Seeing the Wood for the Trees

I have always loved woodland, and so we are fortunate to be surrounded by it here – not dense forest, but copses and thickets interspersed with fields. In fact, much of this woodland is not more than 100 years old, since the population was much higher at one time and the land was largely turned over to farming. We are also lucky to have a little piece of woodland of our own.

When we bought this…

This came with it…

When we moved here, the barn belonged to farmer neighbours. Having no use for it, they decided to sell it. This was in the early 2000s, when the property market here was booming in response to the even bigger boom in the UK. The idea of restoring a barn as a second residence appealed to people. But, since it is only 30 metres from our door, we bought it. For us, it will always remain a barn, which was its original purpose. You can read more about it on the link below.

Labour of love

The barn came with a field and an impenetrable wood. I conceived the project of clearing the wood and turning it into a sort of wooded park.

The first job was to gain access. When I say impenetrable, I mean that you needed to wear a suit of armour to get in. Unchecked, the undergrowth had run riot. Brambles, blackthorn and all kinds of spiny bushes had intertwined to create a lethal wall of vegetation.

The wood was clearly a field at one time and extends up the hill. It’s at a higher level than the field below it, and there are the remnants of a retaining wall. Clusters of stone indicate that the wood may once have been terraced.

Once we had cleared the edge of the field below, we found this ramp, formerly completely hidden by the vegetation. This was for carts and people to gain easy access to the upper level. It’s steeper than it looks in the photo.

While the SF rebuilt and repaired the 80-metre stone wall bordering the field and the wood, I girded my loins (and they needed some girding against the thorns) and started on clearing the wood.

This was a labour of love, accomplished with loppers, secateurs and occasionally a brush-cutter, and it took me nearly two years. A robin usually accompanied me, sitting on a branch close by with its head tilted to one side, before darting down to snatch some bug I had uncovered.

In carrying out this project, however, I realised that I was potentially depriving birds and wildlife of shelter and food. I decided to leave about a quarter of the wood wild as a haven for them, which you can see extending behind the oak tree below.

Oak tree with the wild patch that I have left behind it

Managed woodland

The result is a piece of managed woodland. Removing the competing vegetation has allowed the trees to thrive. They are mostly oaks and ash with a few wild pear trees and a kind of maple, whose leaves flame ochre in autumn. A once-yearly round with a brush-cutter keeps down the undergrowth. Fallen sticks and branches make good kindling, but we always leave some to rot down and provide homes for insects.

Occasionally, we take down a tree that isn’t thriving or is overshadowed by others and use it for firewood. During the first days of lockdown, we cut down an oak tree that was clearly dying. It was making valiant attempts to push out suckers lower down, but it was dead from two metres upwards. The SF’s father worked as a lumberjack in Canada for a while and passed on his skills to his son. Unfortunately, the remaining stump may be too much for our chainsaw.

I am proud of my wood. It contains some lovely specimens.

My favourite oak, the tallest in the wood. There’s a good view from the top of the wood here, just visible.

Natural treasures

And there are treasures to be found. A little patch of wild strawberries, now flowering. The birds get there before we do, but we usually manage to pick a handful of these delightfully sweet and delicately perfumed fruits.

In the spring, clumps of cowslips make a yellow splash beneath the trees. Spikes of purple orchids push up through the grass. And the twining climber, respounchous (black bryony), the shoots of which are beloved of local people, is growing now.  

Wayfarer tree flowering now. The butterflies love it

Unfortunately, I have never been adept at finding mushrooms. The only ones I have seen in our wood are the non-comestible variety of cèpe.

The wood is a haunt for long-eared owls and nuthatches, woodpeckers and hoopoes. On a summer’s evening, while dusk falls, we like to sit in our garden and listen to the rustling and calling of birds and animals in the trees above.

You might also like:

Noises Off on a Country Evening

French Cultural Heritage on our Doorstep

Orchids in Southwest France

Heart of Oak

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

12 comments

  1. How fabulous that you have your very own wood!! I almost feel a little envious, but then I remember the brush-cutting each year, and then I remember my own garden, and then I know that I have no reason to be envious! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very lucky. I always wanted my own wood. The brush-cutting is a bit tedious, but provided we time it right, it’s a once-a-year job. It’s worth it to keep the undergrowth down, otherwise it would quickly revert to how it was!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know my love of trees so this pause in your woodland is positively medicinal! Your long labour of love has been rewarded with trees that are thriving. I am glad you left a portion untouched. It is a tough balance to get right but you have done just that. The managed and the wilderness side by side and all are happy. It’s beautiful. And now I’m going to take another look at those beautiful trees!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot to mention that we have also planted one or two trees up there, which we will not see come to maturity during our lifetime. But that is very important, too, to keep the ethos going.

      I notice with great delight that you have been posting prolifically. We have been unaccountably busy, despite, or possibly because of, lockdown, so I simply haven’t had a chance to read your posts properly. This is a pleasure I am reserving for a moment when I can do them justice.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a beautiful and touching tale of true tough love! I deeply admire ppl who care enough to do the “hard bits of work” too, and who are not ‘just’ Sunday gardeners… I’m now back in my home country and relatively surrounded by greenery, lots of birds, but also kids, families and their pets…. It feels great.
    HAPPY EASTER to you and yours. And should you know somebody interested in buying our charming and full-of-character stone house, point them in our direction, will you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy Easter to you too, Kiki – at least as happy as we can make it for the moment. It was certainly hard work clearing the wood. I am 16 years older now, so I’m not sure I would have the stamina to take it on. It was very rewarding to have done it, though.

      I presume you mean the house near Paris. I suppose it’s not a great time to sell a house 😦 but it will pick up again one day. Do you have a link to an advertisement? I’d be happy for you to post it here in the comments. For the moment, I can’t think of anyone who might be interested, but I will certainly let you know if I do.

      Like

  4. Love the woods in our area. Like you my terrain is partially wooded. Lots of old terraces and ruined buildings. I’d love to understand the history. Local people refer to a group of happenings – phylloxera, a drier climate lowering the water table so that sheep were no longer viable on the causse and the First World War taking the young men. I’m locked down in UK at present taking care of my 99 year old pa in law. Hope very much to be back in Summer. You mentioned orchids, apparently there are 50 different species in my valley. i recognise the more common, but can’t always distinguish between those that are similar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The vestiges of this area’s past are all over the place. Rural depopulation stripped the area of people from the late 19th century, owing to the factors you mention. Our village once had 4,000 inhabitants; now it has 1,600.

      I think you are near the Forêt de Grésigne? It’s a lovely forest and quite old; once a royal domain, I understand. We had a friend who lived on the edge of the forest and went for some lovely walks with her until she died, sadly.

      Gosh! 50 different species of orchid. I haven’t noticed so many around here, but the hillside above Septfonds is the place for them. The terrain there obviously suits orchids.

      I hope you manage to get back in the summer. In the meantime, Happy Easter.

      Like

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