Perhaps the most significant event of the month was the arrival of tree surgeons on October 21st to clear away the windblown poplar on the old railway embankment, and to reduce the height of a second, unhealthy poplar to make it safe. A tree inspection in the winter had identified one tree as potentially hazardous and was marked for surgery to remove a large limb leaning heavily over the path, but before the contractors could do the job a severe summer storm brought the tree down, and the first photo on the left shows the men clearing up the damage. The large exposed cut limb was then roughly hacked to make it look a little less artificial and speed up the rotting process, so that it would no longer stick out like a sore thumb. That was the easy bit! 

They then had to scale the second tree, using a 6’ catapult to throw a line over a high branch, so that a weight-bearing rope could then be hauled up, ready for the ascent of the surgeon, which is where the real skill comes in. This particular tree had numerous nest cavities, so we wanted to retain as much of it as possible – there were several old woodpecker holes on two dead limbs. Those two boughs weren’t tall enough to reach the path so, even if part of the tree collapsed, there would be no risk to the public. If you’re not keen on heights, you would do well not to choose tree surgery as a profession! And if you like everything to be neat and tidy, the end result may not thrill you, but the site is being managed with wildlife in mind, and nature isn’t always beautiful. 

The tree had evidently been struck by lightning years ago – not so surprising, given its height and exposed position – resulting in a long, vertical rotting gash down the main trunk, which is contributing to the tree’s poor health. But that is where a pair of stock doves nest every year. Two years ago a pair of great spotted woodpeckers bred successfully in the tree, and the following year starlings nested in one of the old woodpecker holes, so the tree has certainly made its contribution to the biodiversity of the site, and it was felt to be well worth retaining as much of it as possible, while at the same time ensuring that the embankment path was safe for our visitors. All that remains now is to wait until next spring to see if the stock doves return to their usual tree despite its dramatically different appearance.

The story doesn’t quite end there though. We wanted to retain some of the felled material as bug hotels but, knowing that a stack of eminently rollable logs would prove irresistible to some of our visitors, we had to secure them somehow. We had cunningly arranged for the surgery to be carried out the day before a Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership work party, and they were able to bang in stakes and then staple thick wire to the logs. As the logs rot and slump, further retaining wire will be needed.

The KSCP group also burnt some of the smaller material, and cleared some scrub on the embankment to provide sunny spots for basking reptiles. They did attempt to remove reedmace from a pond to create areas of open water, but the summer drought had baked the soil so that, although now replenished with water, the pond bed was still too hard for the plants to be pulled out.