The housing co-op at Brithdir Mawr leases 85 acres of land, 20 acres of which is mature woodland. This comprises mainly ash, oak, alder, birch, willow, hazel and sycamore, with some thorn, rowan, beech and elder. Much is a result of encroachment, which began after the Second World War, but there are some much older specimens. Further to this, there are 10 acres of new woodland (ash, hazel and chestnut) planted by community members since the land was bought in 1994.
In 2005 the housing co-op bought 6.6 acres of broadleaf woodland, adjacent to Brithdir Mawr, planted in the 90's by a local tree enthusiast with the help of a Forestry Commission grant. The trees on this land mark it out as something special, compared to the intensively-farmed landscape to the North and East. To wander among them is to be among old friends, guardians of the slopes of Carn Ingli. This said, we are not completely sentimental about trees. We need wood to keep us warm, fuel our cooking, heat water and for crafts and building.
woodland here has always supplied fuel in the community's time. In the early
years expeditions to the woods to gather fallen deadwood 'by hook or by crook'
yielded more than enough to warm the participants three times over - in the
gathering; in the sawing and chopping and finally by burning it.
Latterly as the supply of dead wood dried up we began to thin the margins of the woodland. This entailed felling the younger trees and cutting and splitting them into handleable lengths. These were stacked neatly to season to be collected at a later date by horse and cart and taken to the woodshed where it was logged to size for burning. The cut stools regenerate the following spring, pushing up vigorous shoots fed by a root system grown to supply a mature tree.
The woodland of Tir Ysbrydol [formerly the lower half of Brithdir Mawr] is less available to us now and we prefer to keep our more mature woodland for it's beauty and amenity value. We have begun to harvest the ash planted in the mid 90s and take occasional trees from the leased land. We also coppiced the squirrel-damaged trees from the woodland the Housing Co-op owns in an effort to save them from dying.
The winter 2004-05 was the first in which we had to buy in firewood, though we then negotiated with the owner of woods at Cenarth to do the thinning that is needed to comply with it's grant, in return for the felled timber. This arrangement was very helpful to us but unfortunately bringing the firewood from 15 miles away was not so good in the sustainability stakes. Since that time we had a similar deal with South and West Wales Wildlife Trust at Pengelli Woods, only four miles away. This however, was a stop-gap measure until our newly-planted woodland was able to supply all our energy needs, within a few years. All felling and processing in the woods used to be done using hand tools: axes, double-handed crosscut saws, bowsaws and billhooks, but latterly chainsaws have been used in order not to fall behind with the seasoning of the logs. With this aim in mind also, a second four-bay woodshed has been built.
For the future, there is talk of experimenting with planting trees from other climates which can survive here. With the uncertainty over which way the climate is going to go here on the West coast, [depending on whether the Gulf Stream runs out of steam or no] we don't want to be left with so many acres of indigenous trees which are dying off because it's too hot or cold or wet or dry for them. Above all we acknowledge that trees are the senior members of the Life on Earth Club, to be used in a sustainable way but also to be venerated.
Part of the Brithdir Mawr Community website at www.brithdirmawr.co.uk