A Tall Order

Late summer is an unusual time to be felling trees, but for a few warm sunny days, the familiar winter sound of chainsaws returned to Pullabrook Woods. Small-scale woodland contractor, Martin Underhill and his colleague, Josh were felling a small area of large Douglas fir trees. This is a skilled operation at any time of year, but in the summer, extra care is needed to avoid late nesting birds, which is not usually a problem when the woodland wildlife is subdued in the winter months.

The reason for this extraordinary felling task was to meet a special timber order. The Douglas fir was planted at Pullabrook in the 1960s and has become some of the finest quality structural timber, so the Architectural Association placed this ‘tall’ order for one of their summer Design and Make projects at their Hooke Park woodland campus in Dorset. In a few weeks, the timber will become part of a new building at the Kingcombe Nature Reserve along the River Hooke.

Martin explained how he was selecting the right trees for the order. “The cutting list includes 2 at 6.4metres, 7 at 4.9 metres, 5 at 3.8 and 14 at 3.6 metres. To ensure the best knot-free timber”, he continued, “I’ll pick out some clean, straight stems. They’ll be felled and stacked by the end of the day, ready for collection”.

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In addition to the timber order, there is also a conservation benefit of opening up a bit of space in the tree canopy. The neighbouring hedge has been identified as a priority area for planting some elm seedlings, and the additional light will give them a good start. Once grown, they will help to link up the clusters of elm around the woods where the rare white-letter hairstreak butterfly relies on them as its main food plant.

Bovey woods timber
The Pullabrook Woods timber waiting by the Hooke Park sawmill – experimental architecture. Within days of felling it will be used for the first stage of construction at a new building in a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve

Keep reading this blog over the coming weeks to find out more about the rare white-letter hairstreak and the Architectural Association working with the Woodland Trust and the Common Ground project in Dorset.

by Matt Parkins

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