January Jottings

What a great start to the New Year! The weather has been kind to us on our January conservation days and we’ve been busy, busy, busy.

One of our first tasks in January was to give the charcoal kiln a makeover following the recent welding job. It’s now all wrapped up in a new tarp and loaded up all ready for the first burn scheduled for mid March. During the first week of the month we also completed the hand coppicing in the Rosie Close coupe which now has an excellent staked dead hedge all around the perimeter to keep the pesky deer out. It took a little longer than anticipated, but we extracted all the timber and stacked it on the side of the ride to make it readily available to transport to the charcoal kiln when needed. This will be much easier than trying to find it in the coupe over twelve months later when everything has grown up around it. It’s been a tremendous effort and has received a considerable amount of favourable comment from locals and visitors.

Since we finished Rosie, a good start has been made on our other hand coppiced coupe in Pond Close. Initially we found that the amount of hazel was reasonable and viable but as we got further into the coupe, much of it had been overrun by invasive holly, rhododendron and silver birch with very sparse amounts of hazel. We are clearing these invasive species as we go and there will be a need to repopulate the hazel with layering and new plants. We are leaving the silver birch stumps at knee/waist height as this prevents re-growth whereas when cut to the ground, they shoot again like hazel. Silver birch has biodiversity value for a variety of species but because of its invasive nature it can choke hazel. There is plenty of it elsewhere in Pondhead.

In addition to our coppicing activities, we have been clearing timber and brash from the chainsaw team’s site in Crab Tree Close. Our woodland plan for this conservation season was quite ambitious on the areas to be coppiced but we are now back on schedule to finish in the first week in March ahead of the bird nesting season. However there will be other things in the diary, not to mention charcoal production.

While talking about birds, we have had a couple of meetings with members of Hampshire Ornithological Society recently and they have agreed to conduct some bird surveys in Pondhead over the spring and summer. The idea being that they will concentrate on the less common species rather than log the usual suspects such as Robin and Blackbird. It’ll be interesting to the results – we’ll keep you posted. In terms of other wildlife, in addition to the recent Kingfisher sighting in the main stream, an otter has been spotted there by a reliable source. It was spotted by an employee of the Environment Agency who was surveying stream quality and managed to film it on his phone. Who knows what we’ll find next in Pondhead. Someone even said that they had seen a Dragon!!

Bookings have been very good in January with most conservation tasks fully booked and oversubscribed despite increasing task size from 10 to 12 volunteers. In order to ensure that we have enough spaces and avoid disappointing volunteers, we have started including an extra task some weeks. These may be added at relatively short notice, so check the Events Diary regularly, especially if you can’t book on a task and are starting to get withdrawal symptoms.

It was also good to see a number of volunteers attending the Trust’s AGM recently. One of them, Gary Melton, kindly volunteered to take over the role of Treasurer from Derek on a gradual basis during 2019. As a consequence, Gary automatically becomes a Trustee. All other Trustees were re-elected en bloc although Carol Dibden did state that if there was another candidate who would like to take over the role of Secretary, she would be happy to stand down.

On a completely different subject, we are dipping our toe in the water to see if we can establish a market for coppice product other than charcoal. As we start cutting coppice coupes on rotation for the second time around, after 10/12 years, some of the timber will be too small for charcoal. Initially, we are looking at hazel bean poles and larger rustic poles for fencing, garden features, etc. A new web page has been set up for the purpose and can be seen by clicking here. Spread the word and tell your friends.

Towards the end of January, we attended the New Forest Volunteer Fair in Lyndhurst Community Centre. There were more organisations than ever looking for volunteers, many in the conservation sector, and a record 745 people attending. The market for volunteers is certainly getting competitive! We received a lot of interest at our stand and many turned up to listen to our presentation in the afternoon but subsequent new volunteer sign up has not been as high as anticipated this year – as said, it’s getting competitive! However, we did manage to sell another chair course space and now have only two remaining. Overall, our attendance is a worthwhile exercise as it continues to spread the word  and raise our profile in the local community.

HOT NEWS. The National Park Authority have recently included us in their Lottery funded Working Woodlands project which is aimed at getting more local woodlands back into management. This additional support is very welcome and further strengthens our ties with the NPA, Indeed, it has already created an exciting opportunity for us. In the last week we have been introduced to Toby Hoad of Dorset Horse Logging by Gemma Stride with a view to using his horses to extract timber from some of our coupes and deliver them to a site close to the kiln area. Here is a video to show what’s involved: –

At present, we have pencilled in the week of March 18 to undertake the work which should take four days to remove timber from various coupes and we will need some volunteer help on these days – ideally six per day. Further details will appear in the Events Diary in due course and we’ll keep you posted as matters progress. We have also discussed the possibility of Toby and his horses returning again in the autumn when, based on our experience in March, we may combine it with an Open Day.

There’s always something different happening in Pondhead – look forward to seeing you in there soon.

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