Friday, 31 January 2014

The discussion led to peasantry - woodland crafting

I must admit, I left earlier than the rest but still managed 4 hours of woodland crafting during 4 hours of incessant rain; but let's give credit to the NIA stalwarts who were still working in fine spirit on my departure, and it was raining hard and getting wetter by the second.

Today we expanded our vision for the crafted woodland and debated the issue of Hornbeam as a beneficial woodland species. It is evident that the Hornbeam leaves do not breakdown and decay as readily as other species such as Ash and Hazel, for which there is no leaf evidence on the woodland floor.

Working on the premise that all woodland arisings are of some value, and further, considering the possibility that the layer of Hornbeam leaves will probably impede desired growth in the field layer, the need to remove but make use of the leaves became food for thought; leading to the idea that they will be collected and used on a nearby tree nursery as a weed suppressant. This should keep parents and toddlers occupied for a while during the half-term woodland activity day. (Friday 21st February)

On further research 'Flora Britannica' informs us that Hornbeam is naturally found in south east England within an imaginary northeast - southwest line between Norfolk and Weymouth. Therefore trees outside that region are likely to be introductions. We further debated the ecological benefits and Wikipedia tells us  -

"Hornbeams are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Autumnal MothCommon EmeraldFeathered ThornSvensson's Copper Underwing and Winter Moth (recorded on European Hornbeam) as well as the Coleophora case-bearers C. currucipennella and C. ostryae.", 

Whether these moth species occur on trees north-west of the natural boundary, we will endeavor to find out.

Today's work was led by Craig and Tom from the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust PAWS, and began with 'tree felling' instruction and a brief regarding  achievements so far and further management proposals.

Ash was selected for felling, and Craig talked through the process of selecting trees to fell and trees to retain.

The rain fell but we still managed a fire and a cup of tea against the odds, thank you for the 'storm kettle'. Couldn't hang around too long though as the chill was settling in to bones, must keep moving.

With today's easy living and propensity to risk aversion, it would have been all too easy to give up and retreat indoors, but the instinct and desire to keep going may have been in our blood; and as I looked around at the workers engrossed in their way, I envisaged peasants from long ago, with no option but to work through and achieve the daily quota.

Treecreeper x 2
Redwing x 10
Great Tit x 2

Sunday, 26 January 2014


Siskin (image taken from

We certainly chose the best day for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch; as I write, (26th) it's cold, breezy and very wet, and not conducive to bird-watching.

Saturday 25th, however was perfectly fine and I hope the new bird-watchers attending our event will come back for more. One 7 year old brought his parents out for their first family bird-watching event, and although the one hour recording session had moments of bird absence we managed to create a bit of a list.

12 woodland species recorded

  • Robin x 6
  • Crow x 10
  • Blackbird x 3
  • Wren x 1
  • Great Tit x 2
  • Magpie x 6
  • Siskin x 12
  • Sparrowhawk x 1 female
  • Blue Tit x 2
  • Bullfinch x 1
  • Nuthatch x 1
  • Wood Pigeon x 3
The highlight being the 12 Siskins feeding high in the Alders, deserting their post briefly as a female Sparrowhawk soared above, only to return a few moments later as said raptor moved on.

Work began on the 24th with the thinning of Hornbeam and Cherry on the eastern side making an immediate environmental impact.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Crafting a woodland, a 'Centenary Woodland' just 25 years old


The term 'Woodland' has been described, and wooded land defined, by many people over many centuries in a variety of ways, both trees and woodland have been utilised, managed and mis-managed by people of the British Isles for millennia.

For a rounded presentation of the subject it is worth reading 'Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape' by Oliver Rackham, first published in 1976; in which the term 'woodland', together with tree species and the impact of trees and woodland on human existence, is thoroughly investigated and questioned.

Rackham acknowledges -"six traditional ways in which trees interact with human activities", whilst discounting "Orchards, and trees of streets and gardens" as outside the scope of the book.

. The others are -

  • Woodland. Woods are land on which trees have arisen naturally.
  • Wood-pasture. involving the "grazing of animals as well as trees"
  • Plantation. areas of planted trees
  • Non-woodland. "trees in hedgerow and field"
Human activity is central to the existence of all woodland in Britain today and has been for several thousand years. Human activity is about intervene once again in an area we now call 'Centenary Woodland', which, until 26 years ago was 'open' land, disused allotment and 'talked about' in terms of Forestry Commission grant aiding.

In 1989 up to 2000 trees were planted as 'whips', at approximately 1 metre centres; many of the original trees/whips are long gone, falling to competition, fragility, field voles, squirrels and humans. Many have thrived, some are weak or damaged and some have been coppiced, pollarded, felled or left to stand tall as dead timber.

Over the next two years approximately 30% of the current stand will be felled, a decision not carved in stone, and thankfully not fully determined; 

Nature Improvement Area
Funding has been made available to the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust through Natural England and DEFRA to improve green areas for the benefit of nature. Many plantations were created around Birmingham in the 1980's and 90's and are now due for enhancement. Most were not well planned, with single species planted together in blocks, in days when 'guilding' was little thought of, if at all. Essentially 'guilding' relates to the practice of 'permaculture', in which plants are positioned in relation to others to maximise the thriving potential of all, and thereby attempting to mimic nature to some extent.

At Centenary Woodland we have 'mono-stands' of Birch, Ash, Scots Pine together with a stand of Cherry and Hornbeam, and whilst they are all valuable wildlife trees, greater diversity will develop by felling selected trees and underplanting with a variety of other species such as Hazel, Guelder Rose, Spindle, Alder Buckthorn as well as ground flora such as Bluebell, Primrose, Campion and Wood Ruff. Self set Holly seems to be doing rather well and spreading throughout, whilst a number of Yew are maturing quietly and slowly.

PAWS, the B&BCWT's 'People and Wildlife Service' together with BCC Rangers and volunteers will carefully 'craft the woodland' with overriding attention to improving the biodiversity of the area and its surroundings. Assessment will be on-going and plans changed as necessary through discussion and consultation.

We hope that many will benefit from witnessing, observing, engaging and interacting with the woodland management process.

Cannon Hill Park Friends, alongside Rangers and the NIA team will invite and encourage volunteers, local schools and families to take part in a range of woodland based activities, including den building, woodland crafts, and environmental games as well as helping with the processing of timber into habitat piles.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

NIA Centenary (RSPB) Woodland Workdays at Cannon Hill

NIA workdays involving volunteers and education groups will take place on the following dates - all from 10.30am

 Monday 27th January from 10.30am

 Friday 31st January

 Friday 7th February

 Friday 14th February

 Friday 21st February - Half Term activities

 Friday 28th February

 WHERE IS THE WOODLAND? Not far from the tea rooms

 HOW DO I GET THERE? From Russell Road car park take the top road (within the park and away from the tea rooms)past the toilet block on your right, keep to the main road until you reach the Parks' depot and then take a smaller path to the right. keep to the top path until you eventually reach the woodland (Look out for markers along the way)

Friday, 10 January 2014

NIA application and Management Proposal

Cannon Hill Park was originally opened to the public in 1873 and is made up of 80 acres of formal parkland and 120 acres of conservation area and woodland plantation. It is situated within the heart of Birmingham and runs along the River Rea corridor. The park itself is popularly used by the community for numerous activities such as walking, running, football, forest schools, seasonal fair-grounds, picnics and other recreational pass-times. Alongside this there are walks and cycle paths running further along the River Rea corridor aimed at catering for wildlife enthusiasts, those seeking exercise and people looking for a good day out. Cannon Hill Park has successfully achieved Green Flag status for the past 10 years which recognises the park as one of the best green spaces in the country. Within the wilder areas of the park there is a need for some woodland management. A number of areas of plantation were created 20-30 years ago as part of various different planting schemes. These have been left mostly alone and could now benefit from being thinned out to create room for remaining trees to develop and also to encourage ground flora to thrive. As part of a 2 year programme thinning will take place in the Queen Mother’s and RSPB plantation. The two plantations consists of Hornbeam, Field Maple, Hazel, Oak, Scott’s Pine, Ash, Silver Birch, Prunus sp., and Apples sp.. Approximately 30% of each plantation will be thinned. In the first year the densest areas will be targeted. There is very little ground flora in these sections and it will be possible to introduce a ground flora seed mix directly after thinning. It will be necessary to remove the dead leaf layer to expose the bare earth. In the second year thinning will be more targeted in the remaining areas. The ground flora is grassier and will be removed using herbicide in summer 2014. Then, after completion of the tree thinning the ground flora seed mix can be introduced. Species such as Foxglove, Wood Millet, Primrose and Red Campion. There will also be opportunity to under-plant with native tree species in some area, such as where dense areas of Birch are thinned. There is an existing perennial meadow in Cannon Hill Park that was created in 2010 following some building works. There is the potential to increase the species mix using hay strewing of patches. In 2014, a few small patches will be treated with herbicide and green hay from a donor site will be introduced. There is a smaller area, currently left un-mown, directly south of the existing meadow, adjacent to the Queen Mother’s plantation. The current species mix is quite poor. This area will also be treated with herbicide and green hay introduced. Yellow Rattle will be introduced on both meadow sites in 2014. There is great scope for community involvement in this project. Wildlife Trust community and education staff will run 6 days of volunteering/training/school sessions in the first year of the project and potentially also in the second year. It is not clear exactly what will be the best use of the session until the consultation is complete. It is the aim to encourage people to come along and learn new skills in woodland and grassland management and to also learn about the biodiversity of the park and how they can help in the future. The work as described above forms part of a wider plan to improve the River Rea corridor. There are other NIA projects taking place alongside the river, such as Rea meadows, and there is also potential to engage the local community through a number of events planned by the Birmingham City Rangers, the Friends of Cannon Hill Park and the Wildlife Trust.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Work begins

Nature Improvement Area (NIA) work is likely to begin at the RSPB Woodland on the 24th January 2014, followed by a community involvement day on Monday 27th.

Around a sixth of the canopy trees will be felled between then and mid March with a similar amount felled between January and March 2015.

A large amount of timber will be generated from the operation and this will be used in a variety of ways; some of it will be used to develop 'dead wood' habitat, a vital component of a healthy woodland, attracting a host of fungi and invertebrates, some will be chipped and used on footpaths, some will be used for den building and woodland crafts and some will be taken as bio-fuel.

The beneficial impact on the woodland will be immediate but the most noticeable benefits occurring in following years with increasing numbers of low shrub nesting birds such as Dunnock, Wren and a variety of Warblers, possibly including Black Cap, Willow Warbler and Chiff Chaff.

Quite exciting really, thanks to the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust's NIA Programme