Mighty Sir Hugh

During the Woodland Edge event we set a challenge on this blogsite to guess the girth of one of the sentinel oak trees that framed the conference venue. These veteran trees added to nature’s own vibes we felt at the gathering within the woodland setting, against which the conference was perched. The particular tree we measured was named Sir Hugh. 43.75% of you thought Sir Hugh was 20 feet and 2 inches wide. We can now announce that he totals an impressive 18 feet 8 inches (that’s 5.69m in new currency), so well done if you were one of the people who guessed that amongst the choices that we offered in the vote.

According to Gavin Saunders, a survey was carried out in 2006 of the Medusa-like veteran trees in the Neroche area. It found that 75% of veteran trees of all species were below 4.5m girth/circumference (14 feet 9 inches), 5% were more than 6m, and the largest of all (about a mile from the conference site) was 10.2mm, which is mega-sized even for veteran oaks. For context, the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is 10.4m (see photo below). Since the Victorian era the massive limbs of the Major Oak have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding.

We’ve previously mentioned the special forces of these trees, and Gordon the Dowser (see top pic) even marked the extent of their energy field in the forest. There is no doubt that many participants felt the presence of these forest guardians in various ways. Most specifically, Gordon sensed that the trees wanted their tangled understorey to be cleared. Some of the volunteers set about this task for the three particular trees who had communicated this plea, and Gordon felt their wishes had been honoured. The subject of veteran trees leads us to a world where ecology, history, folklore and much more fuse together. As a starter for further reading why not try the Forestry Commission guide on the subject…  and this manual which you can use to estimate their age.

We also had a quick look on the web beyond the UK to gain an international comparison. The widest tree in the world is the Sunland Baobab in South Africa and is located on Sunland Farm near Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo Province. This Baobab is quite renowned because in its hollowed trunk some locals have established a bar and a wine cellar which can apparently hold up to 60 people! The Baobab tree has been carbon dated and is estimated to be around 6000 years old, which would make it one of the oldest trees in the world. The circumference of the Sundland Baobab trunk is a massive 33.4 metres.

COMING SOON on this blog we’ll have feedback from the Woodland Edge workshops

– James

Neroche welcomes new faces

Following on from the main event, young families from the surrounding area came together at Neroche forest to soak up the weekend sun and enjoy the many activities on offer.

Forest School leader Arainn delivered a highly creative workshop for the children which went down a storm. Whilst the original idea was to build sailing boats out of recycled wool and small branches, the kids had other ideas and dream catchers were made instead.

Later on in the day, visitors were taken by David West of the Forestry Commission on a little adventure to see the Neroche Scheme’s own herd of Longhorn cattle. A sense of adrenalin seemed to pass through the group as the cattle became less timid toward our presence and started munching through the dense bramble around us.

Throughout the day volunteers were on hand to offer people a chance to brush up on some traditional woodworking. Thanks to Tim’s enthusiasm to share his skills, the lathes hardly stopped spinning and by the early evening the site was scattered with chair legs.

Saturday’s visitors to Neroche will hopefully have gained a real taste for the spirit of the event, though evidently it wasn’t just humans that took an interest in proceedings.

– James

Strange visitors in the night

We’ve downloaded some amazing footage of Roe deer recorded on Rick Minter’s infrared camera-trap set up last Friday. You might even notice the young one hanging out the back. Our camp-site manager Ben is going to be taking a group out into the forest shortly to lay down some extra bate to see what else we can capture. Rick informs me that lavender oil (the type you might pour into a hot bath for a relaxing soak) works the best for this. Let’s see what tomorrow has in store, hopefully the live music tonight from Tim Hill on sax and Sue Mo on banjo will bring them all running.

Imagining the wildwood

I’m intrigued, not only because the Woodland Edge conference will somehow be happening within the forest itself, but just a stones throw from Taunton Racecourse. I’ve a loose affiliation with this place and a grey memory of photographing some hardy punters there one very breezy February afternoon. I learnt two things that day… 1. If your trains heading due north to Cheltenham, you’re going to the wrong race meeting  2. Having a camera round your neck can be a passport to generous hospitality, but a compass is a more reliable source of direction. I’m expecting something quite different from the Woodland Edge to what I experienced in the Members Enclosure a few years ago and I reckon that’s a positive. Wishfully, I’m hoping there’ll be a lovely stew simmering away in Camp Neroche to guide me in off the M5 when I make my way down from Edinburgh in a few weeks time (that was part of the deal yeh Gavin?)

Call this work?! Overlooked by the oaks on the edge of the woods, the team try to get down to timetable planning

If you don’t know the precise whereabouts of the event, from what I understand you’ll need to aim for a pub called the Greyhound Inn and then go north-west for a bit. I might claim to know something about what the venue looks like by peering down at it from space, but I prefer to let Gavin Saunders’ photos fertilise the roots of you’re imagination. After browsing the fruit’s of the Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme’s website, I can’t help but speculate on the possibility of glimpsing a wild boar in the undergrowth or listening to the damp chorus of rooks homing in for the night. Having spent the last two months in Edinburgh putting up with whiny seagulls at my window like something out of a Hitchcock film, Michael Palin’s desire to escape the confines of his pet shop for something wilder feels quite pertinent.

Considering I was only introduced to Monty Python a few weeks ago by my flatmate, Alex Mitchell’s cartoon was completely lost on me when I received it back in August. First impressions can be deceiving, in haste I had initially mistaken Neroche as the event’s corporate sponsor. Having done some research on the matter though, I realised it was actually the name offered to the forest site in the 13th century when it was kept as a royal hunting estate. According to this nifty leaflet ‘Neroche’ is derived from the Old English nierra and rechich, meaning “the camp where hunting dogs were kept”… I guess a lot has changed since it’s royal days I will have to wait and see. Unless the racecourse now doubles up as a greyhound track during the week, I probably don’t need to worry too much about being savaged by dogs in the darkness of the night.

The conference planning group sit in the sun at the conference site, dreaming of the day when all the tents and people start arriving...

Over the next 2-3 weeks I will try to report back to you bits and bobs of what I see, hear, smell and eat from within the Woodland Edge as the event unfolds. So with 120+ attendants and delegates expected to land on Camp Neroche from all over the UK later this month, be sure to grab yourself one of those last remaining pairs of tickets as we announce the line-up here. As the leaves begin to fall, volunteers have been out and about crafting seating areas for participants over the weekend. I can just imagine myself sunk into one of these rustic creations now, lazily sipping on some local cider and reflecting on the days proceedings in front of an open fire. To top that off, I guess all we need is one of those better-late-than-never Indian summers…

– James