Thursday 4th & Friday 5th January 2018
Ah Blackthorn! It looks so pretty in May with its white blossom but come winter and after many years of growth it is a slimy, ferociously thorny, entangled mass of collapsed branches. It needs to be cut back to enable it to regenerate and start afresh. At Swardeston Common we have a long-term plan to thin out sections of the blackthorn each year to develop an age structure across the area and also encourage the nightingales (see our previous blog “Swardeston Common – Blackthorn Clearing” for more about this).
So, it is Happy New Year to our Thursday group (Tim and Tim, Pete and Pete, Chris and Chris, Robert and Rob with Keith, Sue and our leaders Paula and Matt H) as we meet at Swardeston car park in the rain and then walk the half-Kilometre to our work-site. We are working adjacent to the pond cleared in October last year and begin with a briefing from Paula on our tasks for the day. The aim is to clear the blackthorn in a large section and, in particular, opening up the area around some oak and hawthorn trees. Firstly, we have to cut back the bramble along the path edge with a brushcutter to get into the blackthorn area. We also have to get a fire going to burn the brash.
Despite the Christmas break we all remembered what to do and set to work. The blackthorn is covered in slimy moss and lichen (and, of course, its thorns) and has interwoven with its neighbour. So, you have to work out where to cut so as not to let it collapse onto you. Because it is entangled with its neighbour it doesn’t readily pull out and you have to cut a bit more, and a bit more, to make any progress. But it does burn incredibly hot. The best fires are from blackthorn and once going consume the brash and branches very quickly.
Paula and her chainsaw dealt with the thicker trunks and cut these into logs. Internally blackthorn is quite attractive with a rose-pink centre surrounded by white and orange. Some sections have interesting patterns with one looking a bit like a wolf’s head (now in my log-pile at home) and our photographer Robert had a “field day” snapping these along with various lichens, moss and fungi such as Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) and Cushion Bracket (Phellinus pomaceus). Eventually the rain stopped, and the sun came out and it was quite a nice day.
Our Friday group was led by our new project assistant, Matt H (or Mattie – must decide what to call him!), on his first outing as group leader. We gave him one or two things to test him but with an experienced group of volunteers on-hand we knew what to do and got down to it. We were carrying on from our Thursday work continuing to clear the blackthorn and burn this. We decided where our boundary was and cut back to this. It would have been easy just to keep going cutting back the blackthorn until we reached the road! Keith cleared more bramble and blackthorn scrub with the brushcutter and we cut back many of the stumps to reduce the trip-hazards on site.
A very satisfying two days’ work, with a lot done and a nicely cleared area to show for it. By next winter the blackthorn will have grown back a foot or so and each successive season will see further fresh growth. Areas previously cleared provide a good habitat for wildlife and a more open, airy structure for other plants.