News & Events

Memories of the Great Storm of 1987 | 13th Oct, 2017

Britain went to bed on the night of 15th October 1987 having heard weather forecaster Michael Fish reassure the nation that it might be a bit windy, but there was certainly no prospect of a hurricane engulfing the country.

The state of the southern Britain the next morning suggested that Mr Fish may have been a little conservative in his estimation. Gales of more than 100 mph had roared across the country, ripping off roofs, toppling power lines and uprooting millions of trees. It was a night to remember and in many woodlands the impact is still clear 30 years later.

I certainly don’t wish to experience it again

Arborist Christopher Sparkes was working for Hampshire County Council in 1987 and he recalls his experience of the storm. ‘Well where do I start? As the wind started to blow hard on the 15th, I was called out by Hampshire County Council to clear trees on Three Maids Hill. We started cutting away at trees 80 feet tall which had fallen down either side of us. We had to pull out as it became too dangerous.

‘My father-in-law and I stood on either side of a large beech in a woodland. It was swaying backwards and forwards and we stood on either side, using it as a see-saw, going up in air about six feet. It was down the next day. I’ve never seen anything as bad since and I certainly don’t wish to experience it again.’

In south-east England, where the greatest damage occurred, gusts of 70 knots or more were recorded continually for three or four consecutive hours. The damage is well documented: 18 people died, many buildings were damaged and it is estimated that around 15 million trees were uprooted. Sevenoaks lost six of its eponymous trees. Many of the fallen trees were mature and the immediate change to the landscape was shocking. In retrospect, however, many ecologists and arborists regard the storm almost as a beneficial event.

Conifers planted earlier in the century as fast-growing timber crops were toppled, exposing large areas of woodland to the light which allowed new planting and self-seeded broadleaves to flourish in the ensuing years. The quality of the understorey in many woodlands also benefited, with a resultant improvement in biodiversity of species.

Meanwhile, Christopher was heavily involved in clearing the Hampshire roads. ‘We went up Romsey Road in Winchester to clear a tree which was blocking the main road. Once we started cutting, sparks flew and underneath the foliage we discovered a car which had been flattened by the tree. Fortunately, the driver got out safely. We spent the next two weeks clearing trees from main roads down to tiny roads. ‘In those days chainsaw certificates were not required: if you could use one, it was fine and the trees were cleared reasonably fast. How it would work now with all the paperwork and licenses involved, I don’t know. I think the UK would have ground to a halt waiting on paperwork.

Shaken beech

‘A lot of the beech that came down was near the end of life and the ferocity of the storm shook them so hard that the trees had the shakes. When shaken wood went through band saws at the mills it was like an explosion, snapping bandsaw blades. A lot of mills would not take it then, and all it was good for was firewood or was left to rot. ‘This is why woodland management is so crucial. Mature old trees need to be taken down, rather than waiting for them to fall down due to age, or to blow down as in the 1987 storm.’

In 1987 the destruction of so many valuable trees seemed catastrophic, but woodland owners and managers learnt many lessons. The Forestry Commission established the Windblow Task Force to provide advice to owners and to act as a focal point for information dissemination to the media, woodland owners and wood processing organisations. In 1989 the Forestry Commission published The 1987 Storm: Impacts and Responses, which was a comprehensive examination of the storm and its effect on Britain’s woodlands. (It is available to download via the Forestry Commission’s publication archive here.) One important revelation was that plantation woodlands were less resilient: trees planted closely together grew tall with shallow root systems and were therefore vulnerable in high winds. The traditional system of coppice with standards allowed trees to become resilient over time – and provided a good example of survival of the fittest.

By the mid-1990s ecologists realised that the storm had broken up monocultures in some woodlands and allowed natural regeneration of pioneer species such as birch. By 2007 many areas had regenerated naturally and required far less maintenance than areas that had been replanted with nursery stock, ‘One of the legacies we have learned from the Great Storm is that woodlands look after themselves pretty well,’ said forester Ray Hawes.

Thanks to Christopher Sparkes for sharing his memories.

Butterfly Workshop 30th July | 18th Aug, 2017

The last in our series of butterfly workshops was held at Combwell, an SSSI  (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in the heart of the High Weald of Kent.  It was well attended by about 18 owners and other interested parties who enjoyed a breezy, but mostly sunny and dry tour of the woods.

Steve Wheatly from Butterfly Conservation jointly led with Mark Herbert.  Mark is the onsite ‘warden’ and owns a couple of wild flower meadows which are surrounded on three sides by the woodland.  This makes it an ideal habitat for wildlife particularly butterflies.   Mark works closely with both Natural England and the other owners  carrying out woodland management tasks like the thinning of standards, hedge laying and ride improvements to preserve this special wildlife habitat.

Many thanks to the Butterfly Conservation for helping us put on this series of workshops.  I’m sure everyone who went along, even on the wettest of wet day in Tottington learnt something and found it a very worthwhile experience.

More photos from the day.

Butterfly Workshop 23rd July | 24th Jul, 2017

If our last workshop at Plattershill proved to be the perfect conditions for spotting and identifying butterflies, this weekends event was almost exactly the opposite.  It was promising sunshine as I drove along the bottom of the South Downs to the event at a woodland close to the village of Small Dole in  the Adur Valley, however as soon as we got out of our cars it was rain jackets on as it started to drizzle, then fluctuated between a light rain and heavy mist for the rest of the afternoon.

All was not lost however!  Leading the meeting was butterfly expert Neil Hume from Butterfly Conservation.  His special interest is in Fritillaries and we visited one of the areas where work is in progress to create a perfect habitat for the rarely seen Pearl bordered fritillaries.  According to Neil these were in abundance when he first became interested in the subject in the 1970’s, it was the much larger Silver washed which  were a rareity then, but now common to this and many other woods in the area.

Neil is a very enthusiastic proponent of any woodland management.  He maintains that even the smallest tweaks can make a difference.  The felling of  a carefully selected Oak or Ash standard or some coppicing and scalloping  can  allow enough light in to make a huge difference not just  to the butterfly population but for wildlife in general.

He has produced a useful ID chart and information sheet to help understand the kind of flora which will encourage certain species to your wood.

Many thanks are extended to him for his enthusiasm and making a rather drizzly day sparkle with interest.

SWOG Guide to Woodland Butterflies

More Pictures From the Day

Butterfly Workshop 2nd July | 06th Jul, 2017

Last Sunday saw the first of a series of SWOG and Butterfly Conservation joint workshops.   About a dozen SWOG members, owners and other interested parties joined us at Plattershill Wood in West Sussex on a close to perfect day for spotting butterflies.  It was warm and sunny with a very light breeze.  If  anything it was a little too hot early on, but as the afternoon went by, it cooled slightly making it ideal for spotting and identifying butterflies.

Among the 13 or so species we identified and probably the most abundant was this Silver-washed Fritillary.  Others included White and Red Admirals, Meadow Browns, Commas, Grizzled Skippers and Large and Small Whites.

This was one of the woods included in the track and ride improvement scheme last year.  The ride was cleared of imposing and overhanging trees, letting in the light and encouraging new growth and new species to thrive.

New species of ground and shrub layer flora is one of the major drivers in encouraging butterflies into your wood and it was great to see the benefits of the work carried out so quickly. Read more …

The Butterfly Effect | 15th Jun, 2017

Managing your woodlands for butterflies

There are over 50 species of butterfly in the UK, along with more than 2,000 species of moth. Sadly, they have all been in decline for the past 40 years, but woodland owners are in a unique position to help support butterfly populations. With just a little work, woodland owners can ensure that their woodlands include areas that favour butterflies and moths.

We are delighted to be running workshops in conjunction with Butterfly Conservation to discuss managing woodland for butterflies.

23 July Longlands Wood (part of Tottington Wood) near Small Dole

Award-winning expert Neil Hulme will lead a walk around this beautiful Sussex woodland to find butterflies and discuss their habitat need.

30 July Coombewell Wood Lamberhurst

Distinguished specialist Steve Wheatley will lead this workshop, explaining how woodland owners can encourage butterflies in their woodland and help increase butterfly populations.

Each event will be from 1.30–4.30pm.

Take a look at our leaflet on managing woodlands for butterflies, for some general hints and tips.

Please email if you would like to attend.

Horse-logging demonstration 13 May | 05th May, 2017

Join us for the visit to Karen Moon’s 9-acre wood at High Stoop in County Durham. SWOG members can enjoy a day in the woods, watching a demonstration of horse-logging and learning about the advantages of this traditional, low-impact aspect of woodland management.

The free event will start at 10.30 am and Charlie the horse logger will be present all day, either demonstrating or available with advice and to answer questions. There is hard standing in the wood for parking and space available for a limited number of caravans. The Brown Horse Hotel/Pub is close by, either for refreshments or accommodation. If you would like to attend, please email as soon as possible.

Newsletter May 2017 | 01st May, 2017

May Day is here and with it the latest SWOG newsletter!


  • Nominate your favourite woodland individual or enterprise for a Woodland Award
  • Read about the PAWS restoration workshop in Rogley Wood
  • Learn about one man’s lifetime love of crafting rustic ash chairs.
  • Sign up for a SWOG meeting!

PAWS Restoration Workshop – Joint Meeting with The Woodland Trust | 20th Apr, 2017

Early April was an excellent time to hold a joint SWOG and  Woodland Trust,   PAWS (plantation on ancient woodland sites) restoration workshop.  The spring flowers were in abundance and the weather perfect for the meeting held at  Rogley Wood in the High Weald AONB.  It was attended by owners of the wood as well as other  SWOG and Woodland Trust members.

Many thanks go to Jim Smith Wright and his volunteer, Daniel, at the Woodland Trust for bringing their expertise to the group and covering the subject so thoroughly.  Thanks also go to Tim Saunders of the Forestry Commission who talked about management plans, grants and licenses and to all the owners at Rogley who welcomed the group into their woods.

Please contact Jim directly if you would like any more advice on restoring or suveying your PAWS woodland.

Read more …

Woodfairs 2017 | 04th Apr, 2017

The Arb Show  12–14 May 2017 Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire

Weird and Wonderful Wood 13–14 May 2017 Stowmarket, Suffolk

The Bushcraft Show 27–29 May 2017 Beehive Farm, Rosliston, Derbyshire

Devon County Show 18–20 May 2017 Clyst St Mary, Exeter, Devon

Royal Bath & West Show 31 May – 3 June 2017 Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Weald and Downland Living Museum Show 17–18 June 2017 Chichester, West Sussex

Royal Highland Show 2–25 June 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland

Great Yorkshire Show 11–13 July 2017 Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate

Royal Welsh Show 24–27 July 2017 Builth Wells, Wales

New Forest and Hampshire County Show 25–27 July 2017 Brockenhurst, Hampshire

Woodfest Wales 29–30 July 2017 St Asaph, Denbighshire

South Downs Show 19–20 August 2017 Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield, Hampshire

Wilderness Gathering 16–20 August West Knoyle, Wiltshire

Stock Gaylard Oak Fair 26–27 August 2017 Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Wychwood Forest Fair 3 September 2017 Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Confor Woodland Show 7–8 September 2017 Longleat, Wiltshire

Belmont Woodfest & Country Fair 9–10 September 2017 Faversham, Kent

Bentley Weald Wood Fair 15–17 September 2017 Lewes, East Sussex

European Woodworking Show 16–17 September, Braintree, Essex

Surrey Hills Wood Fair 30 Sept–1 Oct 2017 Birtley House, Guildford

Into the woods with Countryfile | 03rd Apr, 2017

It was great to see a whole episode of BBC Countryfile devoted to woodlands and timber. The programme noted the the many benefits of woodland and concentrated on industrial aspects of the timber industry, highlighting the woeful shortfall in current tree planting and the likely implications for the future. The loggingindustrial aspects were in sharp contrast to John Craven’s piece on horse-logging, however. He visited Frankie Woodgate in Kent and watched her work in the woods with her beautiful horses, extracting coppiced trees with minimal impact. SWOG got there first of course – one SWOG member recounted her training course with Frankie’s team at Weald Woodscapes and it can be read here.

Malvern Coppicing – a review | 30th Mar, 2017

Thanks to Annie Vincent for this review of a course at Malvern Coppicing.

splittingThis course is a must for all those starting out in their woods and for those that want to learn how to manage and maintain it while ensuring that the wildlife is encouraged , too.

The course was full, that says something straight away, but with just six attendees, we found that we were able to learn skills without being left alone in the crowds! We started with a walk around some of the 50 acres of woodland at Ravenshill Woodland Reserve, while learning how to identify trees in winter.

And to the business of coppicing – we learnt how to choose a site to coppice, with details about compartments, coupes and coppice rotation. How to arrange stacks of produce such as pea sticks / bean poles / steaks/ hedge posts –the list is endless. We built the stacks which then gave us ample opportunity to identify the species and stack them into piles of hazel / ash / oak or whatever. Phil supplied all the tools and I had great fun with the froe while splitting posts. We coppiced complete stools and created windrows for insects and birds.

stackWe layered the  hazel that we hadn’t coppiced to create more stools throughout the compartment that was looking a little bare. We made pegs to hold the layered hazel in place and then selected hawthorn to protect the growth.

We had a great time and have come away from the course with a re-kindled enthusiasm to get coppicing on our own woodland. I now look at coppiced wood in a totally new light: I understand why you coppice, the financial gains (if that’s what you’re interested in) and the benefits for your woodland and the habitat.

owlWe had lunch, cooked by Rae Wood – hot piping soup and pheasant casserole – all tea and biscuits and fruit included in the price and Rae even gave me some private tuition on traditional Split Peg making using a willow kosht.  We also met Nelson the Tawny Owl , who has been rescued and lives on site.

You can stay on site – we didn’t camp as it was cold wet and storm Doris was still blowing. We did stay on site in our motorhome with the kind permission of the local woodland owners.

Low Impact Extraction Ideas – Milling in the Wood | 27th Feb, 2017

IMG_20170105_120220If I look back at the woods I’ve worked and managed over the last few years a common theme emerges. They all seemed to have valuable timber in them, timber that desperately needs felling. Sometimes it’s on an overstood chestnut or ash stool in danger of falling over because of it’s enormous weight. Sometimes a crowded canopy of oak standards which is shading the rest of the coppice and woodland floor. Usually, but not exclusively, it has been in difficult-to-get-at places without an obvious or substantial ride to bring in heavy lifting and moving equipment. As I remarked to one woodland owner the other day, “If it was easy and it paid well, someone else would probably have already done it!”

Even where it is possible to bring in heavy equipment, one of the biggest considerations, particularly in small woodlands is the impact that this would make especially to the woodland floor. IMG_20160226_133937This method of hauling big trees out, usually to a static sawmill somewhere , seemed to me expensive in terms of equipment and the environmental impact that this equipment makes. I started looking at different systems, systems which meant turning things around and bringing the sawmill to the tree. This has lots of advantages especially for the smaller-scale operation in small woods where care and precision is much more of a consideration.

There is an assortment of products out there which range from a small jig and guidebar adaption of a standard chainsaw, to a full blown trailer mounted band saw with hydraulic lifting and turning abilities. They each have their place, but all have their pros and cons. I will briefly outline my musings on the subject and explain why I came to purchase a swing arm portable mill manufactured in New Zealand, by Turbosawmill

Pros and Cons

Once you start moving away from a static mill and towards a portable mill, compromises become necessary. Components need to be lighter and easy to dismantle, service and reconfigure. The Turbosaw model I have is a fairly good compromise.


The beam which the carriage runs on is 5.6m and made of aluminium, it also has an extension piece of 1.8m. It is light enough for two people to carry, but because it is made of aluminium there is a degree of flex. In practice, this is not usually noticed, but it does mean that when the saw carriage is midway along the beam, it can be 1mm or 2mm lower than at the ends … within acceptable tolerances, at least I’ve never needed to, or been asked to mill a piece of wood with greater accuracy than this!
The power source which runs the 16″ circular blade on this model is an adapted off the shelf Stihl 120cc chainsaw. The sprocket is replaced with a pulley system connected to a fairly standard car fan belt which runs a driveshaft to the blade. It is very easy to change it back to the original sprocket and guidebar configuration, and this was one of the reasons I went for this system. I like the idea of having more than one use for each bit of kit.
The carriage itself is made of steel and though not particularly heavy, again requires two people to manhandle it on to the beam. This is mainly because of it’s awkward size and shape. The chainsaw is easily bolted on and connected to the fan belt after the carriage is mounted.

Field serviceability

If you’ve used a chainsaw to rip boards either freehand or with a jig like the Alaskan Mill or Logosol systems, you’ll know how important it is to keep the chain tip-top sharp and also how quickly it can dull. This is a big time consideration with these systems. Sharpening the circular blade in comparison is a doddle. There are only 4 tungsten teeth on the blade and these are easily sharpened with a 12v grinder connected to your vehicle or if you’re not able to get close enough, I guess carrying a battery to the mill would be the easiest solution. Fan belts are easily changed and you should keep a couple of spares. Apart from that, check all the bolts and fixings for tightness on each use, grease and lube the moving parts and you’re away.

In use

This system will handle anything from 6″ or so in diameter to large 30 or 40″ plus butts. Usually the smaller lighter logs can be moved to the mill. I use a Logrite logging arch for this. The ‘junior’ model will handle anything up to 16″. But somewhere along the line you will come to point where you decide that it is easier to move the mill than the log. This decision becomes easier to make the longer you have had the mill and the more oversized logs you have attempted to move! Don’t try moving anything that will damage you! It’s far better and safer to move the mill! Having said that you can make things easier for yourself and try to set up the mill at the lowest point possible, this will put gravity on your side and gravity is fairly relentless and doesn’t tire so easily. With the bigger trees, obviously you will need to build the mill around the tree. Even then you will have limitations, milling an 8″ x 8″ post or beam anything more than 2 or 3m long is still going to require some kind of mechanical extraction or if you’re lucky gravity to get it to your extraction route.
The swinging arm is the greatest asset of this system, horizontal cuts are made by pushing the carriage forward it then swings 90 degrees and you pull back to cut vertically. The 16″ blade means in practice it can handle cuts up to 8″ and produce lumber of any dimension up to this limit. There is a way of extending this using a double cut method or turning the wood over. However, as I have quite lot of large diameter oak, I have added an Alaskan Mill cradle running another chainsaw and ripping chain to the same beam. This means I can mill squared-off lumber with the swinging arm then when I reach the middle of the log, where the wood is most stable, I change over to the Alaskan Mill and  can cut wide slabs for table tops or other products that need oversized boards.


Just over two years after buying the machine, I’m very pleased with how it has performed, though I am continually thinking of ways to improve it. Currently I’m trying to adapt the logging arch to carry the carriage and the beam. I understand its limitations but as part of an overall woodland management system I think it opens up many more possibilities for harvesting valuable but difficult to get at timber as well as a method for improving the health and viability of the woodland with the least amount of disturbance and impact to the wood.   To find out more, follow the links below.

Video Links:


And the winners are . . . | 03rd Feb, 2017

Thank you to everyone who entered the SWOG Big Picture competition. All the entries were wonderful and it is great to see everyone enjoying their woodlands. Our judge, Graham Wood, faced a difficult choice, but finally selected three clear winners.

Congratulations to Jane Thompson, Rob Elliott and George Smith for their winning entries. Jane wins a place on a coppice course at Malvern Coppicing.

Our thanks to the judge Graham Wood and to Phil Hopkinson of Malvern Coppicing for the wonderful first prize.

Red Squirrel Training Day | 31st Jan, 2017

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Holly Peek a  Red Squirrel Ranger for Anglesey and Gwynedd has contacted us with some information that  North West Wales members may find interesting.
She writes:

“Red Squirrels Trust Wales have successfully removed grey squirrels from the isle of Anglesey as well as brought a population of 40 red squirrels up to 700. This conservation success story would not have been possible without the input from local communities and businesses.

Over the next 3 years we want to spread this success over to the mainland. We are aiming to remove grey squirrels from a 90km2 area surrounding Bangor and reinforce the current red squirrel population and we need the help of local people.

I understand that woodland owners can have terrible problems with grey squirrel destroying property, damaging trees, destroying native wildlife and even causing fires from chewing electrical wiring. Red Squirrels Trust Wales would like to offer a FREE workshop to your North West Wales members on the 18th of February. These workshops will train people in grey squirrel culling and red squirrel monitoring. If any of your members decided to volunteer for RSTW we can provide them with the tools necessary to carry out these tasks. We are also looking for permission from woodland owners to trap and monitor squirrels on their land.”

If anyone would like to get involved, please contact Holly directly, details on the flyer above.

How do you feel about pests and diseases? | 06th Dec, 2016

Dr Julie Urquart from Imperial College is running a project about ash dieback.

She is trying to better understand how the public feels about ash dieback, a disease of ash trees that is currently quite widespread in East Kent. The findings from our project will provide useful feedback to government agencies in order to improve the way they communicate to the public about plant pests and diseases, and other environmental or public health risks.

Sylva-persistent-ash-leaves-due-to-ChalaraOur research involves asking respondents to sort a series of statements about ash dieback (and tree health more generally) according to how much they agree or disagree with the statements. This will help us to identify particular ways of thinking around these issues and whether ash dieback is affecting the way that people enjoy the countryside near where they live or how they manage their land.

We are currently seeking woodland owners in the East Kent area to take part. The process should take no longer than 30-45 minutes and takes place in your home or a location that is convenient for you. Most respondents find it quite enjoyable!

In the meantime, if you would like more information about the UNPICK project, please visit our website:

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