Out in the woods: December 2013

Another year is passing us by and along comes Autumn to dazzle us with glorious colours of gold, copper and bronze. It was forecast that it was going to be a particularly breathtaking experience this year and, just as I was beginning to think it was not going to be anything extraordinary, at the end of November the wood suddenly exploded into a most stunning display of Autumn glory with a profusion of glorious colours shining through even the most gloomy of days.

Having mentioned “storms” the wood survived the really big one we had in October quite well. Of course we suffered the loss of several trees, and dead branches came down, but it was not nearly as serious as the devastating 1987 storm when we lost a considerable number of big oak trees.  More detail of the recent storm is reported below. Needless to say our trusty wood wardens have had their work cut out clearing fallen trees and debris and I am sure you will all join with me in thanking them for all the extra hard work put in to keep the paths and bridleways accessible and safe.

If you have been walking in the wood you will not have failed to notice the bumper crop of acorns this year, not only were they ‘raining’ down but it was also pretty hazardous walking on them, and care was needed to stay upright to avoid contact with the woodland floor!

On 27th October our last organized walk took place with Chris James leading us on a Fungal Foray.  About thirty of us set off in search of specimens for Chris to identify and although we had some success it would have been nice if the fungi had been a bit more prolific. With a considerable amount of rain and high winds prior to our walk there was quite a lot of ground leaf cover which made it difficult to find as many as we would have liked, but I hope those people who stayed the course found it an enjoyable afternoon. Nature is so unpredictable!!

November is the time of year when we, Wood Wardens, have our Annual General Meeting so I hope you will forgive me for giving you a few facts and figures relating to the work carried out over the year. First of all our Chairman reminded us that, as well as being a wonderful amenity for the local community, Sherrardspark Wood is a beautiful, natural habitat whose biodiversity we should protect and enhance as a priority to ensure a continuing long life for the woodland. 

Now for those facts and figures:

One hundred and eleven Work Parties have taken place over the year, with an average of 12 people working per session with a total of 57 volunteers being involved.

The largest project has been coppicing a half-hectare In Brockswood. 32 working parties were held in this area between the end of November and the beginning of April this year.   If you are wondering “Why?” the aim is to return the wood to the structure it had when it was regularly coppiced 100 years ago. A more open canopy and thicker undergrowth will be good for birds, bats and insects and, we hope, dormice. Words of praise for this work were received from’The Woodland Assessors’ who commended us for a ‘Professional’ job.   Well done to all involved.

Contractors carried out work early in the year, widening the bridleway between Six Ways and Sherrardspark Road and clearing sycamore from Conduit Field. Good liaison took place between the contractor, WHBC and the Wood Wardens during this project. But the wood wardens put a lot of work, 20 working parties, into rerouting the bunds away from mature trees and rebuilding their height.

Over the summer 11 new way mark posts were installed, with 6 more to do. These are made from Sherrardspark Wood oak rather than soft wood so should last much longer than the old ones.

Four information boards have been installed at various entrances and visitors to the wood will shortly be informed of the winter work to be carried out. 

14 designated footpaths and bridleways were blocked but after a super effort they were cleared in three days, however there is still work to do.

Some sadder news is that it has recently come to light that many of the beech trees in Monk’s Walk are diseased and will have to be felled for safety reasons.

Two more wood wardens are now fully qualified first aiders, bringing the total to eight.

There are of course many other tasks that have been accomplished during the year, which I report in the WHT Magazine on a fairly regular basis.

The monitoring groups have also had a busy year. I reported in November on the deer survey carried out by a team of wood wardens. Also a survey of small mammals which entails the dedicated volunteers getting up very early in the morning and checking progress late at night is underway. Several new volunteers have joined the butterfly transect monitoring team and it is hoped that the path widening will encourage better results during the coming year. Lots of other monitoring has been in progress, including investigating pond life, woodpecker numbers and all sorts of other things. Such dedicated, patient work and all undertaken by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers.

Behind the scenes we have a publicity committee, which incorporates setting up the annual Guided Walks Programme. For those wood wardens who enjoy walking, as well as working, a monthly organized walk takes place in different parts of the county. Other social events include our annual Christmas Party, as well as a summer BBQ, and regular meetings throughout the year with interesting speakers.  

We recently had a specially arranged outing to a brick works, not too far away, which in 2012 used naturally sourced timber from Sherrardspark Wood in their wood-fired brick kilns. These kilns ceased to be used in 1926, but the grandson of the original founder, a committed brick enthusiast, decided to recreate this 18th century industrial brick firing process. Unfortunately I missed this one, but the visiting group were made most welcome and the visit was greatly enjoyed and most informative. I must emphasize here that trees in Sherrardspark Wood are not felled for commercial purposes, they are only cut down for environmental and safety reasons, or collapse naturally at the end of their life.  

Last, but by no means least, we now have up and running our own web site.

www.sherrardsparkwoodwardens.org.uk

A lot of time and hard work has gone into this project by a team of people but, if you go in and have a look, I am sure you will agree that they have done an excellent job.

As you can see, a great deal of work has gone into helping our woodland survive for future generations and if you would like to have more information about any of the projects and tasks mentioned please give Gary a call on 01707 375216.  Please, do think about sparing two hours on a Thursday or Sunday morning to come along and join us - we need all the help we can get.

Well, I don’t know about you but I am exhausted just writing about all this activity so I think it only remains for me, and all the wood wardens, to wish you a Happy Christmas and joyful times walking in our most enchanting woodland in 2014.

Marian Dawson, Sherrardspark Wood Warden

[First published in Welwyn Hatfield Times Magazine, December 2013]