The previous owners of Astley Vineyard, Jonty and Janet, did not only leave an incredible legacy of vines and wines for us to nurture, but also a wonderful woodland. Twenty years ago, they had the foresight to plant the valley, which dissects our land with hundreds of trees. What were once small saplings have now grown into mature trees, proving right an age-old Chinese proverb, ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.’
The steep slopes of our 2.5 acre wooded valley are planted with many native species, including beech, hornbeam, field maple, aspen, alder, lime, yew, wildservice and wayfaring. There are also several mature oaks dotted around the margins and boundaries of our land, which characterise much of the surrounding Worcestershire landscape. We also have a couple of old cherry trees, which are remnants of former cherry orchards.
The successful establishment of Jonty’s and Janet’s woodland is evident in the dense canopy and towering trunks of many of the trees. However, this does not necessarily equate to the most ecologically rich habitat. Small woodlands need care and protection to realise their full value, so that is why our family are building on Jonty and Janet’s legacy and bringing the woodland under active sustainable management.
Coppicing is an ancient woodland management technique which essentially involves harvesting shoots from a stump (or ‘stool’) of a cut-down tree, which then stimulates the tree to produce further shoots. Different species grow back and are ready to harvest again at different rates (called coppice rotation), from seven years for hazel to thirty years for oak. Typically, areas of the woodland (or ‘coupes’) are coppiced at different times to provide a sustainable supply of timber and to ensure a mixture of habitats for wildlife.
Our main motivation for bringing our woodland under a coppicing regime is to enhance its biodiversity value. By opening up areas of the woodland, you let light reach the ground and allow an understory of flora to grow, providing new habitats for birds, invertebrates and small mammals. Our land has the potential to act as an important wildlife corridor in the area, including for a bat commuter route down to the River Severn, and also as an extension of Shrawley Wood, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
A useful by-product of our ecological efforts will be lots (and lots) of timber, which we’re hoping to use for garden and woodland construction projects, firewood for our log burners, and even some green woodworking and crafts.
So next time you hear chainsawing and chopping down our neck of the woods, you know what we’re up to and what we’re hoping to achieve.
For more information about small woodlands and coppicing, check out the Small Woods Association’s website and visit their beautiful Green Wood Centre in Ironbridge.