A while ago I contacted Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to find a guy called Rob Atkinson. I managed to get hold of him with intention of asking some questions about coppice. He was very helpful, and suggested I came down to have a look at the Treswell wood, and if I wanted I could hang around and help for the day. I agreed, wrote the dates down in my diary and put it to the back of my mind. Well, today I went to meet Rob, see the wood, and volunteer my services cutting coppice.
Rob had previously explained that the wood at Treswell is as close to a commercially managed site as you are likely to find, but I was really not sure how, or what, he meant. Spending time there today allowed me to understand the setup a lot more. It is basically a 120(ish) acre site that was levelled during WWI for materials and, apart from odd bits, almost completely untouched since. It has been managed in parts for the past 35 years or so, and now produces some excellent wood. So good in fact that hurdle makers come from Sheffield, Herfordshire, and further to buy standing coppice, and cut it for their goods. Rob was even more helpful today than he was on the phone, and showed me around the site, and answered my barrage of questions with enthusiasm. He showed me to the part of the wood where the hurdle makers source their hazel, showed me the difference between 7 year hazel, 3 year aspen, and the 80 year old ash. It was really fascinating to see and everything that I had read in books was falling into place.
Lovely straight hazel rods
This image shows the amount of light availbable above the hazel, allowing it to grow striaght up.
This image shows how well kept each plot is for the hurdle makers.
This image shows very young aspen in aoungst the long grass growing up quickly.
Then we were set to work. We were introduced to a potter called Jim. He makes pots using Medieval techniques, fuelling his kilns with wood from Treswell. We were helping him ‘glean faggots’. Basically this involved taking the piles of unwanted crown, (the bushy top of the felled tree), that was left by the woodmen who had been clearing and cut it and tie it together into bundles, or faggots. This was relatively easy starting work, but gave such an insight into the attitude in a managed wood. Nothing is wasted, even the top of the tree which seems like useless twigs is taken by someone and used for fuel. It also was an excellent opportunity for me to learn to use my billhook – and what a tool that is. Having sharpened it the day before it just cut like a hot knife through butter and I learned to cut quite accurately with it quite quickly. It really was a joy to use a proper, raw tool in that way.
A faggot ready for tying.
Me using my billhook.
A lovely clean billhook cut through a hawthorn branch.
We spent the rest of the day gathering and tying these faggots, and I really enjoyed it. To get totally lost in such ancient work, in an environment with such a great atmosphere, was just heaven. Rob explained that the thing that makes Treswell so special is the fact that all these different characters come from all around to use the wood, so it has a social significance too. There was some serious banter at lunch time between the woodmen and the birdwatchers, and some lad called ‘laser boy’, who seemed to be the target of most of the chaffing.
Rob has given me the contact details for some of the woodmen that cut the straight hazel rods, and recommends I contact them to buy some good wood. He also offered up volunteer work whenever I am available, which I will certainly take up if my timetable permits it.
Rods ready to be taken away.