A Wood For All Seasons

It’s been almost a year now since we bought the small woodland and I have to say that it has been hard work. It probably wouldn’t have been such hard work if I was not of the ‘everything has to be done immediately’ mentality. But I am and so that’s that.

Initially, our time was spent clearing the border alongside the track. Heavy machinery had cleared a way through the wood and had pushed everything from wispy branches to massive old tree roots on to the border. This was a massive task and most of it was performed around late spring and summer last year. The hot sun combined with a raging bonfire was exhausting to say the least.

Uprooted Tree

After that came the clearing of the fallen wood, then the wood that was attempting to fall – but hanging on by the skin of its bark, then the diseased wood. Most of this was harvested for the wood burner, leaving the rotting and smaller branches for me to make into wildlife hides and retreats. I got a little carried away with this exercise and we now have a dozen or more.

Stacks For Insects
Wren Retreat
Frogs And Toads Live Here

I may not have made it perfectly clear but this woodland was in a horrendous state having been neglected for years and years . . . and probably even years more. The whole wood was covered in a tangle of masochistic blackberry stems. These tripped you up at every available opportunity. Richard managed to fall bottom-over-bonce carrying a petrol strimmer. It wasn’t a pretty sight but it was hilarious, if that kind of thing – a rather large, tall bloke, rigged out like Rambo, landing in a blackberry bramble patch, with a strimmer round his neck, tickled your fancy. Obviously I didn’t guffaw too loudly until I’d ran an experienced eye over him and had a quick mental check to confirm that he still had two of everything that he should have had two of and ditto, one of everything that he should have had one of.

We chain harrowed narrow paths through and around the wood, digging out the tangle of brambles where necessary. I was constantly being told that it was a woodland and NOT a garden and it didn’t need to be neat and tidy. This I understood, but I still wanted tidy mayhem.

Preparing To Chain Harrow

I also haven’t yet mentioned that the wood had no heart. It was rare to see any form of wildlife within the boundary. No birdsong. No sign of much at all. Then we hung bird feeders and bird tables. Within no time we had a troupe of delinquent squirrels visiting. They chewed through the metal feeders, removed screws, munched on plastic and ate every peanut. They even took down, and removed, a whole jar of peanut butter that had been placed in a peanut butter jar feeder. To this day we haven’t found the empty jar.

Initially the mad troupe amused us – initially. Then it became personal. I made it my life’s work to outwit them. This, you probably think is as easy as falling off a log, something that I have also done, but it isn’t. They are smart. And savvy. And slightly adorable in their naughtiness. Feeders were wired shut, top and bottom. Adjustments were made to everything that hung and contained seed etc. We congratulated ourselves on our achievements – only to return the next time to find chewed-through wire, missing screws and every peanut and seed scoffed. Around this time we moved our base camp. We were now able to move into the middle of the wood and that is still our base today.

As summer turned to autumn and autumn gave way to winter we watched as leaves turned colour and fell, carpeting the woodland floor in a tapestry of brown and golden hues. We could now see through the wood and to the field of rape beyond. The wind howled across that field and ripped through the wood . . . still we held our ground. This was our wood, for all seasons, and we would see and enjoy it in all seasons. We made great use of a small fire thingy – we certainly had the wood to burn and there was, to us, nothing nicer than sitting in front of it warming our bones and drinking hot soup and munching custard creams.

FIRESo, almost a year since we took it on. The bird feeders have been rehung around our base camp and the once, quiet as a grave wood, is full of twittering and feeding birds, a friendly old pheasant, mice in the compost heap, buzzards soaring overhead in the up-drafts, and a couple of muntjac. I haven’t seen the delinquent squirrels for some time BUT, the homemade peanut feeder has to be repaired on every other visit and the second peanut feeder is also licked clean. I have learnt to accept them, I had little choice really, but it makes me sound like a nicer person! There are ten feeders and two bird tables. These need restocking every three days and, yes, it costs me a small fortune.


Constantly Under Repair

There are blue tits nesting in one of our home-made boxes and coal tits in a holey tree, within a metre from our ‘sitting’ area. A robin has chosen to nest in the base of a close-by tree. It looks a little unsafe to me but hopefully she will be successful. I realise that if these bird numbers increase I shall have to buy even more food! At the moment the feeding frenzy has calmed. The birds have achieved what they were attempting to achieve, they are fat and healthy and up to their breeding weight. Now they are building, laying and sitting.

Nesting Blue Tits


And that’s that. Here’s to the next year – if the Heavens allow it.

When The Head Simply Has To Rule The Heart…

Hi All

A couple of days ago I was presented with a decision that wasn’t easy to make. It was one of those ‘head-having-to-rule-the-heart’ situations.

I was in the greenhouse (which is situated, on one side, about a foot from the neighbour’s conifer hedge) trying to track down a caterpillar that had holed one of my courgette plants, when all hell broke loose and a blackbird, in her manic attempt to escape, hit the glass before flying off clacking wildly.

As my startled eyes narrowed they focused on Chea, hanging in the hedge, back legs trailing, and her head stuffed into a nest. My first reaction was to scream, ‘Chea!’ So I did.

This had the desired effect and amid a shower of dead conifer debris she dropped to the ground. I bolted outside and chastised her, which as usual, was massively ineffective. She rolled onto her back and purred. I seriously think that this cat is stoned half of the time. I often catch her rolling deliriously in the cat mint, rubbing her head against the sprouting stems and giving it the occasional chomp. She even has a kind of swaying, ‘hey man, I’m stoned,’ look about her as she dawdle’s off up the garden with butterflies circling her head. I’m not sure if I’m imagining the butterflies – but I can honestly vouch to never touching the cat mint.

I hurried back into the greenhouse and peered through the glass. My heart dropped into my wellies as I spied a perfectly formed nest, awaiting the laying of eggs. I didn’t need last year’s horror played out in my memory cells, because I remembered it all too well – Chea, raiding a robin’s nest and systematically bringing back fledglings, one a day for 3 days. The horror and hopelessness of it will remain with me forever. Tiny birds, too young to leave the nest, half alive.

As I stood staring at the nest, imagining the eggs like they were the Devil’s spawn, I knew in my heart how it was going to play out. Mrs Blackbird would sit on the eggs, half-starved in her coma-like state, waiting and listening for her babies chipping at their shells. Then she’d exhaust herself with dozens of trips to neighbouring gardens to find sustenance for her brood. And then, she would return and there would be 2 left…and then 1….and then none. Chea would have had them all. My head had to rule my heart.

I stropped back to the house and fetched Richard to survey the potential hopelessness of the scene, and after a few moments – and after I’d reacquainted him with last year’s slaughter – he agreed that we had to take the nest away. At least, at this stage she had only built a nest. She hadn’t put her heart and soul into rearing chicks to have them taken.

It wasn’t an easy task. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and so Richard, who is most definitely wider than a foot, had to squeeze down the narrow gap between the hedge and the greenhouse. It was dreadful and I expected him to go through the glass at any stage. But he managed, somehow.

Of course, my earlier bawling at Chea had brought out the neighbour, and I think he was watching from a distance, behind his rather pretentious runner bean wigwam, waiting for the blood to run. Fortunately, his weird pleasures weren’t fed.

I am now on blackbird watch. If I see the merest attempt at nesting within my garden I shall shoo her away. I must say though, that I’ve never known more stupid birds than blackbirds. They just pick a spot and move in. They obviously see Chea hunting the boundaries, half-stoned, with bees and butterflies circling her tabby bonce – and being a cat, and doing cat-like things – and yet they nest barely off the ground and in her territory.

I know that I’m banging my head against a very big wall expecting Chea to be anything other than a cat, and in fairness to her she isn’t a tunnel-visioned hunter. But then, after she’s been on the cat mint I guess she’s too ‘out there man’ to bother.iPod pics 023


Take care my lovelies x


Again…many thanks to new followers and to those of you who take the time to comment and ‘like’ etc xx