Charcoal, chairs & other chatter

It’s been a case of “now you see it, now you don’t” with the summer so far but, overall it has been very good for charcoal sales. As at the end of July, we are just over a thousand pounds up on sales for the same period last year. However, last year we had a very strong August which we may not be able to repeat this year – charcoal sells when the sun shines and the forecast for the early part of August is not looking brilliant at present!

A big vote of thanks is due to our team of wood colliers (charcoal burners) who have been managing the retort on a rota basis since April. You never know what to expect on a burn day and that was certainly the case for Paul and Mike recently when, at the start of the day, they took off the tarp that covers the pallet wood and found a sleepy grass snake that had spent a rather comfortable night there on top of the pile! By the way, grass snakes are quite harmless.

At present the retort is still performing well following refurbishment over the winter and we will continue to undertake burns until the first week in September after which demand for charcoal dies.

This year we are also generating income from other sources, namely our “Make a Chair in a Day” courses. We dipped our toe in the water this year with three courses and the demand has been tremendous. Our first course took place in June – we had intended to run one in May also but we ran out of time. It’s pleasing to report that the course went very well with good feedback received. Many thanks to those who helped on the day and made it a success. Our next course is this Saturday.

Talking of charcoal and chairs, both generated much interest at our display at the New Forest Show last week. The theme of our display in the Forestry Commission area was “Sustainable Woodland Coppice Management” with a display of various products that can be made from coppiced hazel. Overall, we received a good flow of visitors on Tuesday and Thursday but Wednesday was a bit of a wash out with rain/drizzle. Over the three days, John gave an art class with Pondhead’s own artist charcoal and Perry gave demonstrations of chair making in the “Heart of the Forest” arena. Perry’s challenge was to make a chair from scratch in under two hours and his best time was 1 hour 20 minutes which earned him a case of Ringwood beer which he shared with his volunteer colleagues!

On the conservation side of things, prior to the recent spell of wet weather, people were commenting on the large number of butterflies in Pondhead. Given the right conditions in terms of both habitat and weather, butterflies can increase their populations quite rapidly. In particular, there have been many Silver-washed Fritillaries (including the Valezina mutation) and White Admirals. Hopefully they are responding to all conservation and restoration work we are undertaking and it will be interesting to see the results from the regular surveys that are being undertaken by Butterfly Conservation at the end of the season. Each year we are building up more data and over time we should be able to see improving trends.

The “Events Diary” is a little short of events at present but there will be some conservation events towards the end of this month as we start to run down charcoal production. With this in mind, we have recently purchased a new clearing saw to tackle large areas of bramble rather than rely solely on shears and loppers – that should be music to volunteers’ ears!!.

That’s all for now – hope to see you in Pondhead soon.



Charcoal, chairs & other chatter — 4 Comments

  1. Great update – more success! great pics too. Sorry not to have been around much , I am nursing Mike after knee replacement. All is well. Glenda

  2. Meant to say that I love the charcoal – it really does do what it says on the tin. Must buy more as it’s a great present

  3. Up to the end of July, the number of butterflies recorded on the Pondhead transects was 1799, compared to 758 for last year. However, it’s unlikely that all of that increase is the result of our conservation activities as increases have been seen on all transects. It will be interesting to see at the end of the season, when all the numbers have been crunched, if the increase in Pondhead is greater than others. In future years, it would be great to see more Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and other less common species. As Derek said, the weather is a critical factor.

  4. I attended the last of this year’s chair making courses yesterday. What an excellent day. Thanks to Perry, Derek,Phil and Mike for ensuring everything ran so smoothly. The instruction and practical assistance was second to none and greatly appreciated. With the patience and help from Perry, Mike and Phil I actually came away from the course with a real usable chair, instead of a pile of matchwood wired into a creation worthy of the Tate Gallery’s ‘Weird and Wonderful’ section. My wife was astounded!
    Derek proved himself master of the Pondhead field cuisine and served up a splendid lunch. A superb day, everyone, and thanks, (from a DIY numpty).

Leave a Reply