Charcoal Burning Demonstration

Thursday 9th July at 10am.  Meet at the railway underpass off of Hazelmere Road, Petts Wood.  A short walk in to the woods for a practical demonstration of charcoal production, returning to the underpass at around 11.30am.

The main stage of the charcoal burn

The main stage of the charcoal burn

Bags of barbecue charcoal will be available to purchase on the day for £5.

Free, but donations welcome.  For more information please contact the estate office on 01689 826393.

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Wrotham Water Farm

We’ve started work with the volunteer team at Wrotham Water.  If you’ve read previous posts you’ll know that we’re undertaking scrub clearance on our precious chalk grassland.  Although the major clearance was completed by contractors a couple of years ago, it is a constant battle to keep woody plants in check.  If we weren’t to do this, the grass (and the flora and fauna it supports) can quite quickly be lost to scrub and ultimately woodland.

Although we rely on animals to manage the land for us, with over 100 sheep going on the fields in the next few weeks, being the fussy eaters they are we have to work alongside them to cut out the unpalatable woody plants such as hawthorn, dogwood and rose.  We aren’t looking to completely eradicate scrub though, with scrubby field margins and isolated areas of small trees having real value.  Certain areas therefore remain untouched, the aim being to have around 5% scrub coverage.

The volunteers have been hard at work using loppers and bowsaws to cut the scrub back, whilst Richard and I tackle the larger or dense areas with petrol brush cutters.  The cut scrub is collected up, piled in a corner of a field and will be burnt in due course.

Wrotham scrub 160615

The photo shows a few team members hard at work.  As you can see, the fields are quite large with plenty of dwarf scrub to be tackled, so we’ll be there on and off all summer.

We’ve actually linked up with the estate volunteers from Ightham Mote for this project.  As part of a wider restructuring, Richard has moved to be the Ranger at Ightham, with me now being the only Ranger here at Petts Wood.  Whilst the changes in personnal take place, Richard and I will be jointly managaing Wrotham (and Coldrum).

In the coming weeks at Petts Wood we’ll continue to cut back path edges, a couple more paths will have muddy areas removed and stone applied, and we’ll also be starting work on the annual heather weeding……  I can hear the volunteers groaning from here about this last job.

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Fire

At the weekend we suffered our first moderately serious woodland fire of the year.  We’d previously had a couple of small camp fires that had left some heat in the ground, but Saturday’s fire threatened to get out of hand and needed fire brigade support to extinguish.

A kind dog walker alerted me to the fire early afternoon on Saturday, located in the pine tree copse within Soldiers Field.  Arriving at the fire it was evident straight away that it was quite serious, with flames around 5-6 feet high under the trees and the grass in the field starting to ignite.  The warm weather and strong westerly wind were not doing us any favours.  I called 999 and the fire brigade responded very quickly.  As ever with woodland fires though, access to the site and water proved to be a problem.  I ferried the two fire crews and their fire beaters in to the woods using our Landrover.  We are lucky to have a 1000 litre water bowser on the estate – the fire fighters used it twice over to extingusih the fire, along with the beaters and a good bit of digging.

Fire June15

The fire was out by around 4.30pm and the fire crews went on their way.  As you may know with woodland fires, especially on the peaty soil we find under our pine trees, heat can remain in the ground and the fire reignites at a later time.  Unfortunately this did happen with another small fire popping up at around 6pm, but it was extinguished easily enough with the trusty bowser.

I suspect that it all started as a camp fire on Friday evening – I’ve since had reports of people smelling smoke on Saturday morning but being unsure where it was coming from.  I think when the wind and temperatures picked up around lunchtime, it was enough to start the fire. 

Should you see, or even suspect a fire in the woods, I would encourage you to contact us on 01689 826393.  If you can’t contact us please do call 999 for a fire brigade response.

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New Fence at Coldrum Long Barrow

Our previous posts have shown some coppicing work at One Tree Hill and peeling of sweet chestnut posts and rails.  This week has seen the culmination of all this hard work, with the replacement of the fence at Coldrum – below I’ve included a selection of photos of the finished article.   It has been a fairly long road just to get to the start of the project, not only with the selction and processing of the material but with securing the relevant consent from Historic England to work on this Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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We worked at Coldrum all last week with the help of our dedicated volunteers – some turning out on two, three or even four days to assist us.  For the first two days we were removing the old posts and rails and putting in new posts.  Usually a straight forward task, but we needed an archaeologist present to inspect the spoil and look at the holes.  In addition, to prevent excessive ground disturbance, the old posts had to be lifted directly from the ground without digging initially – not an easy task with partially rotten hardwood posts that have been in the ground for twelve years.  To aid us we used an engine hoist that some of you DIY mechanics may be familiar with.  This lump took four people to lift and maneuver around the site, but worked beautifully to lift the posts in one piece from the ground.  Once the old posts were out, the archaeologist inspected the holes before we widended them slightly, dropped in new chestnut posts and tamped to secure them.

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After two days of this we switched to the carpentry work, attaching the rails to the posts.  This took some real carving skill with a chainsaw to ensure the joints were correct, but Richard was more than up to the task.  The rails were then screwed to the posts, rather than nailed like the old fence – some visitors had a habit of kicking the old rails off and using them to start fires….

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Lastly we replaced the stiles and erected new posts for the classic Omega signs – a nice touch I thought using our own Petts Wood oak again.  This was a great project to be involved with from start to finish, a real cradle to grave job (to steal Richard’s phrase).  Having selected, cut and processed our own NT material, through to installing the final product, we’ve ensured this special site should be welcoming visitors and remain protected for another twelve years.

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Footpath Improvements

With the help of our Tuesday volunteer team we’ve completed the first day of path improvements this year.  We started out with a particularly boggy patch in Pond Wood, next to the sluice.  Although the paths in Pond Wood can lay generally quite wet, I suspect there is a small leak in the sluice.  Not enough to effect the water level of the pond or to warrant a repair to the sluice at this point, but just enough to cause the adjacent stretch of path to be very muddy for much of the year. 

So, we excavated down a few inches, removing the worst of the wet soil.  Then, using a waterproof membrane, we lined the base of the path and back filled with around 100mm depth of type one stone.  The membrane should mean that moisture doesn’t soak through the new path surface.  We’ve not used a membrane on our own path repairs before (because of cost) but becuase this area was quite small it was justified.  Our contractor however used this method last year for the new farm path by the Kyd Brook and it has worked very well.

Pond Wood sluice footpath

I was asked a question about the concrete sluice just this week, to the effect that it is an odd material to use and find in a woodland.  Its a fair question and I personally do not like to see concrete used in the countryside, but there are exceptions.  In the case of Pond Wood, you can still see remnants of the old brick sluice today.  In combination with oak boards this worked well for many years.  Sadly the sluice was badly vandalised and the oak boards removed eight or nine years ago.  We took the time to replace with like for like materials but again the oak boards were stolen.  As I’m sure you can imagine, during this time we lost the water in the pond a couple of times and I’m sure a variety of wildlife too.  So we took the decision to head off any further damage and use concrete on this occasion – thankfully it has worked and we’ve managed to maintain the water level.

In a couple of weeks we’ll be continuing with path repairs, targeting wet or damaged areas within Petts Wood.  The purchase of type one stone has been generously grant funded by both Petts Wood Runners and the Chislehurst Society.  We’ll hire in a mini digger and with the help of our volunteers get the stone put down.

Elsewhere in our portfolio, the strong winds a couple of weeks ago brought down a very large willow bough at St Johns Jerusalem.  Typically, it didn’t fall on to the lawn but in to the moat.  Once in the water we almost always have to bring in tree surgeons and a crane to lift trees such as this.  We can’t winch or drag as we would at other sites because of damage we would cause to the formal lawn, moat banks or archaeology at this ancient monument site.  The picture below shows the tree and in due course I’ll try and post some action shots of the crane and tree surgeons.

St Johns Willow April 15

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Trip Hazard Removed

In another exciting development in the world of estate management the trip hazards which had previously plagued generations of walkers on the Hawkwood Estate have been removed.

The metal tabs in the ground were the remains of an old iron fence which formed the Southern boundary of the Hawkwood Estate before it came into Trust ownership. Some suggested the metal fence was removed by Colonel Edlmann as part of the war effort, although this rampant speculation could be completely incorrect.

Although the spiky remains of the fence were originally cut at ground level walkers disinclined to dirty their footwear have expanded the path, wearing down the ground around the remains of the fence and exposing the supports previously buried.

Cutting the ironwork below ground proved ineffective so a more subtle course of action was decided upon: digging a hole then whacking the struts with sledge hammers until they broke off. New volunteer Clive should be both welcomed to the Tuesday team and accredited for this suggestion.

With flagging enthusiasm and wet ink in the accident book a good morning’s work was completed, winning the plaudits of passers-by. A more relaxing afternoon of splitting knotty wood into logs was savored by all.

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New Signs and Leaflet

After much planning and work, our new information panels and vistor leaflet are here.  We have two new panels, replacing the existing four.  One is located in Petts Wood at the railway underpass, the other at Hawkwood on Botany Bay Lane.  We have a newly designed map as an integral part of both the panels and leaflet.  It contains more detail than the old map, so should be more useful both to those familiar with the woods and new visitors.  We also have space to advertise events/walks.

Hawkwood sign1

Both signs have leaflet dispensers attached.  We’ve intentionally trimmed the amount of information on the panels and upped the amount of detail in the leaflet – the intention being that visitors can get their bearings using the panel and map, see a quick introduction, then learn more using the leaflet whilst moving around the estate. 

Petts Wood sign1

To that end, the map has two self guided trails built in, a yellow route around the farm and a green route around the woods.  Together they cover just over four miles, but can be tackled separately.  To aid those using these routes we are also installing a small number of posts with colour coded way markers – at the time of writing we have a few more of these posts (pictured below) left to install.

Way marker post

As part of the project we also have an additional leaflet dispenser located on the bridle path outside Keepers Cottage yard, which has replaced the old notice board we used to keep there.

Lastly, you’ll notice the lovely oak posts holding the new panels up – these are the posts shown being processed and prepared in previous blogs.  You may know we like to use as much of our own wood as possible, making our own firewood, charcoal, gate posts etc.  It has been especially satisfying to select and use our own Petts Wood oak for this project though.  Bye for now.

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