North Dean is one of the largest areas of woodland in Calderdale, stretching 3km from Norland Town to West Vale along the north-facing side of the Calder valley. It looks out over Copley and Salterhebble and has a wide variety of woodland habitats along the thin, stretched hillside. There are areas of young birch and rowan emerging through carpets of bracken; old beech woods which are open and cavernous beneath the huge trees and dense canopy; steep moss-covered rocky slopes of twisted oaks and birch.
Responsibility for managing the woodland lies with Calderdale MBC Countryside Services, and we have been working in partnership with the site manager to bring sensitive, regenerative management into one of the youngest parts of the wood: around the old Stainland branch line behind Clay House at the eastern end of North Dean. The triangle of woodland here, connected by a thin bottleneck to the rest of the woods, is composed of young birch, oak, willow and sycamore, with some mature oak and sycamore in places. It covers the old railway line and sidings and extends up into old quarry workings. This kind of young woodland is perfect for introducing coppice cycles – the young trees will be likely to resprout vigourously and there are plenty of seedlings and saplings to fill up any gaps. Coppicing will change how the woods look and feel – newly cut patches will allow much more light into the woodland, but as the trees grow they will create dense areas of young growth. A few older trees will be left to give some canopy cover and the unique habitat that only mature trees can provide. A small area will be cut each year. Eventually the wood will consist of areas at all the different stages of growth. After around 15 years, coppice stools will be cut again for the straight wood. This will be the raw material for gates, fencing, turnery, furniture, charcoal, firewood, baskets, kindling and many other products. We are really keen for people who live around and use the woods to get involved – if you would like to hear more about what we’re doing, give us some input or come out and help then please do get in touch.
February 2012 has seen us coppice one fall in the middle of the woods: a half-acre triangle above the old railway line. This was mostly birch with some oak, willow and holly. Nearly all the trees have been felled in order to allow enough light in for strong regrowth to happen. The area will be protected by a temporary deer fence for about three years, until the regrowth is tall enough to be out of reach of the nibbling mouths of deer. Some oaks have been left as reserves. We have taken around 30 cubic metres of timber off site. Most of this will be cut, split and seasoned as firewood because it is twisted and knotty. If you would like to purchase some firewood from North Dean please look at our Firebox scheme page and sign up! Some birch logs are straight-grained enough to be used for turning bowls, and there is a small amount of oak which Keith will turn into riven oak fencing. We will convert as much of the willow as possible into nets of kindling.
Ground flora in this area includes some bracken, bramble, bluebells and wood sorrel, but it is dominated by Himalayan balsam. This plant is quickly spreading throughout the wood. We will be back in summer before the seeds form to pull up the plant in some areas and will see what emerges from the uncovered soil. This fall also has a healthy population of wood blewit mushrooms (see this post for a photo of some of them in a frying pan), which are secondary decomposers – they feed on wood already half rotted by other fungi. Part of our management is to leave as much standing dead wood as possible as well as leaving a significant number of logs on the woodland floor to rot and encourage wood-rotting fungi. Brash from the felled trees is left in piles to rot down. It creates a valuable habitat in the process for insects and birds such as the wren.
We are really interested in hearing more about the history of the woods. We have already been told that the area we are working at the moment used to have chickens on it! Further to the west there are remains of charcoal-burning pits dug into the hillside, and apparently someone was making charcoal in the woods a few years ago. Some Ordnance Survey maps show a couple of coppicing symbols in North Dean wood, which suggests activity in the past has continued on the maps if not on the ground. Thanks to Rupert for also digging out this reference from Domesday Reloaded: “North Dean Wood Charity appears in records in 1757 applying profits from wood sales to help local poor”. How exciting! If anyone knows anything more about this or any other aspect of the history of North Dean then please let us know.