Well, it might be not be that cold yet, but we're certainly on the threshold of winter. And while you might think its a quiet time of year, there's loads going on in the woods.
Management of broadleaf woodlands really kicks in to gear as autumn turns to winter, and we use this time of year to fell, plant and coppice trees, and mend the hedges. There are different reasons for this. The trees are dormant, so its a better time of year to thin, fell and coppice. In the days of a hard frost, trees are more easily moved through the wood without damaging the ground. And – traditionally – other jobs on the land would come to an end, so there would also be more time to spend looking after the woods, and do essential jobs that would help protect the landscape and provide useful materials. Traditions have grown up around all these activities, with different tools, techniques and even language depending on the region.
While we don't have any hedges to rework (yet!), we are looking forward to two things in particular: coppicing, and exploring the changing woods.
Paul manages a hazel coppice in Redlees Urban Fringe Park in Lanarkshire. A coppice is another name for an area of woodland where trees are felled to encourage new growth. Coppicing can be traced back to Neolithic times, and well-managed coppices can be sustainable over hundreds of years. Most broadleaves can be coppiced, but some are stronger than others, including hazel, oak, and ash. The process involves cutting the tree near to ground level, encouraging new shoots to grow from the stump, or stool. Cutting in winter means that the tree is dormant, and will be able to spring back into life when the soil gets warmer and the daylight lengthens. New trees will grow from these shoots, creating a cycle of material. The cut wood is also a manageable size, and can be used to create baskets, furniture, fence hurdles, and more.
The other thing that's great to do is to explore the woodlands, all year round. In winter, the woods are a very different place. Tree identification can no longer rely on leaves, much of the wildlife takes a rest (a welcome break from the midges) and snow - when we have it - introduces a different kind of peace. There's also plenty of stuff to find, and everyone loves a project! You can start to gather your materials for festive decorations, looking out for holly, mistletoe and pine cones, and even scoping out the perfect Christmas tree. This article by the Woodland Trust gives some more ideas about what you can get up in the woods in winter.
So, layer up, grab your hat, scarf, gloves and boots, and head out into the woods. You'll be rewarded for venturing out on a cold, frosty morning.