Sweet Chestnut Peeling

Here are some photos of our Tuesday volunteer team peeling sweet chestnut fencing material.  These are the posts and rails that we cut from One Tree Hill, destined to be the new fence surrounding our ancient monument site Coldrum Long Barrow.  The previous post mentioned that we were unable to buy in a suitable product for the fence, so we’ve taken the time to cut and process our own.  This way we can ensure that the material is straight and the correct size, but also that it was cut at the right time.  With chestnut we have to be very careful to fell the trees between November and February, when the sap is down.  If we cut outside these times, often there will be plenty of sap in the timber which encourages the posts/rails to rot much more quickly.  Ideally we would like this fence to last 12-15 years, so it’s important that we get the timing of felling correct, not something we could necessarily do when buying material in.

peelers NT 2

We have around 45 posts and 80 rails to remove bark from.  The volunteers are making good progress, having been on the job for two days with another day or so to go.  The tools used are the draw knife and the bark spade (or bark ‘spud’) as some old timers call it (see picture below).  The draw knife is a small two handed tool that is used in a pulling fashion, better for fine work.  The bark spade is a longer, heavy tool that is pushed to generally remove more bark with each blow. 

Bark toolspeelers NT 3

The completed posts and rails get stacked in the yard, stored ready for the fencing project.  We’re looking at mid-May for the installation, so will post photos when it happens.

Peeled sweet chestnut


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Oak Sign Posts

An update on our oak posts mentioned a couple of weeks ago…

Oak Post Sanding

Here are a couple of our Sunday volunteer team hard at work finishing the posts off.  After a thorough sanding and being cut to length/squared off, they are ready for the signs to be mounted.  It has been very satisfying to select, fell, process and finish our own timber for this project.

Before the new signs go up though, we need to take the old panels down so that we don’t have a mix of old and new.  They will be taken out this week and will be followed shortly by the new signs and leaflet dispensers.

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St. John’s Jerusalem Hedge

One of the smaller properties in our portfolio is St. John’s Jerusalem; a former chapel of the Knights of St. John (more information here http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-johns-jerusalem/ )

A small farm surrounds the moated property which offers scenic views across the Darenth Valley. An unfortunate eyesore is the back of the local town hall which borders the property. To remedy this we’ve planted a 70 meter hedge along the boundary which should complement the existing hedging at St’ John’s and form a valuable habitat for small mammals and birds. The species planted in the new hedge are hazel, beech, blackthorn, hawthorn and field maple, all native. The whips are tubed and staked to protect them from grazing whilst allowing enough movement for the new plants to gain strength. We’ll be back next year to  replace any plants that have died off and a couple of years after that to remove the tubes and stakes, hopefully establishing a vibrant hedge for years to come.

Hedge Planting

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Coppicing at One Tree Hill

Richard mentioned in his last post some upcoming work at One Tree Hill, near Sevenoaks.  Well, we’ve taken a short break from hands on work at Petts Wood and been busy at One Tree Hill with the volunteers for the last week or so.  It isn’t one of the properties that we usually work at, but sits within the portfolio that our wider ranger team look after.  For the last few months we’ve been gearing up towards a spring/summer project at another of our properties, the scheduled ancient monument at Coldrum Long Barrow.  We will be replacing the timber fence that encircles the tomb, and have been trying to source the sweet chestnut fencing material.  Having failed in our search for a decent supplier, we decided to source our own chestnut from one of our woodlands, hence One Tree Hill coming in to the picture.  There exists a single patch of sweet chestnut there that happened to be the correct age and size for our requirements.  Added to which, the patch was overdue for coppicing anyway, so we had found our material.  Only problem was we had to fell the trees, burn up the lop and top, cut the stems to length and transport them back to Petts Wood.  After an enjoyable few days we’ve accomplished all this with the help of other rangers in the team and our trusty volunteers.

OTH chestnut

OTH coppicing

The fence we erect at Coldrum will be a post and rail variety, with both the posts and rails being ‘in the round’.  So luckily no cleaving of the material is needed  but we do need to peel the bark off.  A time consuming process so cue more help from the volunteers in coming weeks….we’ll post more pictures of this as we go.




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Timber Processing – New Signs

The oak shown in the photo below is a product of some of our recent work, specifically some more path widening and thinning in the Willett Wood.  Most of the smaller trees that we felled are destined for use as firewood or in charcoal production.  However, we held back a couple of the bigger and straighter stems for processing in to posts and boards, to be used for a special project.


For the last few months we’ve been working on a new map of the estate, visitor leaflet and new information panels for selected entrances.  These are due very soon and we decided that Petts Wood oak posts to hold up the panels would be great. 

We do carry out some basic milling of timber ourselves, using our Alaskan chainsaw mill (see an earlier post).  This works quite well for producing rough cut boards or posts.  For this project however we decided to have the oak processed at a timber mill, in order to achieve a better quality product for the new panels.  Richard took the timber to the mill this week and the picture below shows some of the posts in our trailer.


We’ll sand these down to achieve a very smooth finish, ready for the panels when they arrive in a couple of weeks.  We’ll update again soon with progress on the new interpretation.


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Tree Surgeons

Walking around the underpass you may have noticed ‘Down to Earth’ tree surgeons working on the large oaks beside the main bridleway. The purpose of the work is to make sure the collection of mature oaks in that area of the woods stay safe to the public while remaining the havens to wildlife that mature oaks typically are.

English oaks are famed for their biodiversity and harbour more wildlife (in the form of fungi, insect and bird life) than any other native tree. Many of this hosted wildlife is dependent on the dead wood retained by mature or veteranised oaks. Unfortunately heavy dead wood over paths is incongruous with public safety and so the tree surgeons are working to reduce it. The dead wood will not be eliminated; just reduced to a level where it it will be structurally sound for years and still able to sustain wildlife.

The ranger team have also been acting to remove dangerous trees near paths, widen paths and remove holly where it has become too dense.

As we move into the spring we are embarking on a project to replace the chestnut fence around Coldrum Longbarrow (a neolithic tomb we look after) with one made wood coppiced and prepared  ourselves ‘in house’ from the chesnut coppice ready for harvest at One Tree Hill near Sevenoaks. I shall keep you posted.

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January 2015 update

With a lot of time over the autumn spent improving chalk grassland at Wrotham Water farm we’re spending the first few weeks of the New Year in Petts Wood.

We’ve been widening paths and creating glades as part of a Forestry Commission grant. This work creates valuable marginal habitats for sun loving insects and wild flowers. 500m of path widening are being carried out with the main areas being on the path South West of the sundial towards the main bridleway as well as on the path West of the Edlmann stone. We’ve created glades, some of which are easily accessible from the path while others are hidden to benefit wildlife in the absense of people and dogs. As always we ask that people keep to paths to minimise disturbance to the woods.

The culvert close to the tunnel entrance to Birchwood road is being replaced. The old culvert was partially bloaked which meant water pooled on the upstream side in heavy rain; occasionally flooding the path.

Some of the paths are very muddy. The path widening does help dry paths out but the Edlmann woods especially are naturally wet and the results of our shoring up the paths with a top dressing of stone have been disappointing given the number of people walking along the paths. Stout waterproof footware is recommeded  so as not to continually expand the width of wet paths.

The only other news is that log sales have continued to rise, stretching us to full capacity and meaning we’ve had to turn away some new customers to ensure we have enough wood to see our existing customers through to the springtime.

That’s all for now. I’ll post every couple of weeks with what we’re up to.

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