Following the grant of planning permission for a woodchip storage barn on a site a few hundred yards to the biomass installation, Springbok Co-op has announced that it expects to be able to move to producing 100% of the 250 tonnes of wood chip it needs annually to supply the Springbok boilers by the end of 2019. The Co-op is currently stockpiling very low quality roundwood and “brash” from the woodlands in the immediate area. This timber product is of no interest to the commercial timber trade and would otherwise be left to rot down in the woods (suppressing the ground flora and fauna) or possibly even burnt in the woods.
For more on this and other recent developments please see under the ‘Blog’ tab
For those of you at the AGM earlier in the summer, you may remember that one of the Directors, Martin Crane, produced some rather stark figures for the heat losses running into thousands of pounds per annum particularly from Estate North – the system supplying the bungalows and maisonettes down the longer heat main. This is a cost the co-op has to bear as we don’t get paid for losses between the boiler house and the RHI meters which is fair enough as far as the RHI is concerned (for anybody reading this blog for the first time, this isn’t about a failure to insulate the heat main, it was a very high spec pipe).
Martin and his assistant had a meeting with Nick Douch recently to look at ways to reduce the losses.
Two actions in particular are being followed up. One it to install a weather compensating controller to lower the district heating flow temperature when the weather is warm, and increase the temperature when it’s cold.
The other is installation of a time clock to allow the DH to the Estate North system to operate a limited number of hours per day in the summer outside of the heating season so that the hot water cylinders are heated up twice a day.
Both these proposals are now being costed and will then be considered further by the Springbok directors in conjunction with Care Ashore and the residents.
Springbok Director Tom Parker has written up a visit he made to my wood on Rosemary Lane:
I visited the woods around in mid-July with a friend from my days at Kew Gardens, Carolin and she then took the pictures below. It was my first chance to see the newly opened up rides following the felling and clearing. The work had been done sensitively and in reasonably dry conditions so we now have the maximum amount of good habitat for woodland wildflowers and butterflies. The clearing of the brash in particular creates much more space for wildlife than in many commercial woodlands. With the light flooding in again to the woodland floor, it was immediately noticeable the amount of violets present.
It wasn’t long before we spotted a female Silver-washed Fritillary nectaring on thistles and other flowers. We saw it searching low down for suitable egg laying sites on tree trunks. The numbers of butterflies were quite low in the new rides but this is a reflection on the very advanced season causing many butterflies to emerge earlier than ever before. The Purple Emperor season was almost over when we visited, in most years it would have been at its height in mid-July . I am confident that next year these rides should be full of Silver-washed Fritillaries that spend the late summer and spring as caterpillars, feeding on the violets. Just inside Sidney wood we found a single White Admiral warming it’s self on the path.
Unfortunately I found no Wood Whites in Sidney wood earlier in the year, partly due to the extensive forestry operations temporarily damaging the habitat and also due my limited visits to search for this species. The second brood are now worth looking for in Sidney Wood.
(Note: There was a second brood of Wood White in Butterfly Conservation’s Oaken Wood Reserve in late July/early August.)
Opening up the rides in our wood next to Springbok in February this year and removing the felled wood (see below) has already made a big difference to the woodland biodiversity. On a visit on 2 July which was a nice, sunny day I was elated by the number of large orange butterflies which were subsequently identified for me by Tom Parker as Silver Washed Fritillaries. There were also Meadow Brown and Large White. That may not sound that exciting but bear in mind that for the last 6 years the only butterfly to be spotted in these woods had been the Speckled Wood.
Here is the photographic evidence. I think this is a female Silver Washed Fritillary as it is rather more drab than the male. I’m relying on somebody to tell me if I’ve got this wrong.
I’ve also seen grey wagtail and wren in the wood for the first time and dragonflies (Southern Hawker). We also have at least one buzzard which appears to regard the wood as “home” as I see it virtually every time I visit. Mind you, the other thing which has increased in number are the deer – which aren’t welcome because they are so destructive. Not only do they eat the tops of the regenerating hazel coppice but also the flowers of a lot of the plants which provide food for other creatures. Grrr.
I also had a hot tip on how to identify Turkey Oak (see July entry below). I do know that the leaves are very different from the native oak but that can be hard to work out when you are looking at the leaves through a canopy of hazel. Apparently I need to look out for ‘hairy’ acorn cases which are unmistakable.
The work in the wood is now complete for the time being. It was taken in stages to minimise the impact on the ground. This summer we just worked on the ‘rides’ i.e. the old tracks and paths through the wood which were opened up again. As the rides hadn’t been planted for timber very few mature trees were removed, the exception being any Turkey Oak which we could access.
A few words on Turkey Oak. Turkey Oaks were introduced as an ornamental tree a couple of centuries ago but they have now spread into native woodland. It is pretty difficult for the inexperienced person to tell the difference between a Turkey Oak and a native (I struggle). They are not welcome not least because they hybridise with our native oak and the resulting oak are sterile. Turkey Oak is useless as timber as it splits and warps during seasoning. It is also pretty unpopular as wood chip as it rots from the inside and seeing as they are fast growing and make thumping great trees Joe split them in situ. I’ve noticed that one of the stumps left is already rotting and even smells rotten.
Over a kilometre of rides were opened up. There was also some selective thinning of a limited area of the seven acres of Scots Pine to see how it reacts. In other words, does selective thinning destabilise the remaining trees? We are waiting to find out but we have already had one fairly serious storm since this was done and we don’t think that it will.
All the felled timber was then left in situ until the ground conditions improved so it could be removed without unduly churning up the ground. That has now been done and the timber moved out to two locations and stacked according to how fast Springbok Director Tom Parker and our forester Joe Court estimate it will take to dry.
As you can see from the picture below, the result is a reasonably large amount of wood. The picture below shows the larger of the two stacking areas. There is another smaller series of stacks at the northern end of the wood. When you are bringing unmanaged woodland back into management, the level of extraction per acre is so much higher than when you are sustainably extracting from an already well managed woodland. Basically you have decades of accumulated clearing and tidying up to do.
The wood in the foreground and to the right of the track is what is called brash i.e. the tops of trees. Brash isn’t normally used for chip because it is uneconomic to move. A large pile of brash reduces to relatively little chip – a bit like spinach. As a result it seems it is often burnt in situ i.e. wasted. We think it is viable as chip because it is so close to the point of consumption. Another objection to burning brash is the amount of bark it contains. Too much bark isn’t great for boilers because bark generally contains a fair proportion of silica. However as the ground at this wood is pure sticky clay our biomass contractors Douch are more relaxed about us using the brash. Some of this brash may be ready later this year and it has been stacked next to the hard standing at the entrance to enable it to be chipped during the winter months if it is ready.
Here is another close up of the small figure you can just see in the distance. This is Joe Court our forester and it should help you get a sense of the scale when I tell you that Joe is over 6 feet tall.
The Co-op has been given access by Mike and Kathy Smyth to work in their 37 acres of woodland which adjoins Springbok Estate. This hasn’t had any serious management for some decades and is overgrown and difficult to access so first of all the rides are being opened up and widened. The work is being undertaken by a local forest contractor, Joe Court. Almost all the timber being felled has no market value but should have a biomass value to the Co-op because it is so close to the boiler house so transportation costs can be kept down.