Month: November 2016

Rocket Stove

Rocket Stove

On arrival on Saturday we found that the British weather had again taken its toll on the shelter. A design flaw in the A-Frame saw it bring down the shelter ripping out a few more eyelets and putting a hole in the so called hard-wearing tarp.

Time for another re-think; while I carry on cutting down the brambles.

Before lunch we built a primitive rocket stove, after lots of time spent on pinterest Gem decided to construct it with 7 breeze blocks but this was mainly due to the fact that we could not get the bricks we wanted, the original design had 3 on the floor, 3 sides and the last block for the top to draw in the air. On top of this we tried to make a chimney by adding building bricks, but Gem found that not enough heat was reaching the food to cook it.

So the construction was adjusted slightly and the fire moved back in order to speed up cooking.

One of the joys with this set up is the breeze blocks retain the heat long after the fire had been relocated, Gem removed the fire with a spade and used this to start the fire pit, but it was cool enough that the kids could warm their hands and little bottoms on it.

On to the last job of the day a new wind proof shelter. As we are approaching the end of the season we only need to keep a small stack of wood and the rocket stove dry, so the new shelter was scaled down to a mini square tee-pee with the large tarp wrapped around.

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Felling our first tree

Felling our first tree

Gem had been busy on Friday, preparing the entrance to get our car in off of the forest track. Having forgotten the fuel for the brush cutter, this also gave her an opportunity to inspect the few trees that we had already uncovered.

Rotten Tree
Rotten Tree

One tree in particular was identified for felling, It was leaning at such an angle that it was pushing against a neighbouring tree.

Gem set about clearing it low level branches and then the area around it.

Sunday saw the felling of our first tree. No fancy equipment or power tools (this time), just a good old hand saw. The kids celebrated as the tree hit the ground. They’ve been promised the trunk will be used to build them a swing. 🙂

We also found out that our hard wearing tarp is not that hard wearing. The wind and rain during the week had caused it to tare at the eyelets, in turn bringing down our shelter.

The afternoon was filled with the planning and construction of Shelter Mk2, Complete with supporting A-Frame, hopefully this will withstand the British weather a little more.

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The Woodland Trust MOREwoods

The Woodland Trust MOREwoods

To apply for MOREwoods funding you will need to plant on at least 0.5 ha (1.25 acres) of unwooded land in total and must be willing to plant between 1000 and 1600 trees per hectare. This would equate to at least 500 shrubs and trees. If your scheme is approved and you are able to plant and maintain the trees yourself, the Woodland Trust will contribute 60% towards the cost of the trees and protection. If you would prefer to use one of their contractors to plant and maintain your woodland, they will contribute 50% of the total cost (planting at least 1 ha). If this sounds like a good fit for your project they would need an initial indication from you of the area(s) you are considering planting. If you would like to apply please send in two maps, either by post or email: a road map showing the wider area around your site and a larger scale plan showing the area(s) of land that you would like to plant. They will also need a few more details about you and your site:

• What is your correspondence address and telephone number?
• What is the postal address / grid reference of the land you want to plant?
• How much of your land (in hectares) are you considering planting?
• What type of land is it? How is it currently being used?
• What is your motivation for creating new woodland?
• Are you currently receiving Basic Payment or any other government grants for the land?
• Is the land currently subject to any conservation designations?
• Is there any other existing woodland visible from the site?
• Are there deer in the area?
• Is there currently public access through or close to the site?
• Are there any services (e.g. power lines, gas pipes) passing through or adjacent to the site?
• Is any of the proposed planting part of a planning application?
• Where did you hear about the woodland creation support offered by the Woodland Trust?

They hold monthly approval rounds and if your application is approved they will ask one of the expert Woodland Creation Advisers to visit the site with you in person to discuss your plans and produce a personalised woodland design.

Planting at a smaller scale:

If you wish to plant at a smaller scale, The woodland trust have a network of experienced Woodland Creation Champion volunteers who can assist with questions about species choice, planting, protection and aftercare- but you need to tell them a little more about your plans so you can be referred to a local volunteer for some advice by phone and a site visit. They also offer Targeting Tree Disease packs that may also be of help. Each pack contains 45 saplings and you can choose three species per pack from Beech, Birch, Hornbeam, Oak and Wild Cherry (15 of each). The packs also include 1.2m protective tubes and stakes and are subsidised by the Woodland Trust to less than half price. You can order as many of the Targeting Tree Disease Packs as required. The packs cost £60* including VAT and will be available for planting during the 2016/17 planting season (with delivery taking place from November 2016 onwards). Planting guidance is available via the Woodland Trust website if required. You can order your packs direct from our web shop here: http://www.woodlandtrustshop.com/category/62-native-trees.aspx

*Price correct at time of publishing

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All you need is a little wine

All you need is a little wine

Nanny is not a fan of the ‘let’s buy our own woodland’ idea and took a little persuading to visit us. A bottle of Mulled wine warmed over an open fire did the trick followed by rewarmed Chinese take away. We had planned to carry on cutting down brambles but decided to spend the day just being with the family. Gav and Granddad split some fallen wood to start drying for the next visit while the kids ran around with Cindy the dog.

We took Granddad to see our friend’s woodland and had a quick look around the plot for sale next door while Gav started drying the wood over the remaining embers.

It will soon be too wet and dangerous to work so we are planning on making the most of the dry weather. This will be made easier when we actually own the woodland and are given a key. 1.5 weeks into our legal process and counting down the days.

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Meeting the neighbours for a cup of coffee

Meeting the neighbours for a cup of coffee

Last weekend as we walked the 600 meters down the hill to our car, dragging our now two wheeled cart behind us, we came across one of our neighbours who have been owners for a few weeks. After a quick chat they kindly invited us for a cup of coffee the following weekend and to let us in the gate. This was an offer we could not pass up on.

With our car loaded Saturday morning we set off in the hope that they were already at the woodland. We were let in and the difference not having to carry all our stuff and encourage two young kids to walk 600 meters up a hill was immediately apparent. The first job of the day was to make a space to park the car. We have a gully between the road and our woodland, this is to preserve the road when it is raining.

Tarp_up
Tarp is up

We found a few planks of wood a couple of weekends ago and made use of them. The next job was to erect the hard wearing giant tarp that Gav had bought for us. The tarp was far too big and we lost an hour trying to put it up. Looking on the bright side once we have finished working it will be big enough for our communal area and provide shelter for the tents.

Today we are having beef stew and garlic bread for lunch. After eating we set off down the road to see if our neighbours were back. The part of the woodland they own, on the opposite side to ours, is far older with little light or brambles reaching the floor. We walked down the recently cleared path to find their base camp nestled at the bottom in a lovely cleared area. Wow so much can be achieved in such a little time. They had a fire pit area with seating, a wood store, a little kitchen area with a gas stove and the wonderful smell of real coffee. At that moment I must admit I had woodland envy. lol. What a lovely family, so welcoming, it felt like we had known them for years. The kids were made hot chocolates and shown to the swings, as you can imagine they did not leave willingly, as Gav and I got to know the family.

Gav Working Hard

We did take the opportunity for Gav to get some work completed with the kids out of the way. This single day is what is it all about for us, the feeling of community, the kids were free to play and get muddy and covered in paint (yes mummy let Tobias take paint to the woods) the pace of life is as slow as you want.  The day only ended as we ran out of light and Olivia manged to get mud in her eye just as we were leaving. We will be taking a head torch at all times as trying to walk up a hill in a woodland in the dark with a hysterical child was a learning curve.

We are already talking about what we are going to do tomorrow.

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What are we going to do with our woodland?

What are we going to do with our woodland?

One of the compromises we had to make was the amount of work the wood required in order to get woodland close to home. We were looking for low maintenance woodland that we could just rock up and camp, hang a few bird boxes and go home.

But in taking on Bramble Bank wood we get the opportunity to learn not only about woodland management, but woodland creation and conservation.

I have seen deer in the wood and thought how wonderful, not knowing that they will eat any sapling trees that we might plant. So now we are thinking about how we can encourage the deer and protect any trees we might plant.

I started off reading things like the below. I know we need to get to know our woodland throughout the seasons to understand what is growing in what area.

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/so-you-own-a-woodland.pdf/$FILE/so-you-own-a-woodland.pdf

I know that once we know our wood we need to write a management plan. But how do you do this? The woodland trust has volunteers that can help you with this. They are passionate about trees and the local area and will be able to offer advice. Well that what I have been told, we are waiting to be contacted so we can arrange a time to meet them at our woodland. We will let you know how this goes.

http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/

I have also left a message for the area manager for the Forestry Commission as Bramble Bank Wood is on a site formally owned by them. This way I can get detailed information on how it has been manged in the past and hopefully insider information as to what grows well, what pests and disease is in the area.

Our plan over the next few months is to clear a path throughout the woodland. Then wait and watch as to see what the next year brings.

We have plenty to do finding and attending training courses, start working on our management plan, make a campsite and put up the all-important rope swing for the kids.

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The Legal Searches

The Legal Searches

The searches mentioned to us are shown below, I have researched these on Google to gain a better understanding of what they entail. We’re not sure yet if we will proceed with these, given the type of sale.

Local authority searches 

Your conveyancer will send enquiries to the local authority, giving you a perspective on a variety of issues regarding the property – ranging from planning permission issues and the proximity of rail/tube lines to road works, conservation areas and more. Your conveyancer should also enquire about nearby buildings and empty land; you will want to know if there is major planning permission for further buildings or developments as this could greatly affect your quality of life in your new home.

An extensive list of preliminary enquiries will also be sent by your conveyancer to the seller’s conveyancer requesting details of:

  • Disputes
  • Boundaries
  • Planning constraints/permission
  • Rights of way
  • Any additional restrictive agreements

 

Agricultural search

You need an understanding of the environmental risks, and resulting liabilities, which may affect the purchase.

  • Environmental permits, incidents and registers
  • Detailed active and historical landfill data from authoritative sources, including the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, British Geological Survey (BGS), Local Authorities and historical Ordnance Survey mapping
  • National Grid gas pipeline and electricity transmission lines
  • Flood-risk screening
  • Hydrogeology
  • Historic rights of way
  • Land Classification, indicating the land’s potential productivity
  • Non-coal mining risks and related subsidence hazards
  • Designated Environmentally Sensitive Sites including ancient or protected woodland.
  • Assessment of archaeological sites of interest
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The 1st weekend at Bramble Bank Wood

The 1st weekend at Bramble Bank Wood

As the name and photos suggest we have brambles in our wood, in fact at ground level we only have brambles, our first job is to start clearing a path around our woodland so we can walk around and check the health of the existing trees.

Gavin is happiest when shopping for power tools and purchasing our Brush cutter is no exception. After looking around he decided on the below.

Titan TTL530GBC 43cc Straight Shaft Petrol Brushcutter

  • 1.9hp 2-Stroke Petrol Engine
  • 3-Tooth Steel Blade Head
  • Anti-Vibration System
  • Adjustable Bull Horn Handle
  • Straight Shaft


He also purchased: 

Browguard with Ear defenders

Skytec Ultimus Cut 5 Gloves – Flexible, durable gloves providing maximum resistance against cuts

Fuel Mixing bottle – to ensure we get the correct mix of fuel to Oil

Workman trousers, a new waterproof first aid kit and we both bought steel toecap boots.

As we do not have the keys to our woodland yet we used a trolley to carry the above and our food up the hill to our wood.

Saturday we cleared away previously cut brambles and burnt them. We then started trying to cut a path through to a point in the woods.

At first we tried just cutting at the bottom of the brambles but as they are over 5 ft we were not making a dent in them. So we went for a 3 layer approach, we don’t want the pieces too small as we need to pick them up and burn them. This worked well and we managed to clear 5 meters down the bank in about 30 mins. On the way back to the car our trolley lost one of its wheels, only the second time it had been used.

 

On Sunday we decided to start to clear the flat area on the top so the kids had more space to play. Using our new method of cutting we cleared a large space in a short period of time. This was then cleared away for later, we ensured the kids were kept at the opposite end of the woodland and they were more than happy going around collecting wood for the fire and exploring. Olivia was so excited when she found a worm, she has a worm hotel at home. We only worked for an hour before starting a fire to burn the brambles collected and get ready for cooking our second meal Pizza. Our wood faces west and so gets quite a lot of wind we rigged up a small wooden wall and backed it out with leaves to protect the fire from being blown to close to our trees. If we had not had the ability to make this wall we would not have been starting a fire as it would have been too dangerous.

As soon as the fire was lit Tobias sat for a good 30 mins just watching the flames.

After looking in to different fires we decided to go for the keyhole layout. So coals were dragged to one side and we cooked on top of this controlling the head by adding or taking away coals.

After lunch we dampened the fire by applying a layer of dirt to stop the Oxygen and left quickly as it was starting to rain. On the way back to our car we lost the 2nd front wheel now having to drag it along by the back wheels.

 

 

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The process of buying woodland

The process of buying woodland

Step 1 – Find woodland you like

Step 2 – Make sure you have the finance in place

Step 3 – Find a solicitor

Step 4 – Make a formal offer including your name address and the contact details of the solicitor.

Step 5 – Wait 4 to 6 weeks for the process to finished.

 

Step 1 – Done

Step 2 – Done

Step 3 – Find a solicitor, I called 5 of them in total and only 2 came back to me with quotes. The two quotes for solicitors fees came in at 450 + vat and 750 +vat. You also have CHAPS fees, land registry fees and ‘optional’ searches.  The solicitor should provide you with further detail as to what this includes allowing you to make an informed decision.

When you instruct the solicitor you need to provide details on the woodland, size, price, location and the woodland name! if you bought woodland off a website and know its name. We, on the other hand, were given the opportunity to name our wood. This would be entered in the land registry as part of the purchase process.

The contenders were-  Marshmallow Land, Unicorn Wood and Bramble Bank wood. As our woodland is 2.6 acres of brambles we felt the last name was more suited to the woodland.

Step 4 – Done – We have our letter of acceptance.

Step 5 – Did I say I don’t like to wait?

We have spoken to the area manager and have his blessing to use the wood while the legal process is being completed. We cant have the keys yet so it is a little bit of a trek but so far we have been out 3 times.

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Choosing a Woodland

Choosing a Woodland

When choosing woodland you need to think about what is important to you, but expect to make some compromises along the way, you will pay more for woodland in built up areas, with a source of water or a building on site.

1St set your budget taking in to account legal fees, insurance and if required any mortgage repayments. If you can’t afford it don’t do it.

2nd list the aspects you would like in your woodland and prioritise them

For us we valued:

  1. Distance from home – when you have a 3 and 6 year old spending hours in the car to get to the wood is not a fun prospect.
  2. Rights of way – We wanted a private space to enjoy and not be worrying about Joe public walking in to our campsite. You also have to be mindful when it comes to health and safety as you will be liable if someone gets hurt.
  3. Accessibility we have a standard 2WD car and have no plans to purchase a 4×4
  4. Parking, the thought of potentially having to hike our camping gear and woodland tools to far was not our idea of fun.
  5. Water – Ideal as this is heavy to carry.

 

We created a spreadsheet to document all the woods we could find in our price range and from the write-up started detailing each one against our values list. We also included the postcode, distance, journey time and the website link. See below example.

 

At the time of writing we found 3 dedicated woodland websites:

http://www.woodlands.co.uk/

http://www.woods4sale.co.uk

http://www.forests.co.uk

Each website has pros and cons, for example woods4sale.co.uk gives you use useful section called ‘if it were mine’ this gives you guidance on what work could be done on site. Woodlands.co.uk offer you £300 towards training and will also sign you up to a number of groups that offer help and advice.

All 3 of them will:

  1. Not sell you a woodland unless you have visited it.
  2. Enter you in to a covenant that will protect the woodland and restricts the use of the woodland for some things. E.g. running a commercial campsite.

We did find a number of woodlands for sale on right move and a few other sites but these were ether up for auction or commercial woodlands of 100+ acres.

 

Sampling Woodlands

If possible try to visit a few woodlands at a time. We visited 3 down in Devon on a Saturday and 2 further woods on the Sunday finishing the weekend with a meal out. You will not be given the keys to access the woodland until you have purchased it. So if it seems like a long walk just be mindful that when you own it you might be able to drive on to it.

We visited 10 woodlands in total and found the one for us in Devon. 2.5 acres with a stream and access to a small river, it also had a large car park at the entrance and only had 1 neighbour. Perfect, until the next day I became ill, I know my asthma is triggered by tree pollen and had taken my medication, due to the water aspect the damp and mould caused my breathing to go out of control and I was very ill.  Just our luck we had set our hearts on this woodland and I was allergic to it, we were left with two very disappointed kids.

Make sure this does not happen to you.

 

 

Sampling Woodlands

So water dropped off the list from now on only dry woodlands for us and the search continued.

At this point we started looking at woodland way above our price range and found a wood closer to home. The wood was not suitable for us at all, no flat ground and a dangerous drop, but after talking to the local manager in Devon we were told that the woodland is gradually split up to allow for some flexibility. With this in mind we contacted the area manager and had a chat about what we were looking for and how much we could afford.  He could not guarantee to be able to help us and advised us to keep an eye on the website.

I am not good at waiting…

Woodland Layout Sketch

So we visited the area again this time with an OS map of the area. We marked out the areas we were interested in and documented the Pro’s and Con’s of each section. The next communication with the area manager was with this attached and a gentle nudge that we were serious about purchasing woodland. By the time he called me, 2 days later, we had our finance approved and told him we were ready to instruct a solicitor all we needed was the land. Two weeks later we received the call we had been waiting for. We had a plot marked out for us. It is over grown he said but it has a flat area, a slope down to a further flat area. As you will see from the photos it needs TLC.

At last we had found the wood for us, we visited the wood a further two times and had a little fire and a spot of lunch so see if we could see ourselves in this space. The kids were happy, we were happy, it’s going to take a lot of work to get the wood cleared but we see that as an opportunity to put our mark on it. All our son wants is a fire and a swing our daughter on the other hand wants to run a judo school in the woods.

 

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