Restoring ancient woodland with Horse’s

14th of Jan 2015, Kit Vaughan and Ruth Fuller

Working horses were in action this week at the Prime Coppice woodland in the Marshwood Vale. The two heavy cob type horses, Holly and Ivy, together with Crunchie the Hereford based Horse logger were pulling out freshly felled Ash, Oak and Alder that will then be processed into firewood and sawn into planks and beams. Members of the public were able to come and see the horses in action on Saturday the 10th, witnessing some large trees being felled and learning about the pros and cons of using horses for woodland work. Participants shared ideas and information amongst themselves and were amazed at how quickly and efficiently the horses were able to extract the wood.

Prime coppice is a semi-natural ancient woodland and has a long history as a working wood, having been coppiced for hundreds of years and managed for a range of products, but it has not been actively managed for the last 30 years. We are working to restore the woodland, bringing the coppice back into rotation, opening up the woodland rides and tracks and increasing the wildlife through careful management. Much of the wood is Hazel and Ash coppice with some large Oak trees. The horses were an essential part of a team that were coppicing the Hazel and Ash and extracting some of the overstood Oak trees. Coppicing is an ancient woodland management method where a tree is felled at ground level and then regrows over a period of years without needing to be replanted. Coppice products are used for many things including hurdles, pea and bean sticks and other craft uses plus charcoal and firewood. Coppicing is very good for the woodland and its wildlife, with birds, insects and wild flowers all benefiting from managed intervention. Coppiced trees don’t grow well if it is shaded out by larger trees, so some of the large Oak trees were being felled to give the coppice a new lease of life with regeneration and new plantings of Oak and hazel to follow.

Using horses has a much smaller impact on the ground than using tractors and machinery, and working horses are ideally suited to steep sites, wet sites and environmentally sensitive areas. It also reduces compaction and damage to the woodland floor whilst giving no pollution from fossil fuels !

People have been working woods with horses for many generations. We have found horse shoes of all sizes and shapes in the wood and around the barns, so its nice to have that history and to have them back after a break of probably 80 years or more. The harvesting of our coppice trees is an example of actively regenerating our woodlands for multiple benefits for the local economy, wildlife and community.



 Photo courtesy of the Bridport News. Professional horse logger Crunchie pulling out Ash timber with his cob horses Holly and Ivy. There are more photos of the horse in the gallery




Woodlands working for the local economy

Kit Vaughan and Ruth Fuller

9th Jan 2015

Bringing west Dorset woods back into active management could play a vital role in regenerating our rural economies producing a range of woodland products and quality local wood fuel rather than importing so much of our timber from overseas and buying logs that are harvested unsustainably with large machines that often damage the woods and leave a trail of destruction. We need a local wood fuel and timber revolution that prioritises local produce over unsustainable imports. And every consumer can make that choice to buy local and support our local economy, for example for their charcoal, bean sticks, fencing posts, craft wood and firewood and other products. To get small woodlands like Prime Coppice back into active management there needs to be good market for woodland products including fuelwood and coppice products like hurdles, bean poles, pea fans and hedging stakes. There needs to be a move towards ‘local sustainably produced wood’ similar to the local food movement with less distance and travelled for the products and more accountability for the production of the products to ensure its sustainable and local.

Regenerating woodlands can provide a range of social benefits including new skills and employment and diversify our woods to meet a range of local needs- lets get them back to playing an active part in our local economy and community. Managed woodlands are also much better for wildlife than woods that are neglected, and in England nearly half of all woodlands are not actively managed.



Seeing the fuel wood for the trees - reflections on an AONB supported fuel wood day held at Prime Coppice, August 1st 2014

 Written by Kit Vaughan

 In my grandfathers day woodlands played a key role in the rural economy employing full time woodsmen and craft folks and providing fuel wood, timber and a range of other products. But in our fossil fuelled modern day economy woodlands play little role other than for amenity and biodiversity with over 50% of our native woods actively unmanaged. This limited management is actually bad for the woodlands health with declining biodiversity and a limited role in the rural economy. Many woods have fallen into neglect with over browsing by deer, new pests and diseases and a decline of active coppicing and ride management.

However, increasing energy prices especially for home heating and new interest in woodlands for craft and amenity uses, plus recognition of the need for active management to improve woodland health is leading to increased interest in managing woodlands through community social enterprises. Such enterprises can provide multiple benefits for fuel wood, woodland products, volunteer health and reinvigorating the local economy.

A recent meeting supported by Dorset AONB held at Prime coppice in West Dorset brought together a range of woodland folk to share experiences and discuss the constraints and opportunities for setting up community woodland-woodfuel projects. In my grandfathers day the adage "cant see the wood for the trees" was often applied to complex situations meaning that whilst surrounded by the trees you still couldn’t see the timber of value. However at the AONB meeting we made great progress on identifying the constraints and opportunities for developing new community woodfuel enterprise- we really could see the fuel wood for the trees!

The opportunities to bring woods back to work and support communities to access woodfuel and other benefits are many. There are standing stores of woodfuel energy that can be improved through active management of our woodlands, and there is also an increasing demand for active woodfuel plus other woodland products. People also want to get access to woodlands and enjoying being outside and learning new skills. New and old technologies exist such as quad bike extraction and new forwarding machinery in contrast to horse drawn extraction. Harversting redundant coppice woodland and using it efficiently as woodfuel is better for our environmental impact and can help tackle climate change. New standards exist for quality woodfuel including marketing wood at a guaranteed moisture range and volume. Woodland owners are waking up to the need to actively manage their woods to stop them going into decline and as such need labour and new markets for produce. With increasing energy prices and more people wanting to get out into woods there is potential for a win win situation that can help restore our woods, create healthy and vibrant rural economies, heat more homes and reduce our contribution to climate change.

 But whilst opportunities exist there are also barriers that need to be overcome such as linking woodland owners with woods to be worked with emerging groups, and supporting those groups from formation to delivery. Getting groups and landowners to trust each other over time was also seen as a key factor for establishing projects. Participants noted the need for support and practical advise on woodland management plans, harvesting and extraction plus replanting and woodfuel processing. There was practical experience of how to engage local communities and run groups but new ways are needed to share experiences and increase peer to peer learning. Other challenges include getting the economics right so the benefits outweigh the costs particularly on sensitive or hard to extract sights. Participants also noted that the policy frameworks and guiding institutions were often singularly focused either on production or biodiversity and lacked an integrated approach that balances social, economic and biodiversity objectives. The sometimes narrow community view that woods and trees should not be cut down was also a constraint. There was also a need to bring in a new younger generation through support to training and education that empowers young people to become the new woodlanders of the 21st century.

Despite the first torrential rain in over 8 weeks the AONB participants camped out at the woodland workshop did an excellent job of sharing experience and learning. The AONB SIB project will now build on this learning of the constraints and opportunities and move into the second phase. This phase will offer targeted training to help woodland owners and emerging groups work together to establish new woodland enterprises and we hope- to see more fuel wood from the trees in the future!