For the second year running our final workdays of the year have been at Jubilee Park in Rackheath. Over four days we thinned out around 170 metres of woodland along the western and southern boundaries and chipped all the arisings. The chippings were used on the footpaths that run through the tree belt. We thinned out most of the northern tree belt in 2018 and our work this year was a continuation of what we did then, as described in our Blog Tree belt thinning.
On Wednesday 4th December our three man super-team (Matt H, Robert and me) worked our socks off coppicing hazel within the tree belt and stacked this on the edge of the park. Our new Wednesday workdays have taken a while to bed down, but numbers of volunteers increased to seven for our final Wednesday outing on 11th December. So, although turnout may have been low our work output has been prodigious and when our many volunteers arrived on Thursday 5th December they were greeted by a large stack of coppiced hazel ready for the chipper. The hazel is long and thin – around 25 to 30 feet – and difficult to extract from the wood after cutting because of the density and closeness of the trees. It has a large turning circle and pulling this out of the woods and stacking it neatly provides a good work-out for our volunteers.
During our following visits on Thursday 5th, Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th December we coppiced our way through the tree belt cutting back all the hazel. Matt D and his chainsaw felled the larger willow and alder trees to help open up the tree belt and let in more light. The stacks of material grew but we had a chipper with us, and our trained volunteers worked their way through these and turned it all into piles of chippings. We had a towed chipper on the 5th but had a tracked chipper the following week which we could drive into the woods and chip the branches directly onto the path. It is a challenge to drive as it lurches over the bumpy ground and is manoeuvred around the trees. Within the woods there isn’t much room to feed the material into the chipper, so you have to be alert to trip hazards as well as flailing branches as the chipper grabs these and suck them into its bowels! Then the chippings blow around in the wind and get down the back of your neck – a messy job.
On the final day our volunteers shovelled the chippings into wheelbarrows and spread these onto the paths topping up the areas where the chipper couldn’t get to. We also had some tree surgeons working with us who felled some of the larger, more tricky trees, at the northern edge of the site. So, at lunchtime, when we had cleared everything at the bottom end, we moved up to the top of the site to deal with the stuff left by them. By which time it had started to rain and got colder as a weather front moved through. It took a while to clear the area and rake out the chippings. Because of the rain everything was wet and by home time we were soaked through (again!) and covered in dust and shavings from the chipper. November and December have been a bit wet for our volunteers, but we haven’t shrunk away from our duties.