tree species found at Lightwoods
The Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a native tree to
Britain and is found in the wild in moist woods, riverbanks and
mixed broadleaved woodlands where it can reach heights of 135ft.
The pale, pliable and sturdy timber is used for a variety of
things including tool handles, furniture, pegs, oars, hockey
sticks, charcoal, tennis rackets and skis.
There was once a great deal of superstition attached to Ash
trees; burning Ash wood was thought to remove evil spirits from
dwellings, and sick children would be cured if passed through
the cleft of an Ash tree. Scandinavians believed that the Ash
was sacred and that Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World, was a
giant Ash and that the tips of his crown resided in heaven and
that his roots sought out the pits of hell.
There are two native British Birch, the Silver Birch (Betula
verriculosa syn B. pendula) and the Downy Birch (Betula
pubescens). The two species are fairly similar, having
white bark and fairly open crowns, allowing plenty of other
plants to grow under their canopy. This and the fact that they
are comparatively small in height and spread makes them both
ideal garden trees. However, the Silver Birch is thought to be
more graceful, having pendulous branches. They are quick growing
but short–lived, reaching heights of 60 – 80ft, although most
are too short–lived to attain such growth. These deciduous trees
are quick colonisers, with their seed usually the first to
inhabit areas recently cleared of trees.
The sap of the Birch is rich in sugar and when tapped in spring
it can be used to make wine by adding honey and can also be used
as a shampoo (without the honey); while the oil derived from the
bark can be used as an insect repellent. The wood of the Silver
Birch is used for the backs of brushes and tool handles and the
twigs in winter are used to make besom brooms for gardens and
forest–fire beaters. The timber is not utilised largely as a
crop as the wood is soft and rots quickly, although it is
occasionally used to make furniture, tool handles and plywood.
As firewood, it burns with a particularly bright flame.
The Blackthorn or Sloe (Prunus spinosa) is a native,
deciduous shrub or small tree of Britain that has virtually
black, thorny branches. This formidable barrier of thorns can be
used to protect plants or other property from humans and
animals. In spring, it suddenly produces conspicuous white
flowers prior to leaf burst and the birds nest in its protective
shelter. During late summer, the birds quickly eat the berries,
or sloe. Commonly used as hedging, wind breaks or barriers, this
thorny shrub can grow to 16ft. It prefers chalky soil in a sunny
position but is hardy and can cope with a number of
environments. The sloe can be used to make preserves or sloe
As the blossoms often appear in March during the period of cold
east winds, a cold spring was traditionally known as a
The Hawthorn, May or Quickthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is
a native, deciduous shrub or small tree of Britain and is most
notable as a hedgerow species. Hawthorns provide ideal wildlife
habitats for birds and a number of insects, and act as
stock-proof barriers due to their thorns and dense growth habit
The Hawthorn is fast growing and sturdy. Grown as a tree it can
often be found on woodland edges or rides and in the open
countryside, reaching heights of up to 35ft. They produce
attractive white flowers in the spring and red berries in the
During the 16th and 18th centuries, land enclosures prompted the
planting of thousands of hedges to surround estates.
Unfortunately, a lot of these are now being destroyed due to
mechanised farming. The spikes, which cause formidable barriers
can now be replaced with barbed wire or electric fences.
Early Christians associated the Hawthorn with Joseph of
Arimathea. He was the owner of the tomb in which Jesus was
placed after the Crucifixion and later he was supposed to have
planted his hawthorn staff into the ground at Glastonbury. This
thorn apparently flushed new growth and was labelled a 'Holy
Pagan and medieval rites used the Hawthorn to symbolise the
coming of summer, probably because of the early blossoms it
produces. In some areas, it is believed that the destruction of
a Hawthorn brings about doom and to have blossoms inside a
dwelling invites disaster.
The Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) is also a
native species and very similar to the Common Hawthorn, although
the leaf shape, number of seeds and flower stems is different.
The Common Hazel (Corylus avellana) is a deciduous
native to all parts of the U.K. except the Shetland Isles. It
grows most commonly on chalk, limestone, neutral and mildly
acidic soils. Hazel is often coppiced and grown for its timber
and nut harvest, but even so is only a small tree, rarely
Hazel rods have been used since prehistoric times to weave a
number of products, including baskets, wattle and daub building
frames, fencing and hurdles. To provide continual rods, the
Hazel is often coppiced so that the stool, or stump, produces an
abundance of new shoots instead of a single stem.
Hazel rods and living trees are often used to form hedges in the
country, and are sometimes mixed and interwoven with laid
Hawthorns hedges to produce a dense barrier.
The Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen, native
tree or shrub to Britain and is found in most environments,
including harsh ones, although it does not do well in wet soils.
The red berries produced in autumn are a great source of food
for birds and provide a view of colourful, seasonal interest.
It was at one time superstition that to cut down Holly would be
unlucky and because of this, many Hollies still survive today
and can be found growing within maintained hedgerows.
Sometimes, Hollies are clipped and shaped as ornamental trees
and topiary and they are also ideal for the creation of dense,
The wood is strong, heavy and white and has been used for
carving and woodcuts.
The Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is another British
native tree that can be found in its wild state in Oak and Beech
woodlands at a height of up to 80ft.
In the spring, the tree is adorned with yellow male catkins and
in the autumn the leaves turn from green to yellow to gold to
orange–brown. With age, this deciduous tree develops a deeply
fluted and twisting stem, making this an attractive amenity
It also makes an excellent hedge as when it is clipped it
becomes quite dense and it holds onto some leaves during the
The wood is tough and is thought to be one of the hardest in
Europe, so it is therefore also quite durable. It is used for
making butchers' blocks, cattle yokes, mill wheels, piano keys,
charcoal, mallets, skittles, bean sticks and as a fuel.
The Hornbeam was named after the wood's strength (Old English;
horn : hard and beam : tree).
In its native state it is not very wide–spread in Britain,
although it has been planted in parks, woodlands, arboreta and
large gardens throughout.
There are two deciduous native Oak trees to the British Isles;
the English Oak (Quercus robur) and the Sessile Oak (Quercus
petraea). However, there are 37 species listed as being
hardy to the climate of Britain. Oaks are a very important tree
in Britain for their timber, their wildlife habitats, their
extensive life spans and their grace and beauty.
The Sessile or Durmast Oak is dominant in northern and western
areas. It prefers light soils, as it will be out competed in
heavier clay and loam soil by the English Oak. The tallest Oak
in Britain was a 142ft specimen in Herefordshire. Oak wood has
for many years been used to produce charcoal as it burns
steadily, so from early times it has been an important timber
crop. Unfortunately, the large demand for this charcoal and the
slow growth of this tree has meant the demise of large tracts of
Oak woodlands. The oak bark has also been used to produce
tannin, which is utilised in the tanning process for leather.
The English Oak predominates in the south of the country where
soil conditions are more to its liking. It is a commonly planted
tree in parks and woodlands where many giant veterans have
survived to live almost 1000 years. Druids in Celtic Britain
thought of the Oak as a sacred tree and the mistletoe that was
more common then was gathered and used in secret rites. It is a
very sturdy tree and is used in construction, panelling and
furniture and the acorns are still sometimes used as animal
The most commonly found exotic or non–native Oaks in Britain are
the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) from Southern Europe
and the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex). The Holm Oak is
evergreen and often planted in parks and gardens and it does
reproduce naturally in this country. The Turkey Oak however, has
naturalised far more successfully and is spreading like a native
throughout the countryside.
There are a number of species of Poplar that grow in Britain and
the majority of these deciduous trees take up vast amounts of
water to assist in their rapid growth rates.
Some of the most commonly recognised are the Lombardy Poplar (Populus
nigra 'Italica'), which are very tall, dense, columnar
trees often used as wind breaks and screens. They can reach
heights of up to 120ft and tolerate soot and smoke very well.
The White Poplar (Populus alba) is notable for the
white, felty undersides of its foliage and the whispering they
cause in the breeze. In Greek legend this tree was originally
black. Apparently, Hercules wore a garland from the White Poplar
in a battle with Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld and
his sweat bleached the garland white. This tree can reach
heights of around 110ft, it suckers freely and tolerates
pollution and salt, so it flourishes on road sides and near the
The Black Poplar (Populus nigra var. betulifolia) is a
native timber tree to Britain. It flourishes on fertile soils
beside water and tolerates pollution well. It was often planted
as a screen and its timber is utilised for baskets for fruit,
clogs, matches and matchboxes. Unfortunately, the numbers of
living trees surviving modern Britain is frighteningly low and
proactive groups have formed around the country to help protect
and regenerate this native tree by vegetative propagation.
How to build a small charcoal kiln
'Barbecues are not always so healthy'
of charcoal in this country is imported from the developing
world, supporting slave labour and destruction to the rain
forests. Its ironic, when in Britain we have all the
resources to make top quality charcoal ourselves.
goes up in a puff of smoke, so who cares where it comes from? Well, the
world does actually, and if you knew the environmental damage imported
charcoal caused, so would you.
Charcoal is surprisingly big business in this country, the public
getting through approximately 50,000 tonnes of it each year. It is
mainly used for barbecues, but it also artistic and horticultural uses
too. However, although we use so much charcoal in Britain, as much as
96% of it is imported from third world countries.
industry needs to change for the sake of the environment and because of
the exploitation of these poorer countries. In South East Asia, wood
from mangrove swamps is burnt to make charcoal. In South America and
West Africa, the rainforests are chopped down and burnt. In both cases,
the woodland that the charcoal is being made from is not sustainable and
the labourers work for next to nothing. The only people who benefit from
importing charcoal are the shipping companies. It is because of this
that Britain ought to produce its own charcoal so that the workers in
the third world countries are encouraged to trade in different materials
that don't inevitably lead to the destruction of their natural habitat.
Bettle from Blandford took up the initiative by endeavouring to set up
his own charcoal business. Always being interested in working with the
great outdoors, he taught himself how to produce charcoal by attending
various courses on the subject. By the end of 1996, Jim set up The
Dorset Charcoal Company using just a converted oil drum. Charcoal
companies like Jim's actually help save wildlife in Britain by clearing
out derelict woods and encouraging new growth which animals can feed
from. The charcoal burners are moved to a different wood in a certain
locality, making use of the gnarled, thick tree trunks which have no
other economic use.
Jim, 'Isn't it crazy that in this world of Earth summits and trying to
protect the environment that a bulk product like charcoal is being
shipped hundreds of miles when we have the resources right on our
doorstep? When you think of the destruction of the rainforests and the
amount of oil needed to ship a tanker load of charcoal half way around
the world, it just doesn't make sense".
charcoal making process is physically demanding and Jim has to use both
strength and skill to make sure that his charcoal is of the highest
quality. First of all, the wood must be cut to size and stacked in the
charcoal burner. The charcoal burner, or kiln, is then fired and the lid
is placed on top and sealed to stop any air entering. The rate at which
the wood burns is controlled by the restriction of the air supply and
the movement of the kiln's chimneys. Once the smoke coming out of the
chimneys has turned blue, all air intakes are sealed, thereby starving
the charcoal of oxygen. The kiln is extremely hot and has to be left 24
hours to cool down. After this time, the lid is removed and the charcoal
is packed into bags ready to be sold.
only is Jim's charcoal better for the environment but the end product is
also of a much higher standard than that of imported charcoal. British
charcoal is made from wood which is generally less dense and because of
this, it is far easier to light, thus eliminating the need for lighter
fuel and firelighters.
are presently 300 to 400 charcoal burners in Britain but Jim would like
to see this number rise over the years. As he says, "The British
charcoal business is on the increase as consumers are becoming more
aware of where their goods come from. However, as we only account for 4%
of the market, we've still got a long way to go. I hope to raise
awareness of the implications of buying imported charcoal and to
encourage other charcoal companies to be set up around Britain".
How to build a
small charcoal kiln
These small kilns may not process much wood in one go but
are quick and easy to build, transport and use. They can be
used to make both artists and BBQ charcoal.
- An old
oil drum or metal dustbin.
- Three or
to use as a lid.
How to build it
1. If you are using a drum, one end needs to
be removed. If the top has not been removed, cut the top out
using a chisel or an angle grinder.
2. Cut some holes in the base of the drum or bin. About a
dozen openings of an inch or two should be fine.
3. Place the drum or bin, with its open end up, on bricks to
enable air to flow through the holes you have cut in the
4. You will need a lid - perhaps a metal dustbin lid or
1. Start a fire in a bottom of the kiln using paper,
cardboard and larger kindling.
2. Once you have a strong fire, load your branch wood
randomly into the kiln leaving air gaps.
3. When the fire is burning really well, restrict the air
intake by banking earth around the base but leave a small (4
inch) gap. Place the lid partially on so that smoke can
4. Thick white steamy smoke is created during the charring
process. Bang or shake the kiln to settle the contents and
create more smoke when the process seems to have slowed.
5. When the smoke changes to thin blue smoke the water has
been driven off and the charcoal is burning. Close off all
the air intakes at the base with more earth and close the
lid fully. Make it as air tight as possible.
6. The burn will continue for three to four hours and should
then be left to cool for another 24 hours before the kiln is
tipped over and emptied of the charcoal you have produced.
brief history of charcoal
Charcoal burning is probably the oldest
chemical process known to man. Charcoal
burning has been practiced since 4,000 years
BC, primarily for use in smelting metal.
Without it the Bronze Age and Iron Age
simply would not have happened.
Ancient Egyptians used pyroligneous acid to
embalm Egyptian Mummies. Romans used vast
quantities of charcoal to make weapons. Huge
amounts of furnace slag were used in
building Roman roads. In Mediaeval times,
charcoal burners were some times imprisoned
for "Burning the King's Vert". That is,
burning wood in the Royal Hunting Forests
In Tudor times, charcoal was in such demand
that it laid waste to many English Forests.
With the imminent threat of the Spanish
Armada, timber was urgently needed for naval
ships. Regulations were made prohibiting the
manufacture of charcoal from mature wood,
resulting in an expansion of coppicing as a
sustainable alternative. In the Seventeenth
Century, fines from beech charcoal were
mixed with herbs and tallow (animal fat) to
make soap. In the Eighteenth Century, the
charcoal industry went into serious decline
after Abraham Darby I, succeeded in smelting
iron with coke (burnt coal). By the late
Victorian period portable metal kilns had
replaced earth kilns. These in turn, were
replaced by giant retorts, especially
adapted to extract charcoal by-products. The
by-products had effectively become more
valuable than the charcoal itself.
In the Second World War, scientists
discovered "activated" charcoal for gas
masks could be made from nuts and fruit
stones. Children were asked to collect vast
quantities of conkers for the war effort,
many were left to rot on railway stations.
By the 1950s, the British Charcoal Industry
was said to be over. Oil derivatives had
largely replaced those extracted from
Interest in traditional burning methods
rekindled with the "Back to the land"
movement of the early 1970s. By the late
1980s the British Charcoal Industry was back
on its feet, this time to produce fuel for
barbecues. Much interest was now being
generated from conservationists who realized
that charcoal burning could play a valuable
role in restoring neglected woodlands for