Firstly, we hope that you are all keeping well and Covid free. Things have continued much the same in Pondhead over the past month with our small “Covid Bubble” of volunteers and the chainsaw team.
The sawing “bubble” volunteers have been doing a great job ensuring that the kiln is kept supplied with charcoal timber cut to the correct length. The kiln has been kept busy as demand for charcoal has remained brisk, especially when the sun has shone. Despite losing seven weeks production and sales, current sales total £3445 which is only £785 behind last year’s total for the same period. To put it in perspective, that’s 744 bags of charcoal sold weighing 2.25 tonnes which took over 7 tonnes of timber to produce – that’s a lot of sawing by the “bubble”. The end result will not be as bad as we feared when we headed into lockdown in March. However, we now have only one more month of peak sales before they reduce to a trickle after 31 August, but we’ll continue production into September in order to build up some stock to carry through through the autumn and winter months.
The four chair making courses that we couldn’t run in June have now been rescheduled to run from 17 to 22 August when we will run them on five days to reduce number attending each event. While the risks are considered much less in an outdoor environment, we are putting additional Covid measures in place. Interestingly, only one person requested a refund with all other attendees happy to proceed. Unfortunately, we usually pick up most of our bookings for these courses from our presence at the New Forest Show which would have been taking place this week, so it remains to be seen what demand there will be for courses next year – we may have to take a sabatical!
The improvements to the woodland sector of the Pondhead Circular Walk have been completed during the week and it turned out to be a bigger task than anticipated when we first started. The same six volunteers have been meeting every Tuesday over the past month and significant amounts of hoggin and charcoal sievings have been transported by the wheelbarrow load to improve the ride structure. The chainsaw crew have been operating on Thursdays and a significant number of deseased ash trees have been felled. Although it’s a shame to lose these trees, it has opened up the area around Dibden’s Bridge and will help under foot conditions during the wetter months. One of the aims of these improvements was to make the section accessible to the Disabled Ramblers who visit on their all-terrain mobility scooters. The group’s organiser, Val Rawlings, joined us on Wednesday to try it out for us and they passed the test with flying colours. In fact they were delighted that they could reach parts of Pondhead that were previously inaccessible to them.
While we were working around the walk area, we decided to tidy up the “pond” and clear a load of timber and branches that had either fallen in or had been thrown in over recent years. Our first instrument of choice was a grappling hook but some of the poles that were standing upright in the water tested our skills with a lasso! A passer-by approved of the work we had done and then asked if we were going to remove the remains of the two old charcoal rings kilns that were dumped in there in the 1970s – we told her that they were part of the woodland’s history! We have now erected a polite notice requesting that nothing else is thrown in.
As mentioned previously, we are introducing an audio trail around the walk by way of QR codes which work via the camera on a smartphone with an internet connection. These codes are now gradually starting to appear on the walk’s waymark posts. Click here for an example of what may appear on your phone when you scan and activate them. More will be appearing over the course of the next few weeks.
In addition to work on the circular walk, we have been making regular inspections of the coppice coupes that that we cut by hand last season to check for deer damage. We’re pleased to report that growth has been strong (up to five feet in some areas already) and the woven dead hedges have done an excellent job of keeping the deer out – full marks to all those involved on the standard of construction. Unfortunately, we set up a trail cam recently to check for badgers and found no badgers but three species of deer – fallow, roe and muntjac. So much for deer management! The effects of their browing is evident everywhere around the inclosure in unfenced areas and we are having more and more deer sightings on a regular basis. This will be another discussion topic for our meeting with Forestry England on 26 August sheduled to discuss the wild garlic (ramsons) area that was trashed by forestry operations in the winter.
Our Pondhead Clothing order has been received and we are starting to get orders out. If you have placed an order you can collect either from Perry’s shop in Lyndhurst, “Down to the Wood” or from Pondhead when we’re there all day doing a burn – just email email@example.com and let us know your preference.
Looking forward, we hope to be able to resume conservation tasks in September, provided that the Covid situation doesn’t deteriorate in the meantime which after the PM’s announcement today is begining to look more likely. You may be aware that some other New Forest conservation groups will not be running their autumn/winter programmes this season. However, as outdoor activities are considered by the experts to pose a significantly lower risk of virus transmission, we feel that the personal wellbeing benefits that fresh air and excercise provide can be achieved by following a few simple additional precautions. As suggested previously, it is likely that we will operate with fewer volunteers per event (possibly with a maximum of 6) but with some extra events to compensate. Underpinning all of this is our desire to ensure that our volunteers remain safe. Accordingly, we will understand if any volunteers prefer not to attend tasks for the time being.
We’ll have a much clearer picture next month of what is achievable. In the meantime, stay safe everyone.