Alvecote Wood News
Keep up to date with all our news on our blog - please dip in and share our thoughts. You can also follow @AlvecoteWood on Twitter or follow us on Facebook. Come on a tour around the woods with us on YouTube too!
We are continuing with an ambitious programme of coppicing and woodland management this winter, including coppicing Betty's Wood for the very first time. We have cut two areas of willow to establish multi-stemmed coppice form in future. We are also cutting some of the hazel coppice we planted in 2009. We now have a programme of events for 2017 on our events page. We are also hoping to add birds of prey experiences including hawk walks and photography days with Countryside Raptors under the expert tuition of Les Arnott in 2017 - stay in touch and keep looking as we confirm dates.
We are all concerned about the plans to develop the land around Alvecote Wood (pdf) and have been to several meetings with the developers and councillors to see what can be done to prevent this development from going ahead, and to mitigate any damage to the site if it is given approval.
A record haul of hay from our wildflower meadows this year - 217 bales - was safely cut at the end of July, and delivered to the grateful horses next door. Cutting the hay helps to ensure our meadows are rich in wildflowers, and provides important income for the woods.
At our July Open Day, we were pleased to welcome the wonderful Birds of Prey from Countryside Raptors. These birds are all tame, and it was a pleasure to give children the opportunity to handle the birds and to experience the beauty of these lovely predators up close. Countryside Raptors offer birds of prey experiences to the public - handling them, flying them and/or photographing them. Please visit their web site and take a look!
We were delighted to be featured on BBC Radio 4 Farming Today as part of a special programme about forestry. Our lovely woods played host to the programme, which was put together from our woods, featuring lots of interviews with interesting and informative people on the subject of forestry. We really enjoyed hosting the programme, which can be downloaded at
All the work we did on our meadows over the winter has proved very successful, and we have had the most amazing display of wildflowers. Butterflies have been thriving, including the rare small heath, and the common blues, Essex skippers, small skippers, large skippers and other grassland butterflies. We recently cut hay and had a record crop of 164 wonderful bales. Take a look at our new video of our meadows over the course of the summer!
We have now started our programme of open evenings and open days at the woods in the glorious spring sunshine. On Thursday 23rd April we welcomed the Royal Forestry Society to the woods, and a wonderful day was had by everybody concerned.
Unfortunately, we believe we may have a few of our young ash trees affected by Chalara ash dieback. This is not a surprise, because we have planted a lot of young ash on the site in recent years, before anybody knew that this disease could pose a problem. We also have a number of regenerating ash trees. We are now asking all our visitors to wash their boots and spray them with the alcohol spray provided before leaving the site. This need not put anybody off visiting, but is a precaution to help reduce spread.
A lot of work to do in the woods, as usual. This year we coppiced some enormous holly trees growing in the hedge separating Alvecote Wood from Betty's Wood. It is meant to be a hedge, but these were 40 feet tall, and blocking a lot of sunlight, making it difficult for much to grow other than bramble. These huge trees proved to be a bit of a challenge, but eventually we managed to fell them, then after preparing the ground, we planted up with some hazel, cherry and birch. This should rejuvenate the hedge and provide significantly better habitat, as well as provide some lovely young trees within the woods. We also hope that oak will regenerate naturally in some of the cleared area.
The plantation also needed work to reduce the overgrowth of bramble. This had occurred because of mild winters over the past few years, which meant that the bramble did not die back as usual. This was suppressing our beautiful bluebells and also other ground flora such as lesser celandine.
Finally, we did some tree safety work, pollarding three trees which were in poor condition and potentially dangerous. This will both preserve the trees, enhance the habitat and keep our visitors safe.
Following our amazing success in the RFS Excellence in Forestry Awards, we are delighted to report that we have been awarded the first licence for a small woodland under the Grown in Britain scheme - read our story here . This is a bit like the Red Tractor scheme, only for wood and wood products. It guarantees that wood and wood products bought from our woods are from a properly-managed and sustainable source. Our certificate was presented during a special visit by their Chief Executive, Dougal Driver, who attended along with distinguished people from the Forestry Commission, Royal Forestry Society, Small Woods Association, Small Woodland Owners Group and other friends and supporters.
This is on the back of our new woodland management plan being approved by the Forestry Commission, which integrates the management of Alvecote Wood and Betty's Wood and ensures that the woods will be appropriately managed for the next ten years.
We also had a bumper harvest of hay this year, which we sold to local equestrian stables. Removing the hay is important to ensure that wildflowers are given the opportunity to develop. We would like to thank all our friends and supporters for their help during haymaking.
Alvecote Wood has done it again! This time last year we were celebrating our award as the best small woodland in the Midlands and North West of England, as part of the Royal Forestry Society Excellence in Forestry Awards. This year, all previous regional winners and runners-up were entered into a competition to find the Best of England, and we are delighted to say that we won this competition. So now we are officially the best small woodland (under 20 hectares) in England. Our story is available in an article from the Quarterly Journal of Forestry here.
In terms of wildlife, it has been an excellent start to the year. It has been particularly good for grass snakes, and we have several of different sizes in different locations, but they particularly like the ponds in Betty's Wood and in Alvecote Wood. We have also had large numbers of southern marsh orchid growing in Betty's Wood - now numbering almost 100 plants and still counting! Two whitethroat were counted in our breeding bird survey, up from one last year, as well as a garden warbler. However the cuckoo failed to return this year, which was sad, and we have not seen the spotted flycatcher yet this year either. There is still time, though. First sighting also of hairy dragonfly on the site, and a large number of small heath butterflies, locally scarce, are noted in our meadows. The meadows themselves are showing a good crop of yellow rattle, which suppresses the grass and helps other herbs to thrive.
We have kicked off our programme of Open Days with a very successful event on 30th March. We have also launched our innovative QR code trail. If you bring an Android or iOS smartphone with you, remember to get a free QR code app. Then you can scan the codes pinned to various points around the woods and access extra information and activities.
We have checked all the links to ensure that they are suitable, that they are completely free, and any apps recommended are free from in-app purchases. The activities range from leaf hunts, through twig hunts, searching for signs of fairies in the woods, tree identification, help with bird and wildflower identification, online quizzes and others. All you need is your phone with QR scanner and some data credit.
Finally, we have been featured in a fabulous article in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry, from the Royal Forestry Society in their April 2014 edition. Thank you to them. You can read the article here (pdf)
The wild weather has continued and made it difficult for us to complete our coppicing work for the winter, but we have finally managed to do this. We have cleared some very large holly to increase light in the coppice area, and this should help with regeneration and growth of ground flora.
We have also been updating our woodland management plan which is due for its five year review in March 2014. The main objectives remain management for wildlife and use by community groups. The main planned activities include:
- Extending the coppice along Betty's Wood boundary to help the hedge regenerate and let in more light. We also intend to plant more trees, particularly understorey trees, in this area after clearing some more bramble.
- Planting wet-tolerant species around the edge of the main clearing in Alvecote Wood and upwards toward the road. This will help manage water which, even in a dry year, can impede access around the site.
- Continuing to encourage regeneration in the main wood, supplemented by planting where needed - this relies on creation of patches of light, control of brambles and protection of seedlings.
- Thinning down the coppice that we planted in 2009/10 to give the trees more space and room to develop a proper coppice habit.
- Thinning some of the areas in Betty's Wood that are to be managed as coppice to develop coppice form.
- Thinning of Betty's Wood when the trees are sufficiently mature to develop continuous cover woodland with uneven age. Thinning usually takes place at 15-20 years, but will depend on how fast the trees grow.
- Further thinning in the "plantation" area that was begun in 2012-13 to ensure healthy growth of trees and gaps in the canopy for regeneration to occur.
- Continuing to manage our meadows to provide wildflowers for insects and butterflies.
Finally, we have been invited to enter the Best of England competition by the Royal Forestry Society following our award in 2013 for the best small woodland in the Midlands and North West. This pits us against the champions from all over England - we will hear the results later this year.
We have spent much of the past few weeks clearing up damage from the repeated storms that have plagued us through December and the start of 2014. We had to unpick a giant Pick-a-Stick near the lower entrance to Betty's Wood, where we lost one stem of a very large old ash tree, as well as three large oak branches. Unfortunately these could not just be left as habitat as they were in a dangerous position close to the path. We have, however, left parts of the hollow ash stem as habitat, and the remaining stump on the tree should also prove to be good habitat for owls, beetles and other creatures. We also managed to salvage the remainder of a crack willow that fell into a neighbouring field, removing the dangerous hung-up section and leaving the remainder, along with some more good hollow-stem habitat.
Our coppicing work also continues apace, and we are opening a lovely new area by coppicing back hawthorn, holly and hazel to open into Betty's Wood and let in a lot of light to help regenerate the whole area. We have had some fantastic help from volunteers over this period despite the very inclement weather, and hope to finish this work in the next few weeks.
We were delighted to see woodcock in the woods again, as well as flocks of linnet and goldfinch feeding on our teasels, and welcomed the arrival of large flocks of redwing and fieldfares. We also spotted our first ever murmuration of starlings from the wood as they rose above the trees before setting down in the rushes at Pooley.
Our last Open Day was very successful, one of the most popular yet, with lots of visitors despite the cold. Open Days will start again on Sunday 30th March 2014, but there will be plenty of work parties at the woods during the winter so if you would like to come and help, you would be more than welcome.
We have had a spate of criminal activity affecting the woods and surrounding areas. We had a seed feeder and picnic bench stolen, as well as suffering multiple incidences of our fences being cut, and one incidence of trespass with a vehicle entering through the cut fence and damaging young trees in Betty's Wood. Thankfully the trees are still quite small and bendy, and we were able to get them upright again, although there is damage to the bark, and we will not know whether the trees are OK until the spring.
We have also been invited to enter the Royal Forestry Society Champion of Champions awards to be held by invitation next year - we intend to enter and pit ourselves against past winners of the Small Woodlands award of which we were recipients in 2013.
Our open evenings have now finished for the year, and we would like to thank everybody for supporting these. It has been a lovely warm summer with lots to see, and lots of visitors have come along to enjoy the birds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies and our beautiful wildflower meadows.
Our open days are still proving to be very popular, with over 50 visitors attending over August Bank Holiday, and over 30 visitors to our September and October open days. We are holding our last open day on 24th November, when we will shut for the winter. We will be holding work parties during the winter with coppicing and thinning work in the main woods taking place. We will post notices when we have dates for these activities.
We have also been visiting and helping other wildlife sites in Tamworth. We helped with meadow mowing and path-making at Town Wall and with some tree safety work at Warwickshire Moor.
Our summer birds have now gone, but the fieldfares and other winter birds are arriving and flocks of linnet are also around and about. Highlights of the summer were lapwing and snipe in Betty's Wood and a hobby sighted in the main woodland. We also heard short-eared owl for the first time. There was a first-ever sighting of a spotted flycatcher too. We are hoping for another bumper winter for birds and will keep you updated on sightings.
Haymaking at the woods - we have recently been making hay at Alvecote Wood, to remove the fertility from our meadows and help the wildflowers to flourish. Wildflowers like poor soil, and grass prefers fertile soil. If fertility is allowed to build up by keeping the cuttings and allowing them to rot in place, then the grass will dominate. This year we cut the hay, baled it and sold it on to local stables. This should ensure that in future years we can keep fertility down and improve our meadows for wildflowers and the wildlife that depends upon them.
Details are in our blog in Haymaking Part 1 and Haymaking Part 2. We also have a YouTube video (below) of our haymaking efforts. Thanks a lot to all our friends and volunteers who helped with this process.
Excellence in Forestry Award: Alvecote Wood is best Small Woodland in Midlands and North West England in 2013, according to Royal Forestry Society.
Alvecote Wood is Top of the Tree! - We have scooped a prestigious national award for our work at Alvecote Wood - read the press release below!
Alvecote Wood on the borders of Warwickshire and Tamworth has scooped first prize in the Royal Forestry Society's Small Woodlands Excellence in Forestry Awards after judges described it as "an absolute delight".
Judges Tim Sawyer and Rob Guest praised owners Stephen Briggs and Sarah Walters from Tamworth, Staffordshire, for their work adding: "What really tipped it for us was the excellent new planting they have done in a field they bought adjacent to the mature woodland. They also have good regeneration of oaks in the mature woodlands, use their woodland produce and hold open days. It is one of the best small woodlands we have ever seen."
The woodland beat strong entries from an area that stretched from Worcestershire in the south to Cumbria in the north.
Small woodland owners Sarah and Stephen said: “We were absolutely amazed and delighted to have won this prestigious award. It was our dream to make Alvecote Wood a haven for wildlife and a resource for the local community, and we are so pleased to see our efforts acknowledged. We would like to thank the Forestry Commission and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for helping us with grants and expert advice, as well as our wonderful friends and volunteers, without whom we could not have made this dream come true.”
The Awards will be presented at an event at Wythenshawe Park in Manchester on 3 July. The Small Woodland Award was sponsored by Wood-Mizer UK.
The RFS is dedicated to promoting the wise management of trees and woodlands. It has 21 Divisions and organises events across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to help share knowledge. To find out more and how to join go to www.rfs.org.uk
We started off our cold spring with a visit from a horse-logging team. The heavy horses, Dillon and Prince came to visit us courtesy of James Griffiths Horse Logging. They solved a problem we had with the removal of our larch stems from the southern boundary of the woods, given the wet condition of the ground and the sensitive nature of the soil and ground flora, including bluebells. They removed the logs quickly and with ease and with minimal impact on the ground. There is a full account on our blog, and also a lot of pictures on our Flickr site.
Our first Open Days at Easter attracted a lot of visitors. We were busy all day on both days, with guided walks, and a lot of interest in our green wood-turning demonstrations, with several intrepid visitors having a go on Sarah's pole lathe. Spring is late this year, but the birds are making their nests, and claiming their territories, and a few warm days should see things catch up again.
Our first photography workshop will take place on 10th April and we are opening on Wednesday evenings again from 17th April from 6-8pm, taking advantage of the lighter evenings.
We have been very busy in the woods over the winter, despite the very wet weather making the ground very boggy and getting about very difficult. We have completed our new wood-drying shed next to the old goat shed (which is scheduled for demolition), which will make it easier for us to dry and supply bags of sustainable firewood from our coppicing and thinning operations. We have also undertaken some thinning in our "plantation" area on the southern boundary of the woods, removing some trees in poor condition, as well as the larch trees. We don't like felling healthy trees for no reason, but in this instance, larch can act as a conduit for a disease of oak trees, called Phytophthora ramorum and we felt that it was important to protect our oak trees from the disease that is spreading from the West. Letting light into this area and creating space in the canopy means the young trees can grow healthy and strong, the ground flora and scrub layer can develop, and new trees can take root and regenerate. This area was very overcrowded and overdue for some attention. We also felled a dead sycamore next to a path for safety. We would like to thank Mike, Paul and John from Arborcare for helping us with this felling.
We now have some larch logs that we are planning to plank using a mobile sawmill in the near future. They were extracted by the traditional method of horse-logging as this offered a good way to get the job done whilst minimising damage to a sensitive area of the woods. We were also pleased to support horse-logging as an old craft and it was a privilege to have two big old Shire horses there helping us with the work.
What a busy summer we had! The rain has made for excellent growth in our new trees in Betty's Wood, some of which are now more than 6ft tall. It has also produced an amazing show of wild flowers in our meadows, which were mown in the Autumn to help distribute the seed and encourage the next year's growth. Birdsfoot trefoil, cornflower, scabious, ox-eye daisy, lots of clover, tufted vetch, common vetch and yellow rattle and many others were still on view at the end of August.
We have also had some wonderful bird sightings at the wood. Buzzards and kestrels were breeding there, as well as a large family of pheasants. First ever sighting of a hobby along the woodland edge, and a barn owl seen hunting along the edge of the wood in the afternoon/evening.
We have been busy in recent weeks keeping the paths mowed, as well as making new clearings now the bird nesting season is over - clearance of bramble is the first stage for natural regeneration and planting to take place.
We also held our first ever photography exhibition which opened at August Bank Holiday weekend, and stayed in place until the end of November 2012. This consisted of 25 pictures placed on a walk around the woods, designed to highlight the beauty of the woods and the wildlife.
Our open evenings have also proved popular - the last one was on 12th September, as the nights were drawing in. Please come along and have a look at the woods in the evening when we are open - you may even see our barn owl!
The winter has flown by, and we have done a lot more work at Alvecote Wood. As well as planting trees in January, we have completed another cut of our coppice, and also fenced the coppice stools with more robust and hopefully rabbit-proof fencing, as they did considerable damage last year, and we need to help the regrowth off to a good start. We have cloned more willow near the canal, held our first Open Day of the year, and done our first breeding bird survey, as well as two moth-trapping sessions.
We have also agreed a new deal with Getoutoftheclassroom.com for them to run bushcraft and woodland skills courses in the woods - details are on their flyers for crafts and bushcraft courses. Our Photography courses are also continuing this year, and are rapidly getting booked up.
We will be holding our Open Days on the last Sunday of each month in 2012, as before, but our open evenings will be on Wednesdays this year. We also held a stall at the Big Green Fair in Whittington on 21st April. However our Open Day on 29th April had to be cancelled due to the very high winds on that day making the woods unsafe for visitors. Thankfully the damage was very light, and the rain has now filled our ponds, with water flowing through our ditch for the first time in two years. The water is welcomed by our young trees which suffered through drought last year, and the alder in particular is loving the wet. Despite the weather, we have orange tip butterflies and our first damselflies now out and enjoying the sunshine, as well as a new arrival of blackcaps.
October has been and gone in a flash of autumn colour! Despite a continuing dry autumn, there is good news from Betty's Wood. We feared a 30% loss of our young oak trees, but a further survey has shown that some of the trees are sprouting late in the year, and that our losses are around 5% died and 1% stolen. This is much lower than we had thought, and reduces the amount of re-planting to be done this winter.
We have been preparing the ground for winter work, including clearing areas of bramble for replanting with coppice species near the road. This will provide much needed understory habitat in this part of the woods, and give young oak trees a chance to sprout. We have also been identifying and protecting self-seeded oak and ash trees now that the ground is soft enough to get canes in. Meadow maintenance has now been completed for the winter, and a new area of wildflower meadow sown in the main clearing. We have started feeding the birds again for the winter, and they are starting to come into our feeders.
Some photos from Alvecote Wood have also featured on BBC Autumnwatch - exciting stuff, and we were pleased to see our name up there on the TV.
Our October Open Day was a great success with our new calendars selling rapidly. There is only one Open Day to go this year, on 27th November.
September started with high winds and rain, and this forced cancellation of one of our Open Tuesday evenings. These will end on 20th September due to the darker evenings.
We are welcoming Butterfly Conservation for another moth-trapping evening on 22nd September, to count the Autumn moths. We will also be starting work parties for the winter very soon as we have many things to do, including coppicing, tree thinning, tree planting and other woodland management tasks.
The blackberry harvest has been bountiful this year, and we have a lot of hedgerow and bramble jelly. We are hoping for a good sloe harvest too, to make sloe gin, and are looking forward to foraging wild fungi now the weather has turned wet.
We are also pleased to welcome the blue-tailed damselfly to our meadow for the first time. Although common, it is another new species to the site. The meadow is showing signs of recovery after the summer drought - it was a cold summer, but very dry, and this has hindered development of the grass. Rain at the end of August has helped, and the grass is recovering considerably. Elsewhere, the ponds remain lower than we have ever seen them.
Another busy month at Alvecote Wood. We were pleased to make many new friends at the Wild About Tamworth event in the Castle Grounds on 9th July and the Samuel Barlows Summer Fair at Alvecote Marina on 10th July. There has been a little more rain, and we have fixed a leak in one of our new ponds (an intercepted land drain pipe has now been blocked) allowing it to slowly re-fill. The meadows continue to mature and will be mowed soon.
A little owl has been spotted in the woods on more than one occasion, and we believe there are both parents and young present, which is excellent news. We continue to see muntjac deer. Coppice re-growth has been less good this year thanks to both rabbit damage and also the drought, which has retarded the growth in the very sunny cleared area.
A moth-trapping evening this month also revealed a moth never before recorded in Warwickshire - Alvecote Wood is now in the history books. The moth, Coleophora artimisicolella, was one of 111 species recorded on 21st July. We have also recorded a lot of butterflies including the purple hairstreak, large numbers of brown argus, common blue and small copper, and many of the more common woodland and grassland species. Essex skipper were also seen for the first time on site, joining Large and Small skippers. We did not see the dingy skipper, although this is one of our target species for the site.
Mowing was completed in the meadows on 30th July, and this should help to establish a diverse and healthy meadow for years to come.
June has brought some very spectacular displays of poppies to the meadows in Betty's Wood. We did not plant these - the seeds were in the ground, and have formed the most spectacular display. We were also delighted to find Southern Marsh Orchids growing in Betty's Wood.
Our nesting birds have fledged, including huge numbers of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, blackcaps, great spotted woodpeckers and many other birds. It has been a fantastic year for these little woodland birds.
The trees in Betty's Wood are showing signs of recovery with May recording 80% of expected rainfall - still not enough to undo the drought, but enough to ensure that the trees can now survive and thrive without additional watering. Our new ponds are showing good signs of life, and we have prepared and seeded the mounds around them to form butterfly banks.
We continue our open days and Tuesday open evenings, and have welcomed many new people to the woods over the course of 2011. We will also be participating in the Wild About Tamworth event on 9th July in the Castle Grounds, and at the Samuel Barlows Summer Fair on 10th July at Samuel Barlows Pub, Alvecote Marina.
May started with drought, and we are really hoping for a change in the weather. In addition, some of the ash trees which had escaped the drought and were doing well in Betty's Wood have suffered frost damage thanks to a late frost in early May.
However some of the butterflies and dragonflies are looking excellent as they emerge. Our bluebells walks continue and we welcome the Small Woodland Owners' Group on 8th May for a meeting and talk from Alistair of the Sylva Foundation.
A difficult month, thanks to a second month of drought, which meant that we had to spend quite a lot of the month watering the new trees. Some of them are not looking too happy, but we hope they will perk up if some rain arrives soon. We have already put over 20 tonnes of water onto the trees using water from our new ponds, but watering 4000 trees is difficult and time-consuming.
On the positive side, we have had a wonderful month for our visitors. We welcomed the first visitors for our bluebell walks, and these have proved successful. Our Easter weekend Open Days and Easter Egg Hunts have also been very popular, with over 55 people enjoying the woods in the glorious sunny weather. Last year's wildflower meadows have shown good growth of red campion, and the wild garlic is also thriving. One of our wild honeybee nests has also formed quite an impressive swarm.
We also welcomed Butterfly Conservation to the woods to do the first ever survey of moths: a very interesting night with lots of impressive finds. Another one has been scheduled for July.
March has been another busy month at Alvecote Wood. The tree planting was completed during the first week of March - 4500 new trees are now in Betty's Wood, and starting to come into leaf. Unfortunately we also suffered a break-in and theft: thieves cut the wire of the new fence, remove and stole a fence post, and also pulled up 21 new trees and stole them complete with canes and guards. Somebody clearly has a new fence at our expense!
On the plus side, as well as our new trees springing into life, we have noted some important birds at Alvecote Wood including the red-listed species Willow Tit, Yellowhammer and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Great spotted woodpecker, and green woodpecker are calling in the wood, and we also have reed bunting visiting our seed feeders that are proving so popular we get through a huge sack of feed every week!
Our snakeshead fritillary is doing well too - we now have three established colonies on site. Wild garlic is also thriving and this spring the display of daffodils was the best for quite a while.
Our Open Day programme is in full swing, with plenty of support on our Open Day on 27th March. We have also had a visit from a forest school group. We have open evenings and a photography course to look forward to in April, as well as our Easter Egg Hunt!
The planting of Betty's Wood has now been fully approved, and planting is in full swing! We will be holding planting weekends throughout February and into March. If you are able to come along, please let us know - there are a lot of trees to get planted! Contact us for further information and check out our notices page. There are also more pictures on our Facebook album (no FB account needed).
A nest box survey revealed 76% occupancy of the hole-fronted nest boxes during 2010, but none of the open-fronted nest boxes had been used. Considering the additional nest boxes had been put up late in 2010, this is an impressive occupancy rate (19/25 nest boxes occupied). We are also pleased to see a pair of Willow Tits using the seed feeders.
We are planning our events calendar for the coming year with Open Days, Tuesday evening Wildlife and Bluebell Walks, Treasure/Easter Egg Hunts, Photography Workshops, Nordic Walking Workshops and we are also hoping to run an introductory Woodland Management course later in the year. Download our events programme here (pdf)
Work is now imminent on Betty's Wood, awaiting final approval from the Forestry Commission. That should happen in the next few days so we are expecting to start work to make this a beautiful wood and meadow area. Please help with this fantastic project if you can! More information here.
Although the ground has been thawing slowly, it remained frozen under the surface for some time, so we did some coppicing work. We have about 1/3 acre to cut in our lower coppice to let light in and allow the stems to regrow, producing a bushy understorey habitat that has been lacking in the woods, together with thinning out the larger trees so they have space and light to grow. Starting over the New Year Bank Holiday, we have made brilliant progress with this work, and have a subtstantial part of this year's work completed.
Wildlife observations have continued, and we are delighted to report a pair of snipe seen near our lower ponds and willow tits visiting our feeders near the building.
December started badly with extreme weather throughout the country, and Alvecote Wood was no exception. Despite having plenty of volunteers to help us plant the new hedge, we were unable to do this when planned because of frozen ground, and we had to heel in the trees into our vegetable bed instead. Fortunately there was a window of opportunity just before Christmas and we managed to plant all 700 little trees, completing our hedge just before the ground froze again.
The weather did make the woods extremely beautiful with deep snow and spectacular freezing fog and frosts, so there were some compensations.
November 7th saw a very busy and successful Open Day as folk came to see Betty's Wood, our new 9 acre field that will be planted with woodland over the coming weeks and months. As well as a display of working dogs and a harris hawk, we had a craft stall with our calendars and Christmas cards (also available online). We are hoping to start plating hedgerow and new woodland at the end of November - please watch this space, as we will be needing volunteers to come and help us plant 4000 new trees!
BIG NEWS! Since July we have been negotiating with the adjacent farm to purchase 9 acres of field adjoining the woods. We are pleased to announce that this purchase is now complete. This will link our wood with another piece of ancient woodland, and form a wildlife corridor that links us via another area in higher level stewardship to Pooley Country Park.
New woodland will be created on the field - wet woodland in the damp areas, and mixed broadleaved woodland in the dry areas - together with wildflower meadows and new permanent and seasonal ponds. The field abutts the Coventry Canal at the lower end, and will form a great habitat for all kinds of wildlife. We also plan to plant a hedge linking our wood with the other piece of wood, restoring an old hedge that was removed years ago, and forming a great wildlife corridor.
We have already started work on this area: we have already put tree protectors and stakes on over 400 oak seedlings that have started to grow in the former wheat field. We have also prepared the ground, seeded and rolled in grass and wildflower seed mix to form a basis for the woodland, as well as forming our new butterfly-friendly meadows.
Overall, we will need to plant about 4,000 trees this winter in the new woodland area and the new hedge! A big task but one that we feel is very important. Volunteers will be very welcome! Please let us know if you might be able to help.
The new woodland will be called Betty's Wood, after Sarah's Mum. Betty passed away in 2007, and money from her estate has allowed us to purchase this new piece of land.
July to September 2010
We have been very quiet because we have some special news that we can't quite announce yet! However do watch this space, because there will be a big announcement in the next few weeks. Without giving the game away, I hope that we will have quite a few volunteers to help us this winter because we are going to have to plant quite a lot of trees...
Our July and August Open Days were successful, if a bit eventful, with escaping livestock making the July Open Day rather a lively affair, and the August Open Day attended by working dogs, a beautiful Harris Hawk and a broody chicken with her chicks.
The inaugural photography workshop was also a great success on 5th September, with five participants enjoying a day taking images of the wood, and learning how to improve their photography. Watch the web site for details of further workshops in due course.
Our September Open Day promises to be excellent also, with our new Christmas Cards and 2011 Calendars in stock at the craft stall, together with all our regular products such as scented candles, turned wood mushrooms, pens, key fobs and lavender bags. Come along and get your stocking fillers sorted!
June has been very dry, and hot, which has brought huge numbers of damselflies and dragonflies out. The clearing is alive with broad-bodied chasers, four-spotted chasers, common darter dragonflies, and common blue, small red and banded demoiselle damselflies.
Our wildflower meadow areas planted last year are also thriving, with a beautiful display of poppies in the meadow seeded above our drainage trench. Poppies, vetches, yellow rattle and a large variety of grasses, together with hemp nettle, hedge woundwort, sorrel, red and white campion and musk mallow are now in full show. There are more pictures of the meadow area and dragnflies and damselflies here (You do not need to be a Facebook member to see the pictures).
The June open day clashed with the England v Germany game, but still there was a good turn-out on a scorchingly hot day.
Photos of bluebells available through this Facebook album (opens in new window).
May has started with a flurry of activity, both among the wildlife and also among groups visiting the woods. Visitors have included a Wildlife Walk for members of the Tamworth Wildlife Group, and the first visit from Austrey Primary School Forest School. The Wildlife Group hoped to see a lot of bluebells, but they are late in flowering this year, so only one patch was completely in flower for them. This was more than compensated by enthusiastic drumming from the great spotted woodpeckers, and the sighting of bats towards the end of the evening walk.
The Forest School came with 12 reception-year pupils and they enjoyed an energetic, exciting and magical day in the woods. Along with den-building, stick-peeling, bug-hunting, and various games and other activities, they had a guided walk round, and visited the greenhouse to see the baby oak trees we are nurturing there.
The appearance of leaves on the oaks has transformed the wood, and other plants are coming into flower including the cuckoo-flower, early buttercups, greater stitchwort, red campion, wild garlic and white and purple dead-nettles. It is a good year for orange-tip butterflies, and there are lot of these in the wood, along with the first speckled wood butterflues.
We know that at least 2 and probably 4 of our new nest boxes are being used. The coppice is bursting into life, with the new trees coming into leaf and the cut stools putting forth numerous shoots. We look forward to more action during the month.
Polesworth Scouts at Alvecote Wood.
Spring has arrived at Alvecote Wood very rapidly after the long, cold winter. As well as our annual display of daffodils, we have fantastic news about our rarer wild flowers. The snakeshead fritillary and cowslip failed to show last year after the building work, pond building and other activity. However this year the cowslip and original colony of fritillary are back in flower. In addition we have established three more colonies of fritillary in case the original one fails. This is exciting news.
The birds are nesting at the woods too, and in particular we are delighted to have mallard nesting at our new ponds for the first time. The bats are out of hibernation and active in the woods at night.
The recent beautiful weather arrived just in time for our first Scout camp of the year - Polesworth and Wigginton Scouts enjoyed two nights in the woods, with lots of activities to keep them occupied right through the day and into the night. We were delighted to hear the sounds of young voices enjoying the woods and its wildlife. We hope that other groups will visit the woods in the near future.
Two little cousins enjoying the
March got off to a busy start, as we begin our two zone mowing, prepare for the first Open Day on Sunday 28th, and prepare for a new fence to be put in along the field boundary. We are also starting formal breeding bird surveys this year, using the format adopted by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The first survey showed over 40 great tits, and a surprisingly large number of nuthatches, as well as jays, green and great-spotted woodpeckers, and quite a variety of other birds. We hope to have a very large crop of young birds this spring as a result of changes we are making.
We have installed seed and fat feeders, and the blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, chaffinches, nuthatches and great-spotted woodpeckers seem to be taking advantage of the bounty on offer, as well as occasional bulfinches and goldfinches. These birds are not tame, as they haven't been in contact with people unlike the birds we see in gardens. However, after gradually acclimatising them to our presence, we are able to get in quite close now and take photos!
March also saw the return of our Open Days with a successful event on Sunday 28th - not helped by the clocks going forward and the road being closed! As well as opening to the public, we welcomed the staff from the RSPB reseve at Middleton Lakes on Thursday 25th March. Sarah is hoping to welcome children to the woods during the summer school holidays as she has now completed her WildPlay leader training with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
We planted 400 little trees in four areas to
create new coppice.
The start of February has seen us complete a nest box survey and all the tree planting for this winter. With the help of some friends and volunteers, we planted 400 hazel, ash and field maple to establish new coppice in areas cleared of bramble and elder scrub.
Of 19 nest boxes placed at the woods in 2008, 15 had been occupied, mainly by blue tits, and only the open-fronted boxes had not been used. We have put 12 more boxes up in new areas of the wood. This is really encouraging news for the bird population of Alvecote Wood.
Our lovely hedgehog box, waiting for its
Our seed feeders are attracting a large number of birds, including whole flocks of great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits, nuthatches and bulfinches. We have jays, great spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers active in the woods as the breeding season approaches. We have placed a hedgehog box donated by our neighbour, and hope this will attract the hedgehogs that seem to be absent from our wood.
The New Year and New Decade started with snow and ice at the wood, turning it into a special and magical place. There are some photos here (opens new window). We had a lot of help from some friendly robins, which we have photographed here (opens new window).
The end of our second day of coppicing. The silver
birch and oak trees are being left as standards.
We have finally completed our coppice cut for this year, with the help of some hardy volunteers. We have also completed the felling of several large sycamore trees that were encroaching on the south side of the wood. We have also had some tree surgery undertaken to remove overhanging dead branches affecting the paths, and to remove the top of a lightning-affected tree to prevent it falling onto the path. We now have several large piles of wood chippings generated by the tree surgery and coppicing activity to make a mulch on our paths. This should improve the surface and make them easier to drive or walk on.
At the end of the month we have a whole lot of hazel, ash and field maple trees arriving to plant new areas of coppice where we have cleared the elder and bramble scrub. This is better habitat than elder, and also produces wood for sustainable harvest.
Having finally got our planning consent for coppicing and tree surgery, we were able to make a start on the coppicing work, clearing about half the area we are going to coppice this year, with the help of Daz and John. The change is immense, and should benefit the trees enormously. We are leaving a few trees to grow as standards, and the rest will be regularly coppiced to provide habitat. We are also going to plant some hazel in this area to extend the range of species available to wildlife. A dead fallen tree that was impeding regeneration is being cut down and piled up to provide habitat for insects, fungi and other creatures.
We have also put up our greenhouse so in future many of the saplings can be grown on site.
The last Open Day of the season was a great success on 8th November, with record numbers of visitors enjoying a beautiful Autumn day, and the last of the leaves on the trees. Open Days will resume in the Spring 2010.
A visit from the County Forestry Officer was also very successful and constructive, and he seemed delighted with what we were doing.
We have been granted planning consent to make progress on the tree surgery, thinning, coppicing, planting and transplanting works that we want to do this winter, so now we can start to make a real difference to the woodland habitat and improve its quality and diversity for wildlife.
Started off well with a visit to the Tamworth Forest Schools in action at Hodge Lane Nature Reserve - with a view to having a similar scheme at Alvecote Wood.
Less good a day later when a huge pile of fly-tipped rubbish appeared, blocking our entrance!
A coppicing course we attended at Ravenshill
We went on a thoroughly enjoyable coppicing course with Phil Hopkinson of Malvern coppicing on 12/13th September. This should help us with developing a coppice rotation in some defined areas of Alvecote Wood to attract wildlife and create new habitats. The course took place at Ravenshill Woodland Reserve, a beautiful predominantly ash woodland near Malvern. We are looking forward to putting what we learned into practice. We've also had a visit from Paul of the Forestry Commission who have been extremely supportive with advice and grants - again the help and advice we had was helpful. Graham Peake of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (on behalf of the Tamworth Forest Schools) came to view the wood and we hope that a Forest School group can use the wood.
Our third open day on 27th September was successful. Helped by dry weather we had over 20 visitors who greatly enjoyed their walk around.
Open Day 26th July 2009 - a group on a guided tour
round Alvecote Wood
August didn't start too well with an attempted break-in foiled by the security system and the intruders were also seen, but not caught on this occasion.
We also had an unwanted visit at the end of the month by fly-tippers who blocked the entrance with building and garden rubble. However in between these unwanted events we managed to make a lot of progress. New paths have been cut, including a long path that allows us to take the tractor and Land Rover down to the lower ponds. This will make establishment of a coppice much easier and also allows us to drive Stephen's Mum around to see the full extent of the wood. We also cleared some new glades, removing excess bramble to allow new saplings to develop and to allow ground flora to become established. Our second Open Day on 23rd August had much better weather and lots of visitors, all wishing us well.
On 4th July we had a stand at the Wild About Tamworth event at the Castle Grounds. This event allowed local wildlife groups to show people what they were doing. This was very successful and attracted a great deal of interest in the Wood. We hope that as a result our Open Days will be a success. We also launched our range of products and these sold extremely well.
On 26th July, we held the first of our Open Days, which was a great success despite the best attempts of the weather. We had about 40 visitors during the day including friends, colleagues, and we were particularly pleased to welcome a lot of people from the local villages of Alvecote and Shuttington. There is another one on 23rd August, and more will follow during the Autumn, Winter and Spring, so you can see the woods through the seasons.
Scout Camp at Alvecote Wood - June 2009
An overnight camp at the woods resulted in us observing two species of bat and hearing a tawny owl. We have now prepared and sowed four areas of the clearing as wildflower meadows.
We had a visit from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's wildlife survey team (all seven of them) on 8th June and they were very positive. We await their report with interest. They were pleased to find bog stitchwort, and to find our greater duckweed alive and thriving.
On 27th-28th June we were delighted to welcome the first Scout camp at the woods. Six Scouts camped overnight and assisted with a great deal of work around the site, including clearing felled sycamore and willow, and using this to provide dead-hedging around the boundary. They also helped construct bridges and repair fences. They also helped with disentangling oak saplings from the brambles, and with wildlife tracking. All this work has improved security of the site as well as access around it. We're looking forward to more visits from such groups in the future.
Our new web site has gone live. Please have a good look at it and contact us with any suggestions you may have for content or improvement (or if you would like us to design a web site for you!).
Maurice Arnold visited the woods. He was one of the founders of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, and has a fantastic knowledge of wildlife and conservation. He was very pleased with the progress we are making so far, and with our plans for the future.
On May 29th we collected a lot of native pond plants from Naturescape outside Nottingham. This is a wonderful place to visit, and they were fantastically helpful. We populated five of our ponds with a selection of native pond plants over the weekend 30-31st. The ponds are already alive with insect life, including breeding dragonflies and damselflies and this is likely to increase as there are more plant resources within the ponds.
We sowed almost a kilogram of native wildflower seed to help green-up the spoil that resulted from earlier pond digging and roadmaking.
An old water tank was plumbed-in to the gutter on the building to capture rainwater for plant watering and equipment washing.
Our Woodland Management Plan has been approved by the Forestry Commission. You can see our overall strategy and objectives (PDF).
January & February 2009
We heard we have been adopted as a Local Wildlife Site and Site of Importance for Nature Conservation by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
We also had a mini-digger on site for several sessions where we dredged the silted-up area of the old pond and dug drainage trenches to reduce the severe problem with waterlogging on the site. We also took advantage of this machine to lift a lot of buried old barbed wire fencing that was badly overgrown with bramble and grass, and completely buried in many places!
With the much appreciated help of several friends and volunteers, we planted 600 trees predominantly along the roadside to make a new hedge and to fill in gaps in the hedge that was already there. 600 is a lot of trees, especially when it starts to snow and you've still got a lot to go!
We got Planning Permission and another Forestry Commission grant approval and set to work with urgency creating the new road entrance and erecting our new building before the weather changed. Unfortunately, we didn't make it and had serious problems with heavy rain and excavations filling with water quicker than we could pump them out! It was a major landmark to complete this work but a big disappointment that the new building was broken into just 3 days after it was erected. This spurred us on with a lot of ground preparation and then erecting the new fence along the roadside frontage. It looks a bit like Colditz, but has improved the security of the site significantly.
We also held our first Open Day for friends and neighbours, with some 30 people having guided tours around the Wood.
Spring and Summer 2008
We realised that using the tractor to bulldoze the brambles and then a brushcutter to cut them back was hopelessly inadequate over the area we were trying to manage. Following advice from the Forestry Commission and from our arboricultural consultants, we eventually managed to get a Rotary Slasher (like a huge Flymo) that fits on the back of the tractor, and that allowed us to make a big difference. We started to make progress rather than losing ground as the nettles and brambles were growing so quickly!
We spent a large fraction of 2008 in liaison with the local council Planning department and the Forestry Commission. This involved a huge amount of discussion and paperwork as we sought advice and slowly evolved plans for a major push in terms of management and sustainability of the site. It was obvious that commuting in the tractor was not viable long term and despite us being very careful on every single visit, we were concerned that sometime there would be an accident on the road as there are so many people that drive way above the speed limit around blind bends at the extremities of our site. We had to propose and get agreement for a compromise on the road enrance to the site: it was not perfect, given the speed limit and the proximity of the aforementioned blind bends, but it was massively better than the pre-existing entrance. We had to go through a big learning curve regarding development works on a TPO-protected site, as well as liaising with forestry, archaeological, Highways, and several other interested people and organisations.
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust did a survey of the site for us, concentrating initially on the plants and trees. You can see the results of this survey (PDF), which subsequently caused the site to be granted LWS and SINC status (Local Wildlife Site and Site of Importance to Nature Conservation).
We made and installed 19 new nest boxes throughout the wood. Several of these were seen to be in use during the breeding season.
We also continued the big project of bramble clearance.
We completed the main repair work on a 30+-year old tractor bought at a farm auction. We put the machine to immediate use with clearing a little of the bramble covering much of the site. We also cleared some of the old concrete pad and got our first puncture in a brand new tractor tyre!
We finally got legal ownership of the site on 3rd October. We visited the site that day and found that someone had recently entered the site in a 4x4 and had used a chainsaw to butcher branches on a previously picturesque fallen tree just inside the old entrance. This was our first real warning that security and unauthorised access was going to be a problem.
We discovered that the site was for sale and began urgent consultation with potentially interested conservation groups - the last thing we wanted to do was to bid against them! It turned out that none of them knew the site was for sale; the Woodland Trust were supportive but considered the site too small for their interest; the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust were involved in nearby reserves but were limited to their county boundary (the wood is close to the boundary with Warwickshire); and the Warwickshire Trust were interested but unable to pursue it as a new reserve. Indeed, they were delighted that we were getting involved and discussing the conservation ideas we had for the site. We made an offer that was accepted by the vendor, particularly because of the conservation intentions we shared with them.