Monday, 28 December 2015


This is one of the few birds that you can hear right through the winter.  A very loud voice for a very small bird.  It's a jolly little song with a string of chirruppy phrases including a long 'churrrr' towards the end.

My Collins Bird Guide describes the wren as "very small, and this reinforced by ludicrously small tail that is usually raised vertically, also by short neck"

But it's not always easy to spot a wren as it likes zipping around in dense undergrowth and will often sing from the middle of a bush or a pile of twigs and branches.  

Wrens like to breed in woodland with dense undergrowth and overgrown clearings.  This is the sort of habitat we hope to promote with our coppicing activities.  At first the coppiced area or coupe looks rather bare and barren, but by cutting down the shrubs and removing some trees we let more light in and hopefully a dense under storey develops.

Just right for wrens.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The man who made things out of trees

Book of the week this week is about a man who decided to fell an ash tree and see how many things could be made out of it.  He describes the felling in a most poetic but still practical way.  It's very accessible to lay people but satisfyingly correct in its descriptions of all the crafts involved in making the 'things'.  There are still two episodes to go on Radio 4 from 9.45 till 10 o'clock.  It's being read brilliantly by Anton Lesser.  You can hear all five episodes on bbc radio i-player.

or get the book

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Coppice workers

Our coppicing is proceeding well despite the wet and gloomy weather.  Derek took some photos last Sunday so with just a few words of commentary, I'll let the pictures tell the story.

 Alan and Will making the most of some 'marginal' wood

 Steve and a pile of firewood logs

Eric sharpening stakes for the dead hedge 

Alan and Will still trimming sticks

 Steve in action with his billhook

The dead hedge made from waste material 

It marks out where we have been, so we can remember next year.  There is no intention to keep people out so we leave entrance gaps. 

It can also form a different sort of habitat if it's dense enough.

Orderly piles of trimmed sticks

Destined to become firewood, charcoal, beanpoles, plant stakes and hedging stakes 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The spoonbill sandpiper

On Radio 4's "Tweet-of-the-Day" on Sunday morning, I heard about the spoonbill sandpiper.

This attractive little bird is in serious decline from 2000 pairs in the wild in the 1970s down to 100 pairs in 2011 and even fewer now.  Trapping for food and habitat degradation are to blame.  They breed in Kamchatka and overwinter in Bangla Desh, migrating through Japan, China and Korea.

I grieve to hear this but am struck by how easy it is to blame people in other countries when our own record on habitat maintenance is so poor.  Turning so-called waste land into housing estates, railways, food production and football pitches, we too are destroying habitats which untold numbers of plant and animal species depend on.  

Maybe it is inevitable that the world's wildlife will gradually die out.  But we should look at our own record on, for example, loss of ancient woodlands, wetlands, heaths and grasslands before we rail about the destruction of rainforests and the hunting of whales.  In our way we kill far more creatures with our garden pesticides and obsession with tidying up nature, than poor villagers in Africa or India who kill the elephants or tigers that plunder their crops and cattle.

The enemy is poverty.  What is our excuse?

Sorry about the rant.  Just got a bit riled by some journalists.
There is good work being done to save not only the spoonbill sandpiper but many other creatures and the habitats they need and deserve.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Slow worm

Found this slow worm in my garage the other day.  Unfortunately it was dead and had dried hard and rigid in this shape.  

I wonder what the story was.  Was it old and ill and sought a quiet place to breathe it's last?  Did it crawl in and then fail to find its way out again?  My best guess is that it came into the garage to hibernate a year or so ago, but never made it through the winter.

At least we can take comfort that these members of the lizard fraternity are still alive and about the place - except for this one, of course.

Slow worms are not snakes although they have no legs.  

Two lizardy clues - 
  • slow worms blink - they have eyelids, which snakes don't
  • slow worms can shed their tails like other lizards;  snakes can't.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Forest Schools at Filnore Woods

Several school and Scout groups have visited Filnore Woods and we have a couple of qualified forest school leaders who have been using Filnore Woods for a group of disabled people to get in contact with the natural world.
Nicola, Rachel and some other helpers, working with the Forest of Avon Trust, took a group into Filnore for several weeks to try out environmental and creative activities, including felling a small dead tree, painting with natural dyes, making a wooden xylophone and lighting a small fire (under carefully controlled conditions, of course). 

Suspended xylophones made from hazel wood

Art work

Paint not always on target


Jane Gulliver, co-author of '1,2,3 Where are You', a book of games for children in the woods, is also thinking of running some days for a group of children with special needs and their dads.

Great to have the woods being used as a resource for learning in the widet sense.

Friday, 4 December 2015


Some people pronounce it 'litchen' to rhyme with kitchen but more people pronounce it 'liken'. 

There are  20,000 different species of lichens worldwide:  some are crusty (crustose), some are leafy (foliose) and some are branching like miniature fruit trees (fruticose).  The more structurally complex lichens require cleaner air, so they can be used as an indicator of air quality.  If you only find crusty lichens you are in an area which is relatively more polluted.  Leafy lichens indicate slightly better air quality and fruticose lichens indicate even cleaner air.

My photos show leafy lichens on a piece of ash wood, recently fallen from a tree at Filnore Woods.  Lichens have no roots so they do no damage to trees; they just find tree bark a good place to sit.

They are strange and fascinating organisms.  They look a bit like mosses but they are not.  A lichen is made up of a fungus and an alga living together and dependent on each other. (Sometimes a 'cyanobacterium' or 'blue-green alga' joins in too.) The fungi provide the structure and the algae use sunlight and carbon dioxide to provide food for the team by photosynthesis.  They are not just side by side, their cells are intermingled.  It's a totally symbiotic relationship.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Queen wasp

A couple of days ago while I was at my computer, I was buzzed by a low flying aircraft.  It was a queen wasp.  She was probably looking for somewhere warm and dry to hibernate.  Only the queens survive the winter, carrying within them the eggs that will form the new colony of wasps next year.  She eventualy landed on the floor and I took the above snap of her.

Although an extra-large wasp flying just above my head gave me a bit of a shiver,  I admire these smart looking insects.  They feed almost exclusively on other invertebrates through the year and only become a nuisance at the end of the summer when there are no more grubs to feed.

If you have ever seen a wasps' nest you will know what a wonderful artefact it is, made entirely of paper which the wasps manufacture from wood which they gather and chew and mix with saliva.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Scenic seeds

The fruits of burdock are covered in 'velcro' bristles to hitch on to passing animals and spread the seeds.

Thistles spread their seeds by fluffy thistledown spread by the wind, but the spiky remains, although dead, are a sculptural work of art.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The cowshed cafe

For some time now we have noticed random fires being lit in the woods.  

This frequently damages the trees, either burning and killing the bark or killing the invisible but vital roots beneath the soil.

Taken last winter

A year on, it can be seen that the lower bark has died for nearly half the circumference of the trunk.

So it might help if we provided a safe place for the pyros to light their fires.  The foundations of the old cowshed are concrete and could be a suitable location, acceptably private with a wall of undergrowth providing shelter.  

So our intrepid volunteers from Essilor gathered to clear the brambles and nettles.  Underneath this green covering lies a piece of agricultural archaeology. 

 When Filnore Woods was first created in 1998 the cowshed was still standing with several walls and a bit of roof.  It was used a lot by children and teenagers but eventually someone set fire to it and it had to be demolished for safety reasons.  We cleared it back in 2013  .  .  .

.  .  .  but then it got overgrown again.

So we decided to restore it as a safe place for youngsters to play out in the wilds and even have a fire without danger to the surrounding woods.  

Matt and Rob from Essilor piling up the vegetation they cleared in one morning

 Go Essilor go!

Woooo!  Somebody's set fire to it already!

Exhausting work but the bramble roots have been removed

And log seats arranged for a meeting.  

Let's see if anyone is interested.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Harvestmen - information for next year's harvest time

Todat's frost will  probably have finished off the last of the harvestmen.  They overwinter as eggs.  But I've written this posting anyway so you can think about them all winter and look for them next summer

They look like spindly spiders with very long, slender legs which keep their bodies suspended above ground, like something from 'Star Wars'.   Most people find they are not so scary as spiders, probably because they don't come into our houses.

They have eight legs like their relatives the spiders.  The second pair of legs is always the longest and they use them to feel the ground ahead, just as some insects use their antennae.  

Spiders have a separate body and head, but harvestmen have them combined into just one blob.  And they can't make webs or any silk at all.

   On top of the head is a little stalk or turret called an ocularium, with two eyes.  This is particularly spectacular in a species called  Megabunus diadema.

.    There are about 25 different species of harvestman in the UK.  They are easiest to find in late summer and autumn when they are mature.  But they die in winter so it may be too late now.  You may have to wait a bit.

This one called Phalangium opilio is the commonest harvestman in the world.  The males have forward pointing 'horns' on the front, which helps with identification

Photo: naturenet

Harvestmen mostly like damp habitats and feed on almost anything: tiny invertebrates like springtails (dead or alive), mites, small caterpillars, tiny slugs and snails, decaying plant and animal matter, even bird poo.

So quite good at clearing up then.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Not everything dies in winter

While cutting hazel in the woodland near the pylon, we came across evidence of wildlife still at large.

This seven-spot ladybird had probably found a sheltered spot near ground level to overwinter.  Then we came along and woke her up.  Sorry, your Ladyship!

And moles are still clearly at large under the turf.  They stay active right through the winter.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


We've made a start at cutting and sorting hazel poles up near the pylon.  This is the third winter of coppicing and we have chosen the area next to the last two coupes (coppiced areas).

We started by removing a big clump of brambles on 28th October.

Then on 8th Nov we got stuck into cutting the hazel and dogwood.  This is the easy bit. 

The harder part is choosing which bits to save as useful poles and stakes and which bits to commit to the dead hedge around the coupe.  Useful poles have to be trimmed of side branches with a billhook.

We shall be working through the winter to clear as big an area as possible.  As the hazel re-grows in each year's coupe, we shall be creating a mosaic of habitats with different characteristics: bare ground, twiggy growth, scrub and mature woodland.  Eventually after seven years, we would hope to come back round to where we started and take a new crop of poles from the same stools (roots).