Wonderful working party!

On Sunday 22nd we held our first group session of practical conservation work in the WBC owned section of Fox Hill. It was a great success, so we invited Steph to tell us about it. Luckily she said yes!

A bit of background

Earlier in the year FOFH approached Wokingham Borough Council and asked for permission to carry out conservation activities in the WBC owned section of woodland. Our intention is not to manage the whole site on behalf of WBC, but to enhance areas so that it is more attractive to a greater variety of native wild plants and animals.

As a group of amaetuer enthusiasts we sought the help from more experienced conservation volunteers already working in similar settings locally. They responded extremely positively and we were lucky enough to gain the expertise of:

  • Steve Lloyd leads conservation work on a small site in Ruscombe amongst many other conservation activities
  • Graham Breadmore works with BBOWT, and leads groups locally.
  • Mike Pateman works with Steve and Graham on conservation activities.

All three are experienced in the safe use of hand tools, and have years of experience in managing and revitalising woodlands.

In July representatives from FOFH met with Steve and Graham in the woods, to look at where we might begin and our overall aims. In August Ricky Josie from WBC walked the site with us to ensure that the council were happy that we could make a positive impact. Ricky also added some useful organisational tips. Finally, there was one last visit with Steve and Graham earlier in the week prior to our first session to check that everything was safe, and go over the final details.

On the day

We got off to a great start, despite the rain closing in on us towards the end of the morning. Steph began by explaining our overall intention, which was to create more light in a section of the woods by removing some of the invasive species. Graham then gave a short health and safety talk and some advice about the tools we would be using. Steve demonstrated coppicing, and Mike reminded us to work a safe distance apart. Warning signs were erected for members of the public using the footpath and work began.

Most of the trees removed were holly saplings and sycamore. Sycamore is a non-native species, with a wide canopy which can block the forest floor from light. Holly is invasive and grows over and through other species. Hazel trees were coppiced, and we can now make use of the long straight growths to form hedging posts. Coppicing does not damage the tree and encourages healthy growth. Coppicing is a traditional style of woodland management, and most of the sweet chestnuts in the woodlands show signs that they were once coppiced.

After a short break the rain began to set in, but we pressed on for an hour before finishing at 1pm. The coppiced hazel and undergrowth we’d removed was stacked next to the path, ready to use next time. There was a lot of dead wood in the area where we were working, much of which was left in place. Dead wood is great for beetles so we didn’t want to disturb too much. Instead we concentrated on moving dead wood that had fallen onto living trees.

At the end of the session everyone left with a smile and we hope felt their time was well used and that what we had achieved was worthwhile. Massive thanks go to Steve, Graham and Mike for their invaluable help.

We’re looking forward to next time already! Talking of which…

Future sessions

We are grateful that Steve, Graham and Mike have agreed to continue to help us for some more sessions. Our aim is to make working parties a monthly event, meeting on the third Sunday of the month from 10am-1pm. Provisional dates for the rest of 2019 are:

  • October 20th
  • November 17th
  • December 22nd

Precise details will be confirmed closer to the time. If you are thinking of coming, please email events@friendsoffoxhill.org to let us know.

At our next session we will use the coppiced hazel to support a dead hedge, and the undergrowth removed will be used as hedge filling! Dead hedges are great homes for wildlife, offering shelter for many birds and small animals as well as a multitude of insects.