When we bought this Irish farmhouse we were very lucky because a thirteen acre Oak, Sycamore and Alder woodland was part of the package. The trees are now almost ten years old and have reached a height of up to six meters. The canopy has begun to close over and although the woodland is very young it's already a wonderful place to wander. There are plenty of native wild plants growing there including violet, primrose, wild raspberry and St Johns Wort. Last year I introduced some wild garlic, the white flowers of which are great in a salad. The bird life is abundant, the chorus sometimes deafening!
Having a woodland to
get lost run around in and watch wildlife is all very well, but what exactly did we take on when we signed and agreed to carry on the commitment of this plantation which was initially funded by a government scheme? The aim is to maintain this as a wooded area in a sustainable way. In a nutshell, if a tree is felled in the future, another should be planted to take its place. We hope to take it much further than that in terms of being eco-sensitive.
We have been reading some great literature and talking to some incredibly inspiring people who are finely tuned into forest wisdom, and who carry forward the knowledge of some individuals with a legendary understanding of natures way. Last month we were lucky enough to have the founder of Crann, Jan Alexander, wander through our woods with us, and begin to teach us about how to spot a commercially viable tree, and how to prune these 'frame' trees. It was windy, cold and lashing rain but the three of us wandered happily sawing off various branches under expert supervision, and peering upwards into various canopies until we were all soaked to the skin. Jan's 'close to nature' approach to woodland management had us both enthralled.
She talked about companion planting, and how in our particular case, planting alder saplings around the base of some frame oak trees would naturally encourage them to grow at a much faster rate. Did you know that alder roots contain nitrogen fixing nodules, so they actively improve the soil? Well I didn't. This is an important fact as oak, which is what we are growing, drains the soil of nutrients. Hence was our first lesson in silviculture!
It has whetted our appetite for more. We are reading up on all sorts of trees and close to nature management techniques, and hope to diversify our woodland over the years with a range of species. Perhaps some areas will be coppiced to provide green wood suitable for making furniture. I have an inkling to try making chairs from green wood at some point in my life! Other areas may be planted up, or coppiced on a long rotation to provide us with endless firewood, and yet other areas will be managed to produce viable commercial timber crops in the long term future ... perhaps in our children's or grandchildren's lifetime.
I plan to share what we learn as we begin to actively manage our woodland so watch this space and/or click on the new Woodland category. Timber! In the meantime this is a book Jan recommended that we invest in so it has been added to my ever growing wish list.