros and cons I decided that horse logging wasn’t the right choice and opted for an Iron horse instead. This has proved extremely valuable to the business and has been impressive in a number of different extraction tasks. Like with a horse’s hoofs, the machines rubber tracks are good at disturbing the top layer to help unlock a sites seedbank.

The Iron horse and horse logging extraction methods are slower and more costly than other larger types of extraction equipment, but what price to you put on the damage the alternatives can cause?

Coppice site extracted using and Iron Horse

Coppice site extracted using and Iron Horse

Charcoal, the Good, the Bad and the Dirty

Locally produced Charcoal

With the Summer weather improving there will be more opportunities to cook on a barbecue and dine with friends and family outside. You might not think that there could be many differences between brands of charcoal, but there are. In this post I will compare home produced from our native hardwoods with that from tropical hardwoods. Unfortunately, the UK still imports the majority of charcoal consumed annually. British hardwood charcoal is a higher quality and a better product than that produced from tropical hardwoods, and here are some reasons why:


  • There are far fewer impurities in the finished product so it will not taint the food being cooked. The same thing cannot be said for that produced from tropical hardwoods.
  • It is easy to light with a taper of twisted paper, so does not need any lighter fluids or firelighters. When using lighter fluids or firelighters with charcoal, you will increase the chances of tainting any food being cooked from the extra residues.
  • Charcoal made from UK hardwoods has a high carbon content. It will burn slower, you will use less, so it will last longer than tropical hardwood.
  • UK production is often associated with sustainable forms of woodland management like coppicing. This type of woodland management enhances and maintains a diverse mix of wildlife habitats in our woodlands, thus keeping our woodlands healthy and thriving with wildlife. Whereas tropical hardwood charcoal often comes from rainforest and mangrove swamps, that use unsustainable and ecologically damaging harvesting practices in the form of deforestation.
  • Buying British helps sustain rural employment. It is more environmentally friendly than imported charcoal that has to be shipped long distances using more fossil fuels in the process. Importing less will, in a small way, contribute to reducing our trade imbalances.
  • Making it is a good method for using up small otherwise unusable pieces of wood by converting them into a higher value product.

Based on retail price British hardwood charcoal is more costly than imported tropical hardwood charcoal. However, comparing purely on price is not a fair comparison as I hope you will appreciate from the points mentioned above.

There are many smallscale producers all over the country. Some do supply big retail outlets directly, but be aware that big retailers squeeze producers in all sectors. So if you can, try and source either directly from the producer or from small local retail outlets and distributors selling their products.

British Hardwood Charcoal in a round Kiln

Fresh from the kiln

Old Beech Hedgerow

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I stumbled upon this old Beech hedgerow whilst walking in Dorset.

May Tree

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Hawthorn blossom is a sure sign that Spring has arrived in England and it usually reaches full bloom during the second week of May, but in Scotland it’s a different matter; here it can often be as late as mid-June. The Scots even have a saying: “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot”, roughly translated this means don’t pack your woollies away until the May flowers are in full bloom [Hawthorn blossoms].

In Celtic folklore it is believed that the Hawthorn can heal a broken heart, whilst in Serbian and Croatian folklore, Hawthorn stakes are thought to be deadly to vampires.

On a more practical level, the wood of some species of Hawthorn is extremely hardy and rot resistant. Not recognised as a timber growing tree by the UK Forestry industry but is nevertheless an important species for wildlife. Hawthorns are also recommended for hedges and water conservation landscapes.

Native Albino Bluebell

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It seems to be a blogger’s rite of passage to mention bluebells at the moment. Before they fade from seasonal popularity I thought I’d post a photo of a less common albino bluebell. There were others like this scattered amongst a sea of familiar bluebell colour. These were found in a woodland that coppiced cordwood is being extracted from. Many tonnes of Sweet Chestnut, Ash, Silver Birch, Hornbeam and some Hazel have now been transported to the landing site, ready to be turned into fencing materials or sold on for firewood. Other coupes that were coppiced in previous years are growing rapidly and are buzzing with wildlife. There is now 1.5 hectares of coppice that is protected by temporary deer netting. The hope was to reuse the netting from a few years ago. However, even though the coppice has put on tremendous growth in that particular coupe, there is some natural regen in parts that the owner did not want to risk losing to the deer. There is a large fallow herd in the area that could pass through anytime and destroy all the good work. Whilst on the subject of deer, there was a sad discovery of a recently dead roe buck that was the victim of a road collision. It looked like it was struck at the rear and collapsed a short distance in the woodland from the main road.

Heywood Wood

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A great place to visit is the Forestry Commission’s Heywood Wood, near Eggesford in Devon. There are fine examples of well formed Douglas fir growing throughout; it has a stunning veteran Douglas fir growing in the northern part. A short distance from here you will find the motte and bailey remains of a Norman fort. Whilst walking along one of the rides I managed to take a photo of a Speckled Wood butterfly, which is with the rest of this photo set on Flickr.

Coppice Wood Extraction

What a difference a couple of weeks have made. The woodland is bursting into life with the leaves on the trees flushing, the Bluebells taking over from the finishing Wood Anemones. On the work front good progress was made on extracting the coppice wood to the landing site. The extraction route is a quite a distance from the felled coupe and in parts it is not straightforward to navigate. The Iron horse is coping well with the task, although there is a lot more to do before this job is finished. The majority of the coppice stools have new shoots developing. What is encouraging is that some of the coppice stools that were in a very poor condition before cutting are also sprouting new growth too. Whilst working a pair of buzzards were circling high above in the thermal updrafts. With an environment like this to work in it is difficult to better no matter how hard the work is.

Exe Valley Woodland

Wonham KilnI paid a visit to a 14 acre woodland today in the Exe Valley after receiving an enquiry about nesting boxes for Dormice. This small wood is in its first year of management after not being managed for about 30 years. The owners main objectives are habitat management and providing a sustainable supply of woodfuel for their home and two holiday lets Wonhan Oak. The site is dominated by an old Limestone quarry that closed circa 1910. It is stocked with plently of Ash, Willow, Hazel, Oak and some Beech. Dormice are known to be in the local area and the Hazel in the wood does produce large quantities of nuts each year. There are numerous old hedgerows providing wildlife corridors that link the woodland with other areas. The site is a promising one for installing some Dormouse nesting boxes, especially in conjunction with the coppice restoration work.

Finished Coppice

recently cut coppice in March 2011

After finishing the coppicing the next job is to extract the cord wood and erect the deer fencing. There are lots of deer in the area and it is important that they do not damage the coppice regrowth. This might look drastic at the moment but by mid-summer this area will be reinvigorated with fresh new growth.