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Managing the woodland for visitors

man strimming ground plantsThere’s an old saying that goes “A housewife’s work is never done”, which everyone knows to be true, because as fast as you clean up, there’s more to be done. The dirt never stops accumulating, along with the weekly washing, ironing together with a seemingly never-ending list of chores. It’s just the same in a wood where a woodsman’s work is never done, or a woodswomans’ either!

The Autumn and winter are the main seasons when woodland management really swings into heavy action with tree-felling, tree-clearance, log cutting and splitting, coppicing and even tree planting. However, there’s plenty that needs doing in the Spring and Summer months, because everything is growing, people like to visit and so we need to be managing the woodland for visitors and for our Forest School sessions, for children aged 4 – 9, due to run in September 2015

Strimming and brush-cutting woodland management

Outside the wood there is a useful stony area, used for visitor parking. Unfortunately the thistles don’t understand that they’d be better growing elsewhere and so make an assault on the open area, with a vengeance.

I’ve tried to keep the thistles under control using a pair of secateurs, whenever I’m visiting the wood, but they grow way too fast and bigger guns are needed to ensure the enemy is sent into retreat for the comfort of people getting out of their cars (thistles have a nasty way of nipping at visitor ankles).

Where there’s wire a strimmer is used, which essentially whizzes two pieces of plastic rope around at high speed, to cut paths and mange the herbage. For quicker and more dramatic results a brush-cutter is used. It’s the same machine but with an alternate attachment fitted which has a 3-pronged metal rotating blade that is fast and very effective and also makes short work of damaging a wire fence, if you pass the cutter too close.

Not only do the plants need trimming around the entrance area, but the fence and gate need regular adjustments to ensure they’ll open properly. As the ground dries out, which it certainly has done over the past weeks, the gate posts move, albeit slightly, causing issues with the opening and closing mechanisms not quite meeting where they should. So, out comes the drill and the hammer to ‘persuade’ them to work together again as they should. We’ve got to be ready for our next event on 30th July when we welcome families to our Woodland Explorer’s family afternoon on 30th July.

Managing high herbage

Within Oxlip Wood the thistles that seem to loom so large outside the wood, are actually overshadowed by other herbage, which can grow to 6 feet and higher.

I remember the first year when we were woodland owners trying to walk around in July and August and actually feeling like we’d been into battle, after completing a walk of probably no more than 50 yards. At that time we didn’t own a brush-cutter, but now we do and it makes the job of managing the woodland far easier than trying to use a hand-held blade, cutting at the herbage in front while walking through an overgrown area.

The picture below is a typical sight in woodland at this time of year. Trees in full leaf and grasses grown to a height of several feet.

summer trees and grasses in woodland

However, when you look at the picture below – how high is the herbage growing there?

herbage in woodland with red safety had visible beyond

I can see you…just…!

It’s no trick of the camera, making the herbage seem higher than it is. The red dot you see at the top of the photo is Gerald with the brush-cutter, slowly coming towards me. I am standing in thistles (which was not very comfortable) having fought my way through to a point where I could take the photo. You can watch a short video of Gerald brush-cutting

Risk Management for woodland visitors

Whenever we have visitors coming to the wood it’s time for a risk assessment of the area in which they’ll be visiting. It’s strange how you can walk along a path many times and not notice something that’s so obvious, when you take the time to really look rather than just pass through, or along.

The picture below illustrates how a nasty lot of barbed wire, which could potentially injure someone, has remained in situ until we made a detailed risk assessment of a particular area where children were going to be active as part of a woodland holiday session for families.

When we came across the barbed-wire we couldn’t believe we’d not noticed it before. However, we hadn’t risk-assessed the path to the same extent for ourselves as for potential visitors, so weren’t looking at the level of where the barbed-wire was, rather onwards and probably upwards in consideration of tree branches that might be a potential danger through coming into contact with our faces.

tree funk with barbed wire embedded in the bark

Ouch! For both people and the poor tree.

We also had to look carefully at the trees, to see if there were any branches we could see that had been broken by the wind or by other felled trees. As a result, our tree surgeon visited and used something called a pole-saw (literally a chainsaw on the end of a long pole) to cut off a few branches. He also decided to fell a dead tree that we felt could be a potential risk (but a pretty low one as it was beyond the activity area). Nevertheless, all risks have to be taken into account and the necessary management put in place to lower a potential risk for visitors within the wood.

Having recently completed and passed my Forest School Practitioner training, I have at times cursed (under my breath) the seemingly endless risk-assessments that I was required to produce for every woodland activity visitors might be involved with. However, having been through the pain barrier of getting in step with current day health and safety requirements, I realise that carrying out proper risk-assessments is vital, otherwise you run the risk of not seeing the wood for the trees!

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