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Getting Wild at Girdlers

March 9, 2015

 

Frances and Ed standing in front of the previous completed dead hedge.

Frances and Ed standing in front of the previous completed dead hedge.

Day 1 at Girdlers Coppice

It was time to fly the nest and spend some time away from the wardens. Michelle, Ed and myself wanted to work independently and put our skills and knowledge to good practice. There was an opportunity for the three of us to work on some hazel coppicing at Girdlers Coppice, SSSI and a semi-natural ancient woodland just outside of Sturminster Newton. The hazel stools are divided into compartments and on a 15 year rotation. Our aim over the following days was to construct a dead hedge that would be finished off by our volunteers.

The volunteers along with Steve Oliver the reserve warden have been working hard in building a previous dead hedge. This hedge surrounded the coppiced hazel to prevent the deer from eating the new growth.

We began the day with a short tour of the site with Steve to view the progress so far. About half of the hazel compartment had a completed hedge and it was our job to construct the posts that hold the hedge in place. These posts were 7 feet tall and made using the wood that we felled. They were then driven into the ground using a post basher, an appropriately named tool that was very heavy.

Ed bashing in the posts

Ed bashing in the posts

The three of us took it in turns to use the post basher while someone else used their chainsaw to cut points on the ends of the posts. There was a bit of an unspoken competition on who could cut the neatest points. I think Ed won that one. It was good for all of us to work together and we had to make decisions and figure out problems without the help from the wardens. Michelle had fun taking down some poor helpless trees that were in her way while Ed seemed to enjoy bashing the posts into the ground.

We made piles of cut hazel and ash for the volunteers. These piles of wood are what made the dead hedge. They are weaved between the posts until a thick wall is formed. The hedge has to be at least 6 feet height to stop deer from jumping over. By the end of the day we had reached our goal of completing one side of wooden posts ready for the volunteers.

 

Michelle admiring the hedge.

Michelle admiring the hedge.

 

Day 2 at Girdlers Coppice.

With the poles in place and freshly cut hazel material on the ground, the site was prepped for the volunteers. The volunteer group (usually managed by Steve Oliver, the mid team reserves warden) have proved to be a great asset to the work on DWT reserves and have been covered in the DWT magazine numerous times; therefore it was great for us trainees to have the chance to work with them.

The agenda for the day was to carry on constructing the dead hedge, so it was a purely practical job involving heavy lifting and cutting tools. I, therefore, had the pleasure of giving the tools and site risks talk (which was something I really needed practice with). This is probably one of the most important parts of any volunteer day as it enables people to enjoy what they’re doing while staying safe as a group.

Behind Michelle is the beautifully constructed dead hedge

Behind Michelle is the beautifully constructed dead hedge

Because most of the volunteers had been working in these woods for several seasons now, they needed minimal instruction from us. This was great; however, it was nice to have two newcomers. One of whom was new to volunteering in the area and was keen to learn how we at DWT coppice our woods and the other, Fiona, was undertaking her coppicing AQA as part of the Wildlife Champions Volunteer Scheme.

Frances, Michelle and I took it in turns taking them through the practical methods of coppicing as well as its concepts and practical uses. It was great that both volunteers were really enthusiastic and took on everything we said.

Coppicing: The act of cutting a tree down to its stool to encourage regrowth. Therefore promoting increased structural diversity, increased light for ground flora and a suitable habtat for a wide range of species

Coppicing: The act of cutting a tree down to its stool to encourage regrowth. Therefore promoting increased structural diversity, increased light for ground flora and a suitable habtat for a wide range of species

 

In fact all of the volunteers were brilliant. They would come to one of us for a new job and would get straight back to it once they knew the plan. Working with them was a pleasure due to their good group dynamic making the work task as sociable as the tea breaks.

One species it does benefit is the adorable Dormouse

One species it does benefit is the adorable Dormouse. Photo taken by Paul Comer.

At the end of the day, another 3rd of the dead hedge was built and a large amount of hazel was coppiced. The volunteers said they had a good time and the two newcomers settled into the group nicely.

If you would like to volunteer on DWT reserves then details on how to get involved is on the DWT Website.

by Ed and Frances, Heritage Lottery funded Wildlife Skills trainees

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