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

Going Batty

Last night I visited the outbuilding that adjoins the office to put the recycling materials in the collection box. Whilst I was doing that a bat swooped in, looped round just above my head and flew to the top corner at the back. I moved quietly forward to get a closer look and it had roosted by a rafter. I went back to the house and grabbed my camera. Thinking that the bat might be gone by the time I returned a minute later, I was pleasantly surprised to see it still there.

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Bats are often seen flying around the barns and I had tried and failed to take photos of before. This was the first time I had had a chance to photograph a roosting bat. It looks like this area is being used as a feeding site. There are a few large spiders webs at various points underneath where the bat had roosted. These had plently of insect remains and droppings.

I am a novice when it comes to identifying bats. However after doing some research I worked out the bat was most likely to be a Pipistrelle. The droppings were a good help with identification after I gleened as much as I could from the photo of the bat.

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The other photos I took of the bat were slightly blurred, so I didn’t upload those. After spending another minute in the corner, the bat then crawled through a very small gap at the top of the wooden dividing partition into the store. It spent a few minutes in there before scrabbling back outside. A few minutes later after the lights were switched off it flew out, presumably to find another tasty moth. This was a wonderful thing to see.

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:

Benefits

  • 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

Some useful things about firewood

While our British summer is stuttering along with varied weather, I thought a post to help people who buy firewood would be useful, specifically, non-kiln dried firewood logs. So how can you tell good firewood from bad?

Ideal hardwoods that are most readily available and good for both open fires and woodburning stoves are:

Another good hardwood is Sweet Chestnut but it can spit out hot embers. Sweet Chestnut can be burnt safely in a wood burning stove, but you still have to be careful when the stove door is opened. All these hardwoods have a high proportion of woody material per volume, which means they have a high bulk density, so more wood means more fuel to burn.

Common hardwoods that are not so good for firewood logs:

  • Aspen
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Willow

Freshly felled these hardwoods have a high volume of water and less woody material. When seasoned the bulk density of the log is much lower with these hardwoods and that means less fuel to burn.

Softwood logs:

Several softwoods when seasoned burn well in a stove. However, you will get through more logs compared to good quality hardwoods. Larch being one of the better softwoods.

How to tell if the wood is of good quality:

  • seasoned firewood will have a lower odour
  • have loose bark and/or peeling bark
  • visible cracks & splits, especially on the ends
  • dead fungi
  • have a lighter weight

How to tell if it isn’t seasoned:

  • unseasoned firewood will have a strong possibly sweet odour
  • the bark will be firmly intact
  • the ends will be damp
  • the end grain will be more uniform in colour
  • the log will be much heavier as it is loaded with water
  • if part-seasoned there maybe moulds and active fungi visible

All wood will burn, but firewood logs that are wet will be no good.

The dangers and problems of unseasoned wood:

  • steam containing volatile compounds will be produced and will deposit in your flue lining or chimney
  • a build up of these deposits will increase the risk of a fire in the flue or chimney
  • the logs will be difficult to light
  • You won’t get much heat due to the higher water content, which defeats the purpose of buying the firewood logs in the first place
  • you could damage you’re woodburning stove. Always check what fuel types and quality are approved by the manufacturer for the woodburning stove

Delivery horror stories – why you should always check your load:

  • logs that were claimed to be seasoned but weren’t when they arrived
  • unseasoned logs disguised by a top layer of good quality logs
  • tree surgeon waste logged up and sold immediately
  • apparent seasoned wood delivered in the pouring rain uncovered during transit and dumped on the driveway

When a delivery arrives you often have little time to check the quality of the firewood and you can feel pressurised into accepting it. Any reputable firewood merchant shouldn’t mind you spending a few extra minutes checking a sample before accepting the delivery. If you consider the product to be poor then reject the delivery.

I once heard a story where someone bought hardwood netted logs in bulk and it transpired that the logs were only part-seasoned. The logs had to be dried out on radiators to reduce the moisture before they could be used in a woodburning stove. I’ve even heard of another case where leaves were still growing on some of the logs that were alledgedly seasoned!

In contrast to UK customers, buyers of firewood in France generally make more checks before accepting a delivery. Often firewood is being bought a year in advance and it will still be rejected if the moisture content is too high.

Whilst you might be restricted on how much firewood you can store, leaving your ordering of firewood to the last minute could limit choice and may increase the risk of getting a bad deal. There is a fair amount of effort involved from forest to delivery, so very cheap firewood should ring alarm bells, either its poor quality or may even be stolen.

Storing your wood
Make sure that you have a dry ventilated place to store your firewood; there’s no point in letting moisture return after all the effort to season the wood.

Don’t forget the kindling
Lastly do get hold of a good supply of quality kindling and make sure you don’t use contaminated waste wood as a substitute, as this will create noxious smoke. A small amount of British lumpwood charcoal is also good for starting fires.

Keep warm and enjoy your real fire!

Charcoal, Firewood logs and Kindling for sale.

Wood for?

A few weeks ago I attended a woodfuel seminar, which was a useful update to previous ones I had been to. This is certainly a market that over the years is developing significantly from the traditional log and charcoal products. There is a long way to go to a mature market and there will be bumps along the way before we reach that point. With new Government backed assistance through schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Forestry Commission launching a Woodfuel Woodland Improvment Grant and existing EU funding to aid the rural sector in development, the market could shake off many of the current constraints and propel itself forward very quickly over the next few years. 

This brings me to the question in the title of this post “Wood for?” One particular thing stood out at the seminar and it was not from the course content but came from another delegate. This person was already using a significant amount of wood for heating on their farm and they had recently taken delivery of an lorry load of hardwood. It transpired that the wood was mainly Oak. However it was not just branchwood corded up but contained main stems cut to cord lengths. As you can imagine a few of us winced when we heard this. There are several other similar situations I have heard about or encountered where quality wood resources are being diverted to energy consumption instead of useable timber products. There is a significant risk that such occurrences will become more and more common place over the next few years. The hope is that this doesn’t happen.

Sweet Chestnut stack of coppice produce

Stack of Sweet Chestnut coppice produce destined for fencing

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice destined for the woodfuel market

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

Fine Douglas stemsDouglas Fir Veteran TreeDouglas Fir Veteran Tree main trunk


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.