One of the main reasons we chose to live here at Lackan was that it came with several acres of birch woodland, growing on what was cut over bog. There is something magical about the woods, the birch gives them an especially norther european feeling, and they evoke the woods of stories and fables – a world apart from the busy world outside, where you can escape for a while. Remains of the peat workings remind you that once this place was a hive of activity, and that the only reason to visit was to mine the peat for fuel, at a time when it was simply too wet to live here.
In that past, there probably were no birch trees, and the name of our townland ‘Annahunshigo’ is derived from the Irish – ‘Eanach Uinseogach ‘ – literally ‘ash-tree marsh’, or ‘Bog of the Ash trees’. Sadly few ash remain, but the birch are a beautiful successor.
The birch grows at a fantastic rate, so rather than plant acres of willow, we decided to manage the birch by coppicing it, which seems to have been a success. The reasoning being that the birch might be a little slower to grow than willow, but we know it thrives in this soil, and it needs less time to dry when cut. Plus the timber is larger in diameter when cut. The birch that we cut before or around midwinter seems to grow more vigorously, although the later cuts do put up new growth more slowly. Here’s a year of fresh growth.
As well as our existing woodland, we have planted over 1000 new trees – a mixture of native trees such as birch, alder, oak and field maple, together with many old variety fruit trees, forming the basis for our forest garden. The new planting also forms wildlife coridoors linking the existing woodland and hedgerow areas.
As well as encouraging increased biodiversity, the woodlands are a wonderful space to sit, to meet and to talk, and we have a covered area in a clearing, with compost toilet where we host courses.