The season shifts from summer into autumn and nature’s calendar prescribes the next phase of work on the Arnos Vale estate. The grasses and wildflowers have all set seed, insects have become dormant and the migrant birds have flown south. This means that it’s time to get stuck into the annual cutting, clearing and felling on site that helps maintain and improve our different habitats. The majority (we leave some for the insects and slowworms) of the grass is cut on site between August and October.
However, if we leave the grass where it is cut, it will mulch the delicate wild flowers and leach nutrients back into the soil favouring only coarser grasses and weeds. So, it is painstakingly raked up and we are left with several tonnes of cuttings each year.
There is a similar story with the areas of bramble scrub we clear on annual rotation. A vital part of regenerating this important nesting and foraging habitat but leaving another load of green waste. Prolific colonisers, ash and sycamore are halted by cutting saplings each year to prevent succession to woodland, but we’re left with a mountain cut tiny trees.
Finally, more mature trees from the woodland are thinned out to promote better woodland health; weeding out less healthy trees and opening gaps to regenerate the forest floor but leaving piles of leftover wood. So what do we do with all this green waste?
Sustainability and minimising our impact on the environment are goals of the estate team and as such we don’t want to just burn all our green waste, not least because the neighbours wouldn’t be too happy, but also because we see all the green waste we produce as having potential value.
Firstly our piles of grass; once cut we place this into one of our compost bays which when full will be left to rot down to compost. However, alone the grass won’t make very good compost which is where the brambles, saplings and brash (the thin, leafy branches from a tree) come in. These couldn’t be mixed in with the grass as is but once they have been chewed up and spat out by our shredder, it gives structure and nutrients to the decomposing mass. The large size of the composting green waste generates enough heat to kill any unwanted seeds and fungi. We’ve measured temperatures in excess of 60C.
Not all the saplings end up in the shredder though. You may have noticed that quite a lot of our bespoke fencing on site has been constructed from cut saplings all artfully woven by volunteers to follow the natural contours of the land.
The mature trees that we cut down are mostly ash and sycamore. We leave 10 to 20 per cent of these in the landscape as dead wood habitat piles. There are many insects and fungi that live exclusively on dead wood which make these an integral and important feature of any healthy woodland. The extracted wood we then cut, chop and season naturally into firewood, which when dry enough is bagged up and sold in the shop. The larger brash gets chipped and used on our paths.
Occasionally we have to fell other species of tree normally because they have become unsafe. For example, in recent years we have had oak, hawthorn, cherry and black locust. These denser hardwoods are much more suitable for our final green waste product, charcoal.
Once processed, the wood is carefully loaded into our kiln in a way that regulates air flow. The kiln is then lit and monitored to allow a slow burn over the course of 12 hours with oxygen levels regulated by the ports and flues. Once fully converted the charcoal is graded and bagged up to be sold in the shop. Our charcoal is made in a traditional way and has none of the binding additives that are in a lot of shop bought alternatives.
Why don’t you come down to Arnos Vale cemetery to see for yourself? Our sustainable woodland is the setting to natural burials, weddings and events as one of the most unique historical sites in Bristol. If you’d like to enquire about Arnos Vale, then please feel free to call us or send us an email.