Category Archives: Wood brash mounds

Oxfordshire Art Weeks 2017 at the Whispering Knights woodland

The woodland is open again this year for Oxfordshire Art Weeks, which runs from Saturday May 6th until Monday May 29th 2017. We’ve already had lots of enthusiastic visitors who have enjoyed browsing around the new structures. They’ve given us some great feedback too, which is very encouraging and welcome!

You can check out the latest updates here – there are new videos and a look at how the woodland ecosystem is developing.

We look forward to seeing you!

Directions and details

 

Tracking activity through the winter woods

Spending time in the woods after snow gives an interesting opportunity to look for signs of activity that wildlife leave behind them. It’s easy to spot where they’ve been, but not always easy to tell what the species was. Walking along one of the main paths through the woodland I’ve been working in during winter since late 2014, I spotted the footprints of a large bird and knew immediately that it was a pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). The footprints, one placed directly in front of the other, brought to mind a clear image of a male pheasant in all his flamboyant glory as he stalked along the path. Male pheasants always look slightly foolish to me; their tentative gait makes them seem uncomfortably nervous, as if they wish to be invisible, but they’re so brightly coloured that you can’t miss them. I must look kindly on them as pheasant season has not long ended and they’ve no doubt been dodging the lead shot of hunters for many weeks.

pheasant prints in snow

Walking on through the woods I spot snow that has clearly been disturbed over a large area. Patches of snow have been moved aside, revealing the leaf litter beneath. I wonder what creature did it. Was it badgers visiting the latrines we find throughout the woods? Or were they looking for food, perhaps? A slow walk and closer observation amongst them and reveals the answer, for next to almost every bare patch I see the faint footprints of a blackbird in the melting snow.

blackbird foot printsThe blackbird’s footprints

The bird’s passage between the trees, as it tossed aside the snow and moved the leaves, is very obvious and reminds of me how blackbirds throw up leaves and bark chippings in gardens. I hope it found what it was looking for, be it worms, grubs, beetles or slugs.

blackbird activity snow 2Signs of foraging

This woodland is host to a large number of fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) during winter. They are winter visitors from Scandinavia, arriving in autumn and leaving in late winter, and I first noticed them in November, when I saw a flock of them perched in a tree in a hedgerow on the nearby farm land, all of them facing the same direction. They are timid on their migration visits and fly off at the hint of a nearby human, but their presence in the woods is clear. Certain trees, often larch or pine, tell that they’ve been used for roosting and the evidence is seen in the dense scattering of droppings at the base of the favoured tree. Stand still and you won’t necessarily see the fieldfares but their voices are all around you. It is a strange cacophony of whistles and clacks and it sounds to me just like I imagine a sound effect might do in an old science-fiction B-movie, used when insectoid aliens are about to terrify some unsuspecting humans (you can hear them in this clip). One day the fieldfares might stop for me to photograph them, but that day is yet to come.

Another mystery in the woods is one created by humans. Someone tried their hand at building a shelter of sorts but it didn’t go too well and stood for less than 48 hours before collapsing in an ugly heap. It’s a little irritating because two other mounds had been taken apart to put this wreck together and we’ll need to dismantle it. It’s fairly regular for people to come into the wood and play, but they usually do a better job of it than this.

mysteryWhat the hell is that supposed to be?

By contrast, here’s one that Karl made nearly two years ago, which is still looking sturdy.

mycelium mound snowMuch better

Whispering Knights Collective gearing up for Oxfordshire Art Weeks

From Saturday May 21st until Monday May 30th 2016,  the woodland project we’ve been working on since November 2014 will be open to the public for Oxfordshire Artweeks.

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The Whispering Knights Collective is busily readying Neolithic Echoes for those who wish to enjoy these ephemeral structures and wildlife habitats.

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There are some ten acres of woodland to enhance and encourage wildlife and plant diversity, all busy with the activities of birds, mammals and beneficial insects.

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You can find us here – come and see what we’ve been doing!

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We also have a selection of video clips from the woods, showing the changing seasons.

Charting the course of autumn wildlife

Now that this long autumn has begun its move towards winter, the activity of wildlife has changed from one of raising young to securing a territory and surviving the coming months of cold. Robins need little reason to fight amongst themselves and their battles become more frequent as the year ages and they strive to acquire and hold the territory that will feed them until spring. Finches and tits group together to form chattering flocks, hedgehogs, dormice and bats prepare for hibernation and amphibians burrow into soil, compost heaps or under log piles.

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In this old house, autumn is heralded by the arrival of wood lice, which suddenly increase in numbers and crawl about the edges of rooms or find their way into the bath. As temperatures drop, they are joined by, and appear to be eaten by, spiders and their numbers drop again. We find the dessicated bodies in clusters under cobwebs, tucked away behind the fridge or under the washing machine. Many people don’t like insects in their homes, but it doesn’t really bother me that much, unless they bite or a light has been left on in an open-windowed room and it fills with dancing craneflies (Tipulidae).

In the great outdoors, it is interesting to stand amongst autumn trees and see the changes. In the woods, the deer have moved back into the dense central growth, where they make beds by scraping away the grass and leaves to reveal the bare earth they seem to prefer resting on. They are donning their winter coats, turning from a rich brown to a dull fawn, which blends perfectly with the muted colours of approaching winter.

deer-scrapeA deer has scraped away the grass and moss to make a bed of soil

All around us, insects are seeking shelter, tucking themselves against seed pods or the curls of fallen leaves.

nov-2015Ladybird seeking shelter

Slugs are fattening up on the last of the fungi, that not eaten by mammals, and will themselves become meals for hedgehogs, thrushes or toads.

slug-mushroom

In the Cotswold woodland I frequent, a small team is working to collect the brash from tree thinnings and build it into loosely woven mounds. Work started late last year and finished in spring and now that it is due to begin again, I’ve visited the woodland to observe wildlife activity around these mounds and it is gratifying to see.

shelterA small mammal has made a shelter in this thick mass of pine needles

Spiders are weaving their webs in the woven brash and many small birds move in and out of the twined stems. As I walk along the pathways or through the trees, birds flit from one brash mound to another. Sheltering so many insects, the mounds have become larders for them, as well as both habitat and hunting ground for small mammals and amphibians.

1021-3The birds spend a great deal of time investigating the woven brash

When it sometimes seems that all species except humans are sensibly tucking themselves away from the cold, I hear the soft sub-song of robins and blackbirds under shrubs, then suddenly the voices of dozens of birds. I look up to see a large flock of long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) has landed on a lime tree, and are calling ‘tsee-tsee-tsee’. I can make life easier for these wakeful birds, so the seed feeders will be filled over and again and the songsters will continue to enliven the relative quiet of winter.

 

A couple of new structures at Rollrights

Karl made two more structures for Stephen’s granddaughter – ones that might be enjoyed  by a small, inquisitive child. The idea was also that there would be something that didn’t tower over her and that was small enough for her to appreciate.

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The first was a sort of egg made from pine stems wound together to form a rough sphere, which nestles within the curve of the Young Snake. There is a hole in it so that people who wish to do so can look inside. Seen from a distance it is very pleasing.

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The other structure is a three-in-one type – there is an open dome of ash stems, just high enough for a not very tall person to stand up in.

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Within that is a very simple dome of willow stems bound together at the top with ivy.

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Inside the simple ash dome is a curious little structure that looks rather like a fragment of DNA.

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It was constructed over a tree stump and, just because, Karl added in an oak twig with an oak apple still attached to it.

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The Young Snake and other creations

The felling and canopy lifting work at the woods by the Rollright Stones continues and it generates vast amounts of logs and brash, so it’s been decided that building larger mounds and structures is the way to go. As ever, Karl has been creative in his use of materials and the structures he makes are becoming larger and bolder in design. It’s fascinating to see this previously unknown aspect of his personality emerging.

whispering-knights-freezing-fogThe Whispering Knights in freezing fog

Continue reading The Young Snake and other creations

Rollright stones – snow in the woods

Snow was forecast for the 15th of January and Karl looked forward to seeing the woods under a layer of sparkling white; I stayed at home that day. Where we live, there was no snow at all and Karl saw none on the journey to the woods, but as soon as he turned into the driveway, there it was. Not a lot, but the light dusting and bright sunshine were enough to create a beautiful scene. All pictures are clickable to enlarge them.

ouroborosThe Ouroboros with a dusting of snow

I read in the Witney Gazette that the Rollright Stones were ‘one of the few landmarks in Oxfordshire to see a dusting of snow’ that day.

The mounds stood out very well indeed and here are some more pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Continue reading Rollright stones – snow in the woods

Rollright Stones Novel Structures – or ‘What on earth can we do with all this brash?’

In the making of brash mounds a time can come when you look at the sheer amount of material to be moved and decide that there is simply too much of it and that a new approach could be in order. This has happened in a couple of areas of the woods – in some parts, the brash is so thick that the woods are completely impenetrable.

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What to do? You could build a dozen or so mounds but there were some big tree trunks in there and they also needed something doing with them. Some of the larch logs have been stacked to make habitats and sitting places, but larch doesn’t burn well – it spits and the burning of it leaves a tarry residue in chimneys – and nobody seems to want it. Because of this, Karl decided to make something other than a mound shape and instead built around one of the felled conifers to enclose it.

Continue reading Rollright Stones Novel Structures – or ‘What on earth can we do with all this brash?’

How we’ve been building woodbrash mounds

I’ve been asked to describe how the mounds are made.  You see, the idea is that these brash mounds serve more than one purpose – they are habitats and need to provide shelter for as many species as possible, which means that they must have a number of micro-environments in them. The dense layer at the bottom which provides habitat for species such as beetles and small mammals and shelter for amphibians, to the more loosely woven upper storeys where small birds can roost or nest. The important word here is ‘woven’ because these are not just heaps flung together in a thoughtless jumble, they are structures.

morning-mounds

This brings me to the second purpose: whatever shape they are, they should please the eye. Circular upturned coracle shapes, rounded and smooth, are ideal and straightforward to create. Sitting at regular intervals between the trees, they catch the light or sit in shadow, covered in frost, steaming in the winter sunlight, glaucous with algae and lichens or green with conifer leaves, they are beautiful and a sight to behold.

Continue reading How we’ve been building woodbrash mounds

On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Stephen and Claire on the Rollrights woodland project

Stephen: I decided to plant the wood because there was a large ancient wood next to the house I grew up in and I always loved as a child to roam this wood and play in it. So I thought it might be more fun to have a wood than a ten acre field. Planted Feb 98. Btw the trees were planted in Feb as 12″ saplings in a field that had already been sowed with barley . I “bought” the putative crop from the farmer. Luckily it then rained for 6 weeks in a warm early spring and the trees thrived so that an expected 60-70% survival rate became 95%.

The wood was planted as part of a Forestry Commission program to support tree planting a condition of which was to plant mixed native English trees. This is taken to mean – oak, beech, ash, lime, cherry, sycamore, larch, pine, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel. I am pretty sure that anything else is there by accident.

Continue reading On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed