If You Go Down To The Woods Today – Part 4

Autumn sunlight in the woods at Chartwell

Autumn sunlight in the woods at Chartwell

When paying a visit to Chartwell, the ‘formal’ gardens, beautiful and extensive as they are, are not the only outdoor attraction. The wider estate which makes up much of our 82 acres, encompasses the woodland on both sides of Mapleton Road and contains plenty of hidden surprises. Regular readers of this blog may already be aware of a few posts I did over the Summer about the Chartwell woodland in general, and more specifically, the Canadian Camp and the Bomb Crater. Well in this post I’ll be letting you about the remaining features you will find if you go down to the woods today…

Two of our volunteers, Ron and Marsaili, standing proudly next to their newly weaved coppice den!

Two of our volunteers, Ron and Marsaili, standing proudly next to their newly weaved coppice den!

The Sweet Chestnut Coppice can be found just beyond the Bomb Crater on the upper path behind the lakes here at Chartwell. The area consists of a series of Sweet Chestnut trees (Castanea sativa) that have been carefully pruned to create some attractive play houses for our younger visitors. The Sweet Chestnut tree is thought to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans and areas of Sweet Chestnut coppice are most commonly found in Kent and Surrey within the UK.

Here is the new growth on some coppiced Sweet Chestnut we did last year with some old growth in the background which we'll tackle this year

Here is the new growth on some coppiced Sweet Chestnut we did last year with some old growth in the background which we’ll tackle this year

Coppicing is a form of woodland management that has been utilized for thousands of years that results in a harvest of wood (used for a multitude of reasons) every year. Trees that are young enough to take aggressive pruning are cut down to the stump and then new shoots are allowed to grow up for a period of time dependant on the species of the tree and the intended use of the wood to be harvested. For example Sweet chestnut is often cut at 5 years for walking sticks or 15 years for fencing. Woodland will usually be divided up into compartments or ‘Coups’ and will be cut on a rotation over a certain number of years. The new shoots that grow up from the stump or ‘Stool’ and then are cut, only to grow again, which means the tree (already with an already established root system) is always putting on juvenile growth. This can vastly extend the life of the tree, providing an indefinite supply of wood at the same time. Pollarding works on the same principle as coppicing except the trees are not cut down to the stump but high enough up the stem to stop animals grazing on the new shoots.

The decking around the coppiced dens help to stop the bluebells beneath being trampled

The decked walkways around the coppiced dens help to stop the bluebells beneath being trampled

Our creations are really neither true coppicing or pollarding but they sure are fun. Perhaps we’ll call them poppicing? Or Collarding? We are coppicing the woodland in general to carry on the tradition itself, to keep the trees manageable (i.e not too big that we can’t deal with them), but most importantly to promote and encourage various flora and fauna within the woodland. Cutting out small areas of the woodland allows more sunlight to get to the floor allowing wild flowers to flourish whilst simultaneously opening a glade in which reptiles, like snakes for example, can bask in the sun light undisturbed, but also have the benefit of shade in the surrounding areas. Another important reason to keep up the coppicing is to create good habitat for Dormice which are a protected species. Dormice need various layers in woodland from the ground up to the canopy in which to live and feed. Coppicing on a rotation can provide the varied sizes of trees and plants to suite this need. Dormice particularly like Hazel and Sweet Chestnut and luckily we have both.

One of our doormouse boxes around the woods to provide somewhere for them to nest

One of our dormouse boxes around the woods to provide somewhere for them to nest

The other important area within Churchill’s woodland that has yet to be discussed over these four blogs is that of the Quarry…

The estate team hard at work creating the quarry area last year

The estate team hard at work creating the quarry area last year

And here it is today, awaiting the next group of visitors

And here it is today, awaiting the next group of visitors

Easily found on the other side of the lakes, close to the lower path, The Quarry area has been created from what we believe was an actual quarry or excavation site. It now offers an informal outdoor ‘function room’ for our many visitors! The excavated area is thought to pre-date Churchill, back to the Colhoun family who previously owned chartwell. We often have storytellers in the quarry, complete with camp fires burning. There are a series of log stools as well as a giant tree throne along with temporary tee-pees and plenty more besides.

One of our resident storytellers, hard at work!

One of our resident storytellers, hard at work!

On a cold Winter's day, every story teller needs a fire pit!

On a cold Winter’s day, every story teller needs a fire pit!

If you read all four of our blogs about the woodland here at Chartwell, it should give you a good idea of what to expect the next time you pay us a visit and wander a bit further afield than the gardens themselves. There are several circular walks that you can do as well as plenty of ways to shorten or extend whatever walk you are on at any given point. You might find a few other surprises along the way too if you’re lucky…

...like this cleverly designed balancing beam section!

…like this cleverly designed balancing beam section!

Or one of our purpose built over-sized doormouse dens for humans!

Or one of our purpose built over-sized dormouse dens for humans!

On your way up to the woods or perhaps on your return journey back to the gardens again, you may like to try out one of our swings too. There are plenty of standard single swings up through the Parkland…

..and also this brilliant double swin which affords magnificent views back to the house and gardens

..and also this brilliant double swing which affords magnificent views back to the house and gardens

The double swing is perfect for sharing a relaxing moment with that special someone. Our estate team, Steve and Ben, for example are apparently often seen enjoying a quiet moment together up there! Only joking lads! 😉

Jamie

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