Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

09-02-13 : Woodland 'whipped' into shape!

An eager team of 25 helped plant 200 hazel whips at Kingston Hill campus this weekend, but not satisfied with that, they got stuck in to a list of other woodland management tasks with equal vigour!

All hands to the spade! Volunteers make light work of planting our hazel whips.

Under expert instruction from TCV, volunteers soon learned the best way to plant our young trees. We had done some of the prep work earlier in the year by clearing rhododendron in this first woodland patch and bramble in the second. Now light is able to reach the woodland floor - ideal to help the hazels get established. On Saturday, volunteers cleared leaf litter in target areas to reduce competition and dug holes big enough to accommodate the roots of their whips. Careful not to compact the soil, we firmed them in. 'Whipping' through the planting, volunteers had soon filled this space, leaving only one gap to be planted with hawthorn kindly donated by TCV. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyma) is particularly valuable to wildlife. Bees feed from the nectar of its spring flowers and the berries it produces (high in vitamin C) are gorged upon by birds, especially thrushes, and small mammals. It is great to think our hard work will be appreciated all year round by the wildlife that use our campus woodland.

A delicate discovery in the woodland. This nest has not been recently used, but the size of it indicates a small bird - perhaps a wren?
Throughout the day Simon from  TCV taught us about the ecology and value of hazel and even the mysterious folklore associated with it (the story includes hazelnuts, wisdom, druids and a salmon of all things!). Hazel (Corylus avellana) has been traditionally grown and cut in rotation to produce commercially valuable products for hundreds of years. We held a coppicing event in the Kingston Hill woodland in the Autumn. We hope the new hazels we have planted will be added to this cyclical harvesting system, not only to produce useful poles for fencing, staking and plant training, but also to vary the light levels, the age structure and the physical structure of the woodland. This greatly increases the diversity of habitats for flora and fauna.

This hazel is happily settled into its new home at Kingston Hill. 
Simon explained a traditional method of producing new hazel trees from existing ones called 'layering'. He showed interested volunteers how to cut a pliable hazel stem two thirds of the way through, bend it down and stake it to the ground. By nicking the point at which it meets the ground the tree is encouraged to root and send up a new shoot. Creating new trees from old ones - how's that for sustainability!

Simon explains the traditional technique of 'layering' to generate new hazel trees.
We left just enough bark attached to allow a new tree to feed off the original. Once well established the attachment between the old and new trees can be severed.

Marlon and Malena stake down a hazel tree which they have just layered.
While some carried on planting, two task-forces broke away to tackle other woodland jobs. 
Our woodland trail had become overgrown and lost in the bramble, so shears and loppers at the ready, volunteers parted the entwined vegetation to reveal our path. Coppiced poles and dead wood were laid down to demarcate the path for a professional finish - good job Derryn and gang!

Our woodland trail reappears after months under cover.

Others made a beeline for our bamboo. Filled with excitement at the prospect of a great workout, volunteers  sized-up this invasive species rapidly expanding on the campus. Digging this out was going to be hard, hard work. Mattocks, trench spades and buckets of elbow grease were the order of the day for this task.

Tricia was keen to tackle our invasive bamboo.

A little less smiley and certainly more tired, Tricia proudly shows off the bamboo rootballs she and fellow volunteers have dug out.
It was a hugely productive day - energetic and educational and one that called for a big bath and good sleep that night ... I wonder how many volunteers dreamed about salmon eating hazel nuts?!!

Thanks to everyone who helped out, it was an amazing effort! Thanks too to Luka who kindly took many expert photos of the event, some of which have made an appearance here.

While planting we discovered lots of bluebell leaves emerging. It will be well worth a visit in a few weeks to see a beautiful carpet of blue flowers in amongst the new trees we have planted.

If you're missing the action already or are sad to have missed out this time, you can always sign up to our Rhodo-bash on Saturday 23rd February. This will be our last of the season so let's make it a good one! Hope to see you there!

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