John Blunt of Staunton Harold reports on efforts to restore forest roads on his Leicestershire estate.

IT hurts. It really hurts. Marking half-grown oaks for felling, trees we high-pruned 30 years ago. Larch as well, but oak is what our estate sawmill is really about.

The Coleorton side of our Staunton Harold estate extends to some 800 acres, almost half of it woodland. There are two large blocks and a string of small ‘link woods’, planted after opencast coal mining 30 years ago. The whole area is threaded with stoned tracks, more than four miles in all.

Forestry Journal: Everything but the conifers has been cleared from this track.Everything but the conifers has been cleared from this track.

My son Richard and I manage this land between us. Neither of us is a game shooter, and when the shoot surrendered their licence five years ago, we didn’t renew it. Instead, we now let individual blocks of woodland to a variety of quiet users, reserving the right to carry out forestry operations. It’s a diverse mix: field archery clubs, forest schools, family woods, husky racing – more than a dozen in all. It helps that the small woods were stock-fenced when the opencast land was restored.

Forestry Journal: John and the red cross of death.John and the red cross of death.

The older tracks were just about good enough for farm and forestry use, but these new clients in their smart cars were not happy. So last year we commissioned our long-term road-maker Andrew Player to assess what was needed, and then spent £25,000 on restoring the most-used tracks. Andrew pointed out – which we should have known – that the drip and sharing from roadside trees contributed considerably to the rutting and potholes. He said Forestry Commission practice is to fell all trees up to six metres back. That would break my heart, so we’ll compromise and fell everything hanging over the road. The best oak stems will square up for a few light beams.

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The wood we are dealing with is called Rough Park. For 500 years it was part of the pleasure woods below Coleorton Hall, seat of the Beaumont family – hence the rhododendrons, which we have not taken out. When we bought it in 1966, this block had been felled 10 years earlier and replanted with European larch and some Scots pine. A timber merchant friend told my father that the best larch he ever bought came from these woods, so we were happy with the mix and replicated it on the unplanted area. The oaks were self-set, almost entirely on the ride sides.

Forestry Journal: The stump of a half-grown oak.The stump of a half-grown oak.

We have felled the overhanging oaks on the worst-affected stretch. With the weather drying up and jobs everywhere, I doubt we’ll get to any more this season. The only crumb of comfort – they will have added another growth ring.

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