Since taking over as Co-ordinator I had been keen for LCV to run a tree-felling course, given that our last one had been the best part of ten years ago. Like most ideas, this was easier to imagine than to implement and it wasn't until last spring - when we realised that none of our volunteers had been formally trained to use our winch - that we developed our plans for a combined felling and winch-safety training day in earnest.
Spring and summer are not ideal times for such a course as rising sap makes the trees heavier, which can be a safety issue. Also, seasonal abundance means that flora and fauna are more likely to be damaged by felling operations. Happily, this enabled us to spend a few months identifying a trainer and seeking sources of funding. LCV's Training Officer, Peter Gilbert, recruited Sam Purkiss - a suitably skilled Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) colleague of his - as our trainer. He then sought to gauge the level of interest in the course from within LCV's membership. An enthusiastic response quickly meant that one training date became two. Simon Bonsall, our Fundraising Officer, pulled together a funding application which secured payment from Sinclair Knight Merz's Corporate Social Responsibility scheme for both days and we were all set.
Sam identified a suitable location for our course in Brock Wood near Spott, just south of Dunbar, which is a fairly new site for SWT. With a fine view of the Bass Rock it is predominantly mixed woodland with some small areas of open water and wet grassland. SWT are hoping to restore the wood to a native broadleaved condition by taking out the non-native trees. For now though, it hosts an impressive array of non-natives, enough to challenge even the most dedicated species spotter.
The wood has been left unmanaged for many years, with the result that all varieties of tree tend to be tall and spindly and compete with each other for light. By removing the non-native growth it is hoped that the native trees will prosper leading to a richer understory and an improved mix of woodland species. Interestingly, on the day we were there the SWT team had spotted their first signs of badger activity in the wood, which had been looking brock-free up to now.
The group set off from St Andrew Square bang on time and headed for the A1. It's a fair distance to Brock Wood, but the drive was very straightforward and we didn't have any trouble meeting up with Sam and his volunteer colleague, Rachel. Following a run-down of the general health and safety points to be noted on the site (nothing too scary, just some steep and slippery slopes) and a reminder of all of the tree-felling health and safety information to keep in mind, we assembled around the first tree for a full run through of how to fell. This was mostly revision for most of us but we did discover that the first felling notch doesn't need to be as deep as most of us thought, so long as it is amply wide. Another useful tip was that it's better to make the angled cut, rather than the horizontal cut first, if you don't want your notch to end up overly large.
Sam carefully felled his demonstration tree so that it was as hung up as possible and then we looked at ways to release it using tree levers, spare poles, or just a bit of gentle persuasion. After this we were all quite happy to get stuck in and Sam sent us off to hang up as many trees as possible so that we could practice getting them down. This, we remarked, looking around us, should not present a problem. Nor indeed did it, with all of us soon suspending and then successfully felling a few trees of our own.
I did have one comedy moment. I'd sawn through my tree to a point where I thought it should be happy to fall over just where I wanted it, but couldn't seem to persuade it to take the final plunge. I was pondering this situation while Matt came over to have a look. He gave the tree a tiny shove and over it went just perfectly. I was pleased. Matt was disappointed that he hadn't known that one finger was all he required to fell a tree! By now we were all getting pretty hungry so we stopped for a well-deserved lunch.
After lunch the winch training began, with Sam showing us all how to assemble and use this piece of kit safely and effectively.
Once we'd all had a shot we went back to the main business of the day: hanging up trees left, right and centre. Now though, we were able to experiment with using the winch to release them, whether they needed it or not.
The light started to fail at about 5pm so we packed up and journeyed back to town to digest all of our new-found knowledge, pleased to hear that some of our felled trees would be used to replace the interesting bridges at Bawsinch.