Friday, 07 Oct 2011

Shooting Season

Tonight it feels cold, and a small idea of what cold will mean in a month or so. And its the season where things get shot. As top predator and chief meddler we have to keep check on the natural world we have  squeezed into a corner. The deer here (which are Fallow not Roe as I said before) are culled in November and the venison sold. I would try it if I was still here. The big freezer container near my hut has been checked and readied for the season. Pheasants which have been carefully reared, released and are dashing foolishly about getting squashed on the roads, will be shot for sport. Far more are shot than can be eaten, according to Richard Mabey, and hundreds are buried. Badgers will be culled as they are supposed to be carriers of bovine turburculosis, but opinion is divided on this.

Meanwhile, its suddenly my last night and I won’t be here to be part of these conversations. I have spent most of my eight weeks getting to know this wood. And I do know things. I know where there is a magnificent double holed badger sette.

Chalk lies in heaps around the entrances to settes

Read on…

Sunday, 25 Sep 2011

Season of mists and …

Yes the season is turning – the beeches are going yellow, the light wakes me at 6 not 4.30 and there’s a chill in the air in the morning and evening. I have put the big storage heater on.

The time of fruitfulness just suits the moment in my stay here, I am bringing my strongest, most insistent, ideas to fruition and putting others aside for another time. I want to finish a body of work before I go that will be ready for a proposed exhibition at Stour Valley Arts Gallery next year.

Back at the beginning of this journal there was Ragwort everywhere, which I picked for dye and have used. There were berries already ripe too. Elderberry, which I picked and have used for dye, its a beautiful soft blue on cotton. The birds have cleaned up nearly every one around here so I have no photo, but I have blue. Rowan berries, flashing red against all the green, also gone as food for winter fattening birds.

Ragwort, Willow Herb, Thistle, St John’s Wort, Old Man’s Beard and Dandelion have made seed that drifts  away on the breezes. I have filmed the Willow Herb, blizzards of soft white down moving through the trees.

But now other plants are joining the fruiting, berries are everywhere. Red is the popular choice. Asking to be noticed by hungry birds, and they are feasting .





Sloe, very bitter until sweetened with gin!


Bryony, Traveller's Joy. Displays in a graceful drape through another's foliage.


Briar Rose hips


Bramble and a view to the South coast





And another colour appearing, the damp leaf litter flowering with its own autumn palette.

The inimitable Amanita muscaria, fly agaric.






Monday, 05 Sep 2011

The search for origins, Yews and BeechTrees

The search for origins seems to preoccupy people here as much as it does in Australia. Here are two old trees that are considered part of the first landscape of Britain.

Yews were here before the last sea level rise of 6,000 years ago as huge trunks have been found drowned in fenland bogs.

Even before I came here I saw on the map of the Wood that there were Yews marked in the north east corner. I have stumbled around in there a few times getting lost, its the wildest bit, and  I have found some big old Yews.

An ancient Yew in the northern edge of the Wood

According to Richard Mabey (The Tree of the Cross In search of the Fortingall Yew, Granta 102 The New Nature Writing, Granta Publications, London, 2008, pp. 86 – 96. ), when a Yew gets to 500 years old it stops bothering to maintain its core and by the time it is around 1,000 it is usually hollow, putting down new roots where its branches touch the ground and even butressing itself by rooting and growing new trunks in the old core. This confounds  normal tree dating processes. But suffice to say, a hollow Yew is probably over 700 years old .


There's seven children in that tree

This grand old tree was in a churchyard near here. (Big old Yews are often found in churchyards) I was curious to see if it was hollow, which it was. An elderly woman weeding the path, when she saw me taking photos, said “there’s seven children in that tree ” What she meant was that the tree hollow was reputedly big enough to contain seven children ! As the church was “only” 600 years old the tree was much older. This is often the case too, the churchyard Yews predate the building’s earliest incarnation. The debate rages. Yews have featured in European myth and recent re-imagings of European myth, and when you come across them in the Wood secreted amongst the Beeches, they truly are a serious presence to encounter and always make me stop and sit down for a while. They have been around so long as to make you giddy next to them.


A baby Yew beside the path, King's Wood (about 50 years old ?)


Beeches, on the other hand, seem to invariably inspire people to engrave their initials on them.

Beech graffiti, King's Wood

They can get pretty massive too, and their roots are knarly, spreading and powerful.


Beech roots spreading along a bank

Beeches are “original” British trees too, being amongst the first to re-colonise after the ice retreated and before the channel flooded and stoped the march of trees back into Britain. They were apparently used as way markers and border markers at the boundaries of fields, an old Beech in a hedge means a field boundary that has been there hundreds of years.

In Victorian times estate boundaries were often marked very smartly with an iron fence on a raised ditch. But this Beech marking the border between King’s Wood and Cutler’s Wood cares not a fig for such tiny human efforts and has swallowed the fencepost, dislodged the gate and engulfed the wire.


The Beech that ate the fence

And even in this obscure part of the Wood someone has been unable to resist the smooth blank page of the Beech bark !


Love letter for a Beech




Thursday, 01 Sep 2011

Mist Nets and Bird Rings

This morning I had an adventure, being invited to visit a bird banding site in the Wood. I learned that the birds, which have mostly eluded me, are quiet at the moment as they are just finishing their annual moult or are wary learner fledglings still using baby feathers to fly.

However quite a few flew into the net this morning and were ringed and had their vital measurements taken.

At first sight the process appeared rather invasive, but the birds were in fact quite calm at being handled in the proper manner and after I held a few the same way you could feel that they were resigned rather than distressed. The Blue Tits had quite an attitude and pecked fingers - those ferocious little Blue Tits !


Bagged birds hanging about before being measured

A great moment was releasing them from an outstretched palm and watching them dash for cover, Blue Tits giving a parting nip. It was a wonderful experience to see those beautiful little birds close up.

Goldcrest, a tiny bird.

Some of the finer points of identification were very complex, these two are different species.

A Chiff Chaff and a Willow Warbler

Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Whitethroat, Chaffinch, Chiff Chaff, Willow Warbler, Bullfinch. Thats a poem for you .

Many thanks to John for inviting me to join him.






Tuesday, 30 Aug 2011

Cabin in the woods


Here is my little cabin in the woods.

Its 8pm and the security light was tripped by my coming out to take the photo, thats the spotlight centre ! In fact I am not as isolated as this seems, in front of me is the entrance off the main road and a house, plus the forestry operation machinery parking. Sometimes they rumble past and I can’t believe they won’t just bowl me over, shed and all.

In front of the cabin is a house


Inside the studio/ living room is quite big.

The bedroom is off one end of the main room


Up a nettle bordered path along one side is the door, and the wood is at my window there. Squirrels leap about in the hazel and sounded like burglars when I was first settling in.


King's Wood at my window


And of course in the first picture you can see my trusty Ford escort which has moss growing on the back window ledge, but it goes along quite steadily .

So all in all I am very content in my little cabin, and it keeps me focussed on the great, green, sighing, body of the wood thats just outside my door.







Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011

Another kind of England

Of course there is another kind of England that isn’t much connected to the natural world, in fact I recently read an article in the National Trust magazine discussing “nature deprivation syndrome” (yes a real term) in children. Governments are promoting “green exercise ” programmes for children and families.

At the weekend I caught the fast train from Ashford International to London. If I had made my usual mistake of heading off in the wrong direction I would have gone to France ! Ashford, in anticipation of being on the international line, began a programme of upgrading and developing the old rail yards near the centre of town. They have run out of money and there is a an air of dereliction near the new station which is possibly symptomatic of the times.

in Ashford

To be fair though there is a beautiful park near the church which was well used by young people deep in conversation on their phones. And the church itself had this worn old  madonna in a niche on one wall, many petitioners have come to see her.

The Asford Madonna

Stour Valley Arts have moved to Ashford to a very spacious premises and with a Gallery which is very well equipped and managed.


Stour Valley Arts in Ashford

London has wonderful green lungs especially in the more affluent areas. And on of the the most wonderful is Richmond Park, complete with spotted Fallow Deer, quite unfazed by the attention of an adoring fan club !


The beautiful Fallow deer in Richmond Park

And now – back to business and back to the Wood, again.