Archives for posts with tag: coppice

It sounds a bit unpleasant I suppose, but don’t worry, it is nothing nasty.

We are building our Orchard House from roundwood Sweet Chestnut poles. They came straight from our coppice to Swan Barn Farm, completely sustainable and with all the character of the woods in which they grew.

They do need a little bit of preparation before we make a building out of them though. We need to peel the bark off them. This inhibits rot, helpng the wood to last longer, it also makes them look lovely.

Anyone who has worked in a coppice knows just what is like peeling bark from roundwood poles, hard work, and not great for your back either. Our building poles are pretty big, and none of us fancied having to bend over all day to work them on the ground… A minimum of head scratching and repositioning of logs later and we were making a peeling bed.

Making the peeling bed

We arranged four likely looking logs into shape, drilled and pinned them together and cut some handy notches to stop the logs from rolling around. A bit rustic, but it certainly does the job.

Peeling chestnut 1

When the chestnut is fresh it peels like a banana, these poles are a little bit older so take a fair bit of effort to work. They are looking really nice though. Really looking forward to starting to join some of together into frames.

Chestnut peeling 2

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I mentioned a couple of posts ago about our exciting Orchard House Project. This year we will be putting up a building that will be used to house our historic apple pressing machinery as well as a much needed store for our orchard and veg garden related activities. We also plan to use it on our community apple pressing days when people come from the surrounding area with apples to be pressed and juiced.

The building will be a roundwood cruck framed structure, a bit like Speckled Wood, but with an open fronted aspect. It isn’t going to be very big, but it is going to be really interesting. I am really looking forward to seeing it come together. We are lucky to be working with Ben Law again on the project, hopefully between the Black Down Ranger Team and Ben we will have all the skills and experience needed to make it come together well.

Although we only got planning permission recently the cycle of the woodland year meant that we felled the timber for the building back in the winter. It is all coming from managed National Trust woods around Haslemere, and all of the timber has been sustainably produced. Recently one of the main tasks has been fetching this wood back from the woods to Swan Barn Farm.

loading poles

Thanks goodness for our timber crane, it makes my back muscles grateful every time I use it!

marley coppice loading

The main frame of the building will all be made from coppiced Sweet Chestnut, these were the rafters ready to be brought back, the block of coppice the tractor is driving through was cut a year and a half ago, and as you can see the regrowth from the stools is almost as tall as a tractor already.

On the way back I spotted an oak that had been brought over in the storms during the winter. It caused us a bit of greif at the time… but looked like it would come in handy now.

storn felled oak

Our cladding and beams will be made of oak, and these two lengths made a useful addition to the pile.

We needed a some particularly long straight poles as well, for the ridge and wall plates. Another of the storms over the winter had skittled over some larch trees on the edge of Black Down, and we had put the most useful looking ones to one side whilst clearing up.

long timbers

Matt from Hindhead very kindly came over to help us move these with his long bale trailer, we were very grateful of the help, it would have been very tricky otherwise. Even then getting them in to the build site was difficult, we couldn’t come the main way in to the farm as the timbers were too long, so we had to come in across the fields and use a bit of initiative…

passing through hedge

At one point they even had to be passed through a hedge with the crane as they were too long to get around the corner!

All the wood we need is now ready and waiting in the field next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, over the next few weeks we will be starting work on processing it to get it ready for framing. Pop in and have a look if you are passing, its going to be an exciting summer.

This week I thought I would try and explain a little about our new biomass boiler system. Ok, so, on the face of it possibly not the most interesting topic, but, I think it is actually one of the more exciting parts of the project here at Swan Barn Farm.

The basecamp used to have its heating and hot water supplied by electric stroage heaters and an electric immersion hot water cylinder. It was a really difficult system to work with , the heating only warmed up over night so you couldn’t just turn it on when you wanted it. This meant it had to be left on much more than it was needed just to keep the place habitable, and it used massive ammounts of electricity, all in all about as ungreen as you could get. As part of the project here we were all keen to see that change. The question of what to use for fuel was obvious for us. The team here manage over a thousand acres of beautiful countryside around Haslemere, much of that being woodland. We manage the woodland for the benefit of the local wildlife and public access. Much of this woodland is coppiced, a very sustainable form of woodland management, where areas of trees are felled and then regrow on a cyclical basis from the cut stumps. regular readers will have heard me banging on about coppice on many occassions, it is very productive, both for wildlife and for producing useful timber, and there is scope for much more coppicing in the woodlands in this part of the world.

All of this means we have an abundant supply of wood, making it the obvious choice for our fuel supply. It is sustainable, renewable and by helping provide an end use for our coppiced timber has a direct positive effect on local wildlife.

This is the patch of coppice woodland where we felled the trees used to make the frame for our building, this photo was taken about 6 months after the area was cleared and you can clearly see the cut stools regrowing strongly. As well as providing the timbers for the frame it also provided some of the wood we made into shingles for the roof, our bale spikes and stair spindles, handrails and gutter mounting boards and the laths for our internal walls. On top of all that it provided the posts for several miles of fencing. In 20 years or so it will have regrown, absorbing carbon dioxide all the time and will be ready to harvest all over again. What was left over you can see piled up in the foreground, but it will not go to waste, it will provide fuel for our new boiler.

Here you can see our new boiler, with a stack of coppiced sweet chestnut next to it ready for loading. Its a log batch boiler, we went for a log fired system as it means the fuel has the minimum of processing and machinery involved in its production.

When you open up the front of the boiler you can see it has three doors in it.

The top one is where the logs are loaded, the middle is for lighting (although it also has an automatic ignition system) and the bottom one is the gassification chamber, this clever bit is an area where all of the smoke and products of combustion are circulated and re ignited to make the boiler extremely efficient. Below you can see inside the firebox where the remains of the last burn are still smouldering.

Heres how it works. A batch of logs is loaded into the boiler and lit. The boiler self regulates the flow of air to ensure the most efficient combustion possible and heats water in a heat exchanger at the back of the big red box. This hot water is the stored in two big super insulated thermal stores (tanks to you and me). You can see one of these tanks on the right in the picture below, its the big grey thing next to the doorway (the other one is hiding behind it).

These tanks store the thermal energy from the boiler from where it can be used over the next day or two. A system of pipework and heat exchangers take the heat from the stores and distribute it to our radiators throughout the basecamp and Speckled Wood, as well as to all the taps, baths and showers.

The thermal stores also have a second feed in to them, from the basecamp roof.

Where as well as photovoltaic panels generating electricity we also have solar hot water panels. They are the 6 panels towards the bottom of the roof that look like massive iphones. On a decent day in the summer they should keep the thermal stores topped up without the need to burn any wood, and during the rest of the year they reduce the need to feed the boiler.

Its a really clever system, the pipework alone looks like something from the space programme. It has all of the controls and functions you would expect from any modern heating system, you can set times and temperatures and all of the rest of it, but, it is being run on logs produced in our coppice just half a mile down the road rather than on fossil fuels. It has made these two buildings self sufficient in terms of their heating and hot water energy needs.

The volunteers who live here will be helping us to manage the woodlands, and the product of those woods will be used to keep them warm. Its a nicely circular system, something we are quite proud of. Its only been up and running for a couple of weeks, but it has transformed the basecamp already. To be honest it used to be a bit cold and unwelcoming on a cold winters day. But now it is cosy and warm. Hopefully the people who come and stay here in the future will appreciate the change.

Sorry if I have been a little quiet lately. I think everyone at Swan Barn Farm has fealt the hectic year catching up on them a bit over the past couple of weeks and we have all needed to take a little time to get back on track. The building has been coming along well, with lots of work being done on the earth plastering and decorating front. Meanwhile I thought with autumn advancing it would be a good time to go back up to Ridden Corner Copse, the coppice where we cut most of the timber for the building, and see how the regrowth is looking.

As I have explained before, the main species of wood we used for the build is sweet chestnut, it comes from a coppiced wood, meaning that when you fell the tree it doesn’t die, but regrows with many stems from the cut stool. This is a very sustainable, environmentally friendly and aincent way of managing woods, which also provides fantastic conditions for wildlife. Now that the stools where we cut the timber from the house have reached the end of their first growing season I wanted to see how well the regrowth was doing.

As you can see from my cunningly devised dog by tree scaled measuring device much of the regrowth in the wood has reached 5 or 6 feet in its first year. The first year or two is crucial for the regrowth in the coppice, as the trees strive upwards towards the light the main threat comes from browsing deer. If they get chance they will nibble the leading shoots causing a massive ammount of damage to the future viability of the coppice. One of the ways we get aroung this is by creating glades which are large enough so the deer feel threatened in the open space, they will always browse round the edges, but tend not to go out in to the middle. This area of woodland seems to have faired well, there is a little deer damage, but not too much, and by next year the shoots will have grown out of harms way. Given another 15 or 20 years this area will have regrown to a size where it will be ready to be cut again.

This is the time of year when thoughts turn towards keeping warm by the fire, and I was pleased to see our stacks of cordwood drying nicely by the trackside. We are currently having a log fired biomass boiler installed as part of our building project. Next year this is the wood that will be keeping the building warm and providing its hot water.

The other thing that I was really pleased to see was how the ground underneath the trees was starting to fill in with all manner of interesting plants.

The wood sorrel is growing in big clumps all across the woods.

And wherever there had been a bit of light disturbance of the soil foxgloves are proliferating.

Of course only the leaves are showing at the moment, but it is a real sign of things to come, it looks like next year the coupe will be a riot of sorrel and foxglove flowers, I can almost hear the hum of the bee’s already.

Its a fantastic time of the year to get out in the woods for a walk, (I intend to be taking my own advice on that this week, with a few days off and a long walk planned) the colours are absolutely at their peak. But its not only in the woods that the colours are looking stunning. A short walk across the heath is also pretty rewarding right now as I saw on Black Down this afternoon.

And, no matter what the time of year, if you keep your eyes open there is always some fascinating wildlife out there to spot, like this clump of wax cap fungi I found growing amongst the grasses on the lower slopes of the hill.

Wax caps usually only grow in areas that have not had artificial fertilizers or chemicals applied to them, so when you see them you always know you are somewhere a bit special.

This week we the fencing has been going up around the coppice we cut at Swan Barn Farm last winter. The regrowth on the coppice stool’s is starting to grow and we need to protect it from the local deer population.

The new growth is really tender and suculant and is the favourite food of the roe deer that live in the woods. Deer populations are very much on the increase at the moment, and this can have quite a drastic effect on the woods. We are also starting to get new species of deer moving into the area, some of them, such as the muntjac are non native and escaped from private collections to become established in the wild.

The fencing is only temporary, as soon as the coppice has grown high enough so the deer can’t reach we take it down again. In practice this usually means we take down a block each time we put one up.

This fence was being taken down as the coppice was high enough, we will reuse the materials on the block we have cut this year.

Here the new line of posts is going in, with willow being as helpfull as ever! The posts are made out of sweet chestnut, which came from Ridden Corner Copse on Black Down.

Most of the woodland wild flowers have finished by now for the year, but there were still some really nice patches of foxgloves in the glades created by the work we do here.

They are a realy important nectar source, you can just make out a bumble bee’s bottom as it disappears into the second lowest flower. The coppice management we carry out provides the conditions of alternating light and shade which so many of our woodland wild flowers need in order to thrive.

Meanwhile the hedgerows through the farm are looking full of life, this was the one that was layed last winter.

Its starting to fill out nicely. In the other hedges through Swan Barn the sloes are starting to develop on the blackthorn (its looking good for sloe gin in the autumn!) and the wild roses are looking fantastic.

Meanwhile, on the Speckled Wood building scaffolding has been going up, it makes it look a little less gracefull, but means the next phase of work is starting. The wall plates and roof rafters will be going on soon, which means it wont be long until the first of those shingles starts to go on the roof.

I have been away for a few days camping on Exmoor, which is why I’ve been a bit quiet this week. It was really nice to get away for a few days, such a beautifull place and with good company too. It felt a bit like getting chance to breath after the pace of everything here recently. Glad to be back as well though, can’t wait to get back over to the build and see how things have moved on.

The bluebells are looking absolutely stunning.

The weather has been incredible here for the last couple of weeks, and there is nothing like working outdoors in the sunshine to raise your spirits. These photo’s were taken this week in one of the coppices where our many volunteer groups have been busy making the wooden shingles for the roof. I had to call in to drop off some tools, and was once again really impressed with how the shingle making is going, we are very lucky to have so many people who are interested enough in the project to volunteer their time to come and make shingles for us, the roof will be a real testament to all of their hard work.

Here you can see some of the timber stacked at trackside waiting to be turned into shingles. If you are coming here on one of this years working holidays this is one of the valleys where you will be working. Hopefully some of you will get chance to see it before the bluebells go to seed.

Tucked away in the bottom of the valley, Justin the woodsman has been busy starting to make lath’s with the chestnut that was cut over the winter. Those of you who were here helping during the cold month’s might struggle to recognise this picture, it was pretty frosty here in December and January.

It is the alternating conditions of light and shade within the coppice woodland that encourages the profusion of wildflowers.

I also took a trip up to Ridden Corner Copse that day to fetch some extra timbers we needed on the site, and was delighted to see that the coppice stools where we cut the materials for the new building are already starting to send up fresh new shoots.

Before we finish the Speckled Wood building I would imagine the regrowth on the stumps where we harvested the wood will already be almost six feet high, being part of this cycle of growth in the woods has always been one of the best things about working here. Given another 15-20 years or so it will be ready to be cut again.

I’ve seen quite a lot of this view this week, as I have been driving the crane and stacking our timber. I’m afraid you just have to forgive the slightly agricultural looking hole in the window where the crane control levers poke through!

We have had a good week, as can be seen by the stacks of timber in the photo below.

Justin Owen and his small team of coppice workers have been working in Ridden Corner Copse as well this week. They are going to be making the laths for our lath and plaster walls from a section of the coppice, they have also kindly let us have some of the oversize stems from that section of coppice for shingle making, this stem in particular will provide a whole load of really good quality shingles.

Its been a bit wet here today, but other than that we have had a pretty nice week, the first wild flowers are starting to come out in the hedgerows. I took this photo of a celendine this week at Swan Barn Farm, in a hedge just near where the Speckled Wood building will be going.

I think I have said before how much I like them, in the right light they shine like little tiny suns in the base of the hedges. Spring is definitely here.

Guest Blogger and Black Down birder Dave Burgess has sent in another update as well, you can catch up on the wildlife postings page.

If that sounds a bit odd, then bear with me! The crucks are the uprights of the A frame sections around which the main frame of the building will be constructed. They are being made out of some of the larger more sturdy timbers that are coming out of the coppice. Here you can see a couple of them have just been brought up to the track using the winch and crane.

These are measured and cut to length like the other timbers, it was a bit more exciting cutting this one out though, its going to perform such a key role in the house.

They are pretty long, 9 metres in fact, so getting them back to Swan Barn Farm is a bit of a challenge. The first bit of their journey involves skidding them out of the wood. The long lengths are attached to the butt plate of the winch with chains.

The tractor then drives out of the wood dragging the poles behind it.

The poles were skidded out of the wood and across the heath to a place where we can get to them with a big bale trailer. When we have all the long lengths we need stacked up like this we will use a bale trailer to take them to Swan Barn Farm.

Unfortunately the load will be too long to fit into the lane at the other end, so we will have to use a bit of inginuity there too, there will be more on the crucks journey to the build site soon.

Back at Ridden corner again today, we have shifted most of the easy to get at wood, so it is time to bring some of our machinery to bear.

To save having to move the wood by hand to the track we use our tractors with a winch and a timber crane mounted on them. First of all a bundle of the coppiced stems are selected and have chains attached to them.

The hooks on the winch cable are then attached to the chains and the winch pulls the stems out of the wood. Taking the tractors throught the middle of the wood would damage the ground flora and the stumps so we need another way to get the wood out. We don’t want to damage the stumps as later in the spring they will be sending up the new shoots which will regrow and replenish the woodland.

You can see that the winch has pulled five stems out to the edge of the wood, this saves us a lot of back breaking carrying. Next the timber crane takes over. This helps us keep manual handling to a minimum, hopefully meaning I will be seeing a bit less of my chiropractor than I have been doing the last couple of weeks!

The crane picks up the stems and places them alongside the track that runs around the coppice. The stems are pretty long, it takes a while to learn how to manouver them to the right place. Its a nice challenge though, and as the wood is coming out you can start to think about what each section might be used for.

When we have a big stack of these poles alongside the track we go back to measuring and cross cutting.

Once all the stems have been cross cut the material is put on the stacks alongside the track, the crane comes in useful again here for the bigger sections. We had a good day today, and fetched out quite a lot of wood, still a long way to go, but today it fealt like we were making good progress.

Well, there was definitely some for a while at least. We’ve been making the most of a spell of slightly drier weather here over the past week or so, lots more shingles have been made, and we extracted the first of the oak from Witley Copse.

Matt drove this load down to a well known local woodyard yesterday, later in the year it will return to us in the form of our interior floorboards. All the rest of the timber for the building will be sawn and processed on site using our own sawmill, but the interior floorboards need a spell in a drying kiln as well which is why the wood is going on a brief holiday to Petworth. The oak came from the standard trees in the coppice which were felled as part of our regular cycle of mangement of the woods.

We’ve been back up in Ridden Corner Copse as well cutting the sweet chestnut for the roundwood frame of the building.

Just across from where these poles are being worked is a block of chestnut we coppiced 4 years ago to produce fencing materials for a heathland restoration project at the top of the slope in the picture. Whilst we were there I took the chance to have a look and see how well the regrowth was doing.

As you can see the cut stumps are sending up a mass of healthy regrowth, the cycle of growth is working its way round again.

If you live locally I hope you can make it to our event at the Haslemere Hall this friday evening (see my post on this below). Its at 7.30 and Ben Law will be there to talk about his buildings and the processes that go in to their construction.

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