Spring is a particularly beautiful time of year in our woodland. The trees are coming into leaf, the wild garlic is flowering, the bluebells are unfurling, and the birds are singing.
Our family treasure our woodland as much as our vines and our wines, and we’ve spent a great deal of time and effort over the past winter months restoring and managing it for the benefit of wildlife and our visitors.
The lower section of our woodland was planted thirty years ago by the previous Astley owners. Now that the trees have reached sufficient maturity, we’re undertaking the long process of selective thinning. This involves felling any dead, diseased or damaged trees; thinning out crowded or congested sections to provide more space for the remaining trees: and creating clearings in order to establish a coppicing regime. Over the past two winters, we reckon we’ve felled nearly eighty trees. Whilst this might seem drastic, we’re already seeing the benefits in terms of increased light in the woodland, more (and more varied) ground flora, and healthier trees.
The results of all our chainsaw efforts are endless piles of logs, sticks and brash. This winter, we hired a horselogger to help us extract some of our big timber, including large conifers which had fallen during the storms. The two cob horses, Twinkle and Ivy, plus their handler, Crunchie, made light work of the huge trunks, dragging them up the muddy slopes to our ‘Wood Lane’. We’re keen to support traditional rural skills, such as horselogging, as part of our estate management, especially when they save us from some significant heavy lifting and back ache! We’re processing most of the logs as firewood for our domestic log burners as well as using some of it for woodcraft and sculpture projects in the future. We shred most of the brash for our bark paths and bedding mulch, whilst leaving some piles in the woodland as valuable wildlife habitats. We’re also currently exploring the potential of making charcoal out of the many sticks we’ve got stacked around.
Protecting and planting
If you visit our woodland this year, you’ll notice some open areas of our woodland enclosed with fencing. This is to prevent our small resident herd of muntjac deer from grazing on the young growth of recently coppiced stools and re-emerging ground flora. We’ve also planted up one of these areas with some hazel whips, as we don’t have any of this species in our wood at the moment and are hoping it will add to our habitat diversity as well as provide some useful coppice craft wood in the future.
One of the most noticeable changes we’ve made this winter is clearing the upper valley of the huge thicket of dogwood which was smothering the stream and all other vegetation. It’s really opened up the area next to the pond and willow tree, and we’re looking at transforming it into a bog and wetland garden in the next year or two. We’ve also been trying to keep on top of other dominant and invasive species found in our woodland, including Spanish bluebells, brambles, and Himalayan balsam.
We’re eager to invite others to share in the joys of our woodland. We’ve held volunteer work parties for those who want to get their hands dirty and learn a bit more about the practicalities of woodland management. We’ve invited other woodland owners to visit us in order to share and learn from each other’s skills and experiences. We’ve hosted social forestry sessions to enable people to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of being in the woodland and taking part in wood-based activities. And we’ve included a walk and talk through our woodland in every vineyard tour to ensure our visitors understand the wooded landscape in which our wines are made.
On Sunday 5th May, 11-3pm, we’re holding a Woodland Open Day as part of the Shrawley Bluebell Weekend. This will be a great opportunity to see our woodland for yourself and find out more about the work we’ve been doing. There will be chainsaw carving and charcoal making demonstrations; treasure hunts, den making and craft activities for children; and wine available for the adults! There will be a £5 charge per car, proceeds of which will go to our social forestry projects.