Well, after the sunniest, coolest and driest April, we’ve had rainfall 92% above average in May. The Pondhead rides which had dried remarkably in April are now very muddy once again. The unusually cool weather also had an impact on the spring woodland flowers. Our bluebells were almost a month later than usual and were at their peak last week. Bluebell flowering time can be a bit unpredictable and because of their lateness this year, the contrast of white stitchwort flower growing amongst them is not something usually seen. The ramsons (wild garlic) area behind Limewood is slowly recovering following forestry operations in 2019 but is still only around half of what it used to be. It’s also pleasing to see the 12 standard lime trees that we planted there earlier in the year to provide shade have all taken well, despite the attention of our increasing deer population! Elsewhere the past two weeks has seen the trees spring back into life and the beech trees in particular always look very spectacular at this time of year.
As usual, our main activity at this time of year is charcoal production and we have been doing two burns a week over the past month to ensure we have adequate stock on hand. While the recent wet weather has dampened demand, we have still sold 1.4 tonnes of charcoal that required over 4 tonnes of cut timber. Considering we didn’t really start production last year until late May because of Covid and still had record sales, this year is poised to set another record. The smaller kiln that we acquired recently is proving its worth and regularly yielding over 20 kg of excellent charcoal. Both kilns are operated together on burn days. Our only problem is that we may run out of timber before the season ends the way things are going! Charcoal burns are being undertaken by our trained team of wood colliers (charcoal burners) who operate on a rota basis. This is an all day job starting at 8am or earlier and taking around 8 or 9 hours to complete. Emptying and bagging usually takes place the day after and also requires some training – it is also a very dusty and dirty job! These emptying/bagging tasks also operate on a rota of trained volunteers and if you would like to be included on that rota, please email email@example.com by 4 June.
All being well and Covid permitting, we should have a very busy coppice season this coming autumn to make up for our enforced lack of activity over the past 12 months. Only essential activity has been taking place during this period for which small “bubbles” of volunteers were formed based largely around the Pondhead management team, chainsaw team, charcoal burners and others who volunteered following our call for help after the first lockdown. In addition to keeping things ticking over we have also had to contend with windblown trees across rides and damage caused by forestry operations.
We appreciate that many of you have been missing the general health and wellbeing benefits that you get from volunteering in Pondhead, not to mention the general comradery. As Covid restrictions are gradually eased we aim to start getting back to some semblance of normal and as a first step we will shortly be inviting you to join our sawing parties to cut timber to size for the kiln. These will be small groups of 4 and will be led by members of our existing “sawing bubble” who have access to tools and will let you know what is required. There are morning and afternoon sessions and you will be able to sign up to these via our Events Diary shortly. While it has been proven that infection risks are significantly less outdoors and many of you will have had your vaccinations, we still need to keep at a social distance from each other on these tasks. There will also be hand gel available and wipes to disinfect tools after use.
Another task anyone can do at this time of year on any visit to Pondhead is bracken whipping. Bracken is an invasive member of the fern family that spreads by means of underground roots that send up new fronds each spring which die down in the autumn. Its invasive nature means that it can easily overpower other woodland flora and when it dies back, it forms a dense mat that smothers other species.
Unfortunately, it is toxic to mammals so they avoid grazing on it unlike much of the young tree regeneration in Pondhead that increasing deer numbers find very palatable! The most effective non chemical way to control it is to whip off the tops as they emerge above ground as this causes the plant to bleed and weeken the root system. All you need is a whippy stick and a flick of the wrist and you’ll find that the bracken tips break off very easily. The younger they are, the easier they break off so the next month is an ideal time to be whipping as you walk. Bracken is easily identifiable from other ferns (which we wish to preserve) as it is only grows on a single stem although the stems can grow quite close together. Give it a go – it can get addictive.
As we won’t be running chair courses this year in view of the lack of appropriate cut timber, we are planning to run a series af walks around Pondhead every Thursday during the holiday season. These will be advertised nationally via the “National Park Experiences” website and it will be interesting to see what level of take-up we get. Our entry is due to go live in the next seven days but you can click here for a preview.
Finally, we are having increasing problems with cyclists ignoring the “no cycling” signs not only on the main track between Beechen Lane and Bealieu Road, but also on the grass rides. All signeage is blatantly ignored and there have been several instances of signs being prised off the entrance gates. To clarify our position, we are not anti cycling and appreciate that the main track is a short cut avoiding the one-way system around the village. However, Pondhead is a conservation area with SSSI status and an area where people can experience and enjoy its peace and tranquility. It is used by young families, dog walkers and local elderly residents, one of whom fell over recently and injured herself getting out the way of cyclists who failed to stop. If the track was made an official cycle route, it would open the floodgates for hordes of cyclists which is not what Pondhead is about – there are over 100 miles of cycle routes in the Forest to chose from. We will continue to challenge them if we see them and don’t feel obliged to move over for them as they shouln’t be in there. We have also purchased some more prominent signs to put on the main gates.
Take care and hope to see you in Pondhead soon.