Archive for June, 2015

STIHL Treetop Walkway: an update

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Work has begun on the STIHL Treetop Walkway, which will give visitors an exciting new perspective on trees. The walkway is part of phase two of the Westonbirt Project

It’s all go here at Westonbirt at the moment. The STIHL Treetop Walkway is well underway with most of the foundations complete. The main structure will soon start taking shape when four very large cranes arrive!

The majority of the Walkway is being fabricated off-site; in Yorkshire where the steel sections are being manufactured and in Holland where the timber legs are being machined.

I recently visited Woodspecials in Holland along with Paul Miller from Glenn Howells Architects, Shane Marsh from SH Structures (the steel fabricators) and Susanna Byers, our Interpretation Support Officer, to check progress.

The timber has been sourced from Belgium and Germany and is a mix of Larch and Douglas fir. The legs vary from 2.5 metres up to 13.4 metres in length. This is a picture of me stood next to some of the Larch before machining; this is about 8 – 10 metres in length.

Me by the legs
The log is carefully manoeuvered into the workshop, one at a time due to their size!

STHIL chainsaw
The log is trimmed to size at the end to ensure it fits onto the machine. Once in place the team check if the timber is in its correct position to ensure the straightest section is cut from the log. They do this partly by eye and also using a tape measure and some very large calipers!

Once checked the machine gets going. The timber rotates as the blade runs up and down the length removing the sapwood and creating a perfect smooth finish to our precise dimensions. It was mesmerising watching the timber being machined but also incredibly loud.

The first leg is almost complete
The first leg is almost complete

The first leg is ready for the final touches
The first leg is ready for the final touches. The second one is ready to be machined.

The first delivery of the completed legs will start arriving in the next few weeks. Once here they will be sorted into order, transported to the walkway and then carefully craned into position. This will involve careful manoeuvring over and underneath the tree canopy. Please be aware that we may have to close Skilling hill and parts of Willesley Drive for your safety.

Sophie Nash, Project Manager

A taste of timber framing

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Last week, staff and volunteers here at Westonbirt had an opportunity to get involved with the construction of the timber frame for the machinery store element of the new Wolfson Tree Management Centre.

I spent a few days with Pete Eyles and his team, learning more about the process, getting involved in marking out timbers and even having a go at using some power tools and hand tools.

Pete is keen that staff and volunteers have a chance to learn more about timber framing, and dedicated a week of his schedule to hosting a number of us from different teams around the arboretum.

During the time we spent onsite, we worked on timber for one of the gable ends of the building. There were a number of personal highlights for me, including marking out timbers and using a plumb line to make sure the cuts that would be made worked with the natural ‘wobble’ of the timbers they would sit alongside; having a go with an electric morticer to cut a mortice in one of the roof beams of a gable end and using some lovely sharp hand tools to finish a tenon to fit into the mortice joint (no doubt Pete’s team will have cast a critical eye and expert hand over this by now to make sure the work is up to standard!)

It was great to spend time with colleagues and volunteers I don’t usually work with, working as a team to get our heads around some of the tricky concepts involved in timber framing – it’s a surprisingly accurate process which Pete, with his 28 years of experience, made look simple!

Pete’s quest for accuracy is for good reason. As well as giving the building a neat and tidy finish, the junctions of the building are made from galvanised steel – these parts are made very accurately, and the team have to ensure the wooden components will fit together with them perfectly.

Timber framing may be an ancient skill, but a structural engineer is involved the whole way through the process, specifying amongst other things the dimensions of timber and the grade, or quality, which is used. Much of the timber for the machinery store is of the highest structural grade possible and, we’re proud to say, a large proportion of this comes from Westonbirt, removed as part of the routine management of the tree collection here.

Take a look at the picture gallery below to see images from the course.

It is anticipated that the first of the gable ends will be raised into position very soon. Watch this space for an update!

Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

See it, smell it, touch it, taste it!

Monday, June 8th, 2015

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Youth Officer Karen Price is working with young people so that they can discover, explore and enjoy the arboretum, either as part of an organised group or as individual visitors.

As an internationally renowned tree collection, people come from far and wide to experience the magnificent sights the arboretum has to offer. From spectacular spring blooms to bursting autumnal colour, the arboretum can certainly give a feast for the eyes for all our visitors enjoying a walk in the woods. And surely we’ve all got a favourite tree at the arboretum – our curator’s is the paper bark maple at Down Gate, whilst for me I’m torn between the White barked Himalayan Birch on the downs and an old, dead oak in the coppice coup, although I think deep down the oak wins. But how many of us have a favourite sound, or smell?


The community youth team have been developing activities that use the senses to explore the arboretum through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. And not just the trees, magnificent though they are, but also the habitats they create and the wildlife
that lives in, on and beneath them.

Restoration work in the coppice coups has created sunlit clearings where bluebells and wood anemones flourish, creating a carpet of colour that entice groups in. They crouch down and look closely at the ground where empty hazelnut shells can be found, each one presenting a clue to the identification of what ate it – split in half for a squirrel or a nibbled round hole for a wood mouse. Then they will find a comfy stump and sit a while and to listen for a greater spotted woodpecker drumming out his call, or even a hungry tawny owl out and about during the day.

In the wider collection groups can feel the textures of the bark; the spongy redwoods, the papery birches and the twisted sweet chestnut. They have found the cones, held them, smelled them and flicked the scales of Holford pine cones with their nails like a thumb piano to make a tune.

They can also smell the landscape of a working woodland. Freshly mown grass and wood smoke, wild garlic and pine resin. Found a fallen eucalyptus leaf and crushed it between their fingers to release the scent. Then sat a while with a cup of nettle tea, or nibbled on a hawthorn leaf (once known by children as bread and cheese and apparently has a mild nutty flavour, but mainly it just tastes of leaf).

Although enjoyed by all, the sensory activities have been particularly engaging for young people with specific needs, particularly autism. In recent weeks we have been working with groups of young people with varying degrees of autism on a repeat visit programme, and have been piloting activities that enable participants to explore and learn about the arboretum at their own level of understanding and speed by engaging with all the senses. Our next project is to make a series of glockenspiels from coppiced hazel to develop creativity (as well as tool use skills) and a Victorian plant hunter’s collection chest which will enable young people with limited mobility to experience the sensory woodlands in a physically accessible way.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer

Tree of the month: June 2015

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Styrax japonicus snowbell tree credit Gina Mills
What is tree of the month?
Styrax japonicus, also known as the snowbell tree.

Why is it tree of the month?
An ornamental beauty, the white, bell shaped flowers which hang beneath the branches are not to be missed.

Where can I see it?
Specimens of varying ages grow in both the Old Arboretum and Silk Wood. One close to Savill Glade always catches the eye from Main Drive, where it grows alongside the also lovely S. obassia.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Celebrating volunteering at Westonbirt

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Although we value and thank our volunteers on a daily basis, Volunteers’ Week provides an opportunity to do this publicly!

Volunteers are deeply embedded in the fabric of Westonbirt and the arboretum flourishes on their commitment. They are passionate and enthusiastic ambassadors for Westonbirt, championing community spirit and connecting visitors to the importance of trees in our lives – whilst having a thoroughly good time themselves.

Last year volunteers gave almost 25,000 hours to Westonbirt in so many ways, here are a few of the ways they help:

  • Leading 269 guided walks for 2,800 visitors (their feedback showed a 95% enjoyment rating)
  • Travelling over 2,750 miles to give 54 external talks to over 1,800 people
  • Taking 66% of Friends membership subscriptions at the welcome desk
  • Helping to propagate 4,000 seeds, cuttings, saplings and plants
  • Maintaining 18 sections of the arboretum (there are 60 in total) including 3000 trees/cages
  • Labelling 1,891 trees – 12% of our collection
  • Recording 428 butterflies (20 species), and 330 bumblebees (11 species)
  • Engaging with over 34,500 participants through schools visits and family events
  • Broadening Westonbirt’s reach to the local community by involving:
  • 232 young people (10-19yrs) from 17 organisations
  • 188 people in facilitated visits to Westonbirt
  • 274 people in offsite outreach programmes
  • 111 people in coppice woodland management
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    We send a huge ‘thank you’ to all our volunteers and wish them many more years of happy volunteering with us – Westonbirt wouldn’t be the same without them.

    Cheryl Pearson, Volunteer Manager