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Coppicing at Roydon Woods, Hampshire
26-28 September 2008

Well, Dave certainly found us a fine location for this year's BCV residential. Roydon Woods are undoubtedly one of the 'jewels in the crown' of HWT. It lies within the New Forest National Park and extends to 950 acres of mixed habitat including heathland, old-meadows, semi-improved grasslands and (of course) woodland. Much of the woodland has ancient origin, and this was the subject of our attention for the week-end. If you'd like to know more about the woods, then follow this link.

For some foolish reason - given the prevailing weather this summer, the majority of us had decided that camping was the accommodation of choice. Quite amazingly, this proved to be an excellent decision, as we were blessed with a week end of glorious late summer sunshine. We gathered at our camp site, an educational site run by Hampshire County Council and largely aimed at school parties, late Friday afternoon and set about erecting our homes for the next two nights. Dave brought along a spare tent, so we had one tent for each camper, and by dusk a neat little row of tents for Graham, Paul, Ray, Dave L, Tina and Dave J were in place. Mike had chosen the ultimate luxury option of a B&B establishment in nearby Brockenhurst.

With the ambient temperature dropping rapidly and the day-light failing, one word starting to form in everyone's mind ... PUB! Rumour had it that the local was a short five minute stroll down the road, so we set off on foot. 30 minutes later we finally reached 'The Filly', having run the gauntlet of the Friday evening rush hour on the A337 heading south from Brockenhurst, without the benefit of any pavement! Needless to say, some hot food and drinks were very welcome, though Tina and Dave were rather frustrated by the lack of choice for vegetarians.

Leaving the pub, the cold air fell upon us, and the return journey to the camp site wasn't much fun, though at least the traffic was much lighter now, so it wasn't quite so hair raising. Mike then headed off to his warm B&B with a broad smile as the rest of us contemplated the night ahead under 'canvas'. It wasn't long though before the sound of snoring was in the air around the tents!

Rising from your bed tends to be an early event when camping, and Saturday morning was no exception. We rose to a very chilly but wonderfully atmospheric scene, with the early sun trying to push through the morning mist.

Graham, Ray and Tina form the breakfast camp early on Saturday morning. The sun shining through the early morning mist.

Breakfast was accompanied by the essential hot tea provided by Ray, and we were all soon warming up. Sharing our night time experiences revealed that Tina had suffered with being cold, but everyone else had enjoyed a reasonable night's rest.

Time for some news of the work, I hear you shouting. Well, by 9 o'clock, Mike had joined us again and we headed off (on wheels this time) to meet the warden of Roydon Woods, Mike Boxall. Yes, we now have 2 Mikes, so we'll call the warden Mike B. The agreed meeting place was Mike B's home, nestling within the woods, and you could hardly imagine a more tucked away place. A real escape from civilization.
Mike B explained that we would be working in the north eastern area of the woods, which turned out to involve a 15 minute joy-ride in the back of his Land Rover, as we snaked our way deeper into the woods along tracks and rides. All the way from the start to the finish of the ride it was very clear what Mike B's major problem is - deer! The woods have thriving populations of fallow, sika and roe deer, and the browse line was as clear as any you could imagine. A closer look at any small tree or sapling showed the tell-tale signs of bark-stripping.

Finally we reached the work site, an area of dense coppice, but again, badly damaged by deer activity. The constrast between the area in which we were to be working and the nearby area lying within a deer exclosure, made the damage caused by the deer all the more apparent, so we were relieved to hear that the exclosure would be extended to protect the soon-to-be-coppiced area!

The morning sunshine showing evidence of the browse line from deer grazing. The results of our work by early Saturday afternoon.

By now that early mist had lifted and it was a glorious morning beneath a cloudless, blue sky. In no time we'd cleared a space and had a roaring bonfire. The combination of hard work and heat from the bonny soon had everyone stripping off the insulating layers of clothing. A restful lunch sitting under the woodland canopy was enjoyed by all, and gave us time to hear some of Mike's tales of his long service to The Trust as warden.
My mid afternoon, the coppiced area was already a subtancial size, as shown by the photos. By this time our numbers had been bolstered by another three members of the Olive family, who miraculously found the work site with no problem.

Mike and Tina enjoy a well earned afternoon cuppa. Mike B, Dave L and Tina

By late afternoon, we decided that we'd done enough work for one day. As the work site wasn't too far from the camp site, some of us took the opportunity to enjoy a walk back to the camp site, giving us a chance to experience the woods in all their glory in late afternoon sunshine.

Adam, Kate and Tom with Dave J, on the walk back from the work site.

Back at the campsite, there was time to freshen up and relax for a while, before the sun starting setting. Once again, the combination of the clear, calm air and losing the sun meant that the air temperature was dropping alarmingly, and a chill was soon in the air, so another trip to a pub was called for! This time we ventured slightly further afield and fetched up at the The Hobler Inn. This pub had clearly undergone a fairly recent makeover so was all very smart and we spent a happy evening recharging our batteries and stomachs...

Sunday morning dawned much like Saturday, but if anything a little colder. Paul took an early morning walk along the edge of Roydon Wood to capture some of the early morning atmosphere.

Early rays of sunshine on the fields. 3 sheep wonder what's happening.

The plan for Sunday much much the same as for Saturday, expect we'd be stopping work earlier, giving us time to get back to civitization and get ready for the week ahead. Now that we knew the location of the work site though, some of us had the option of walking rather than taking to the roads and then Land Rover, so we split into two groups, before meeting up again on the work site. The walking group arrived a little late, having had a navigation mishap along the way, but by 10, we were all working again. Well, nearly all. Poor Ray had left his lunch back at the warden's house, so he had a long walk to go and retrieve it.

Working at a slightly slower pace than the previous day, we continued to push back into the coppice, making the cut area ever larger. Lengthy tea and lunch breaks were enjoyed to the full under the blue sky. After lunch, it was time to start clearing up and reluctantly think about heading for home.

The end result of two days of coppicing.

We were back at the campsite at around 3pm, in time to pack up all the camping gear, which had dried out nicely in the warm sunshine. It was then a case of saying our farewells, and heading back to the real world ...