Author Description

Caroline Brett
Caroline Brett

Caroline graduated from Bristol University with a BSc (Hons) in Zoology. She worked briefly in radio before joining Survival Anglia Television as a writer/producer. Now as a director of her own production company, she has made films on a diverse range of subjects from black caiman in Brazil, the history of the pearl trade in Bahrain and a remote island in the Seychelles. She has written nine books, numerous articles and is a commissioned artist.

Caroline Brett

Made by the Forge plants a native sapling for every order received. 2018 sees a new series highlighting the virtues of the British trees the company promotes as a major part of its ethos.

Neolithic tribes introduced the beech to Great Britain at the end of the last Stone Age for their edible nuts. Historically, the nuts or masts were an important source of fat and protein. As beech masts are small, covered in a hard outer shell, have a fibrous inner husk and are mildly toxic raw, only dedicated foragers gather them today. Roasting shelled masts improves their flavour and destroys the toxins. The French use them to make a kind of coffee and they can be made into a delicious pesto. Not so popular with people perhaps but the seeds are relished by mice, voles, squirrels and birds.

Beech trees are intolerant of waterlogged soil and severe frosts. They grow to 40 meters and live for up to 350 years but if coppiced can live to over a 1000. The tree canopy casts dense shade, keeping the forest floor clear of undergrowth, and carpets the ground thickly with leaf litter. In spring, before the leaves unfurl and block out the sunlight, beech woods with their rich soil support spectacular blankets of bluebells.

Beech bark is extremely thin and scars easily. It’s long been used to carve lovers’ initials and other forms of graffiti. The wood is fine-grained and knot free and used to make furniture, rifle butts, shoe heads and brush heads.

Beech supports ninety-eight species of insects including many species of moth and butterfly. The woods are also associated with native truffles (always seek expert advice before eating any wild fungi).

 The leaves turn from bright, lime green in spring though yellow to glorious russet before they fall.  Beech trees rarely fail to put on a spectacular show each Autumn.

Caroline Brett

Made by the Forge plants a native sapling for every order received. 2018 sees a new series highlighting the virtues of the British trees the company promotes as a major part of its ethos.

“Ash logs, all smooth and grey,
burn them green or old;
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold”

(old, anonymous poem).

Ash, known as the ‘king of firewood’, throws plenty of heat, doesn’t spit and will burn as green wood (although seasoned is better). A member of the olive family, it is probably the most versatile tree in the countryside. The wood is resilient, tough and very hard-wearing but lacks the oak’s resistance to rot. It’s not good for posts buried in the ground. In the past it was often coppiced on a ten-year cycle, providing timber for burning and construction. It was extensively used in the construction of early aircraft and even the body frame for early Volvo cars. Flexible, shock-resistant and not liable to split, it has traditionally been used for bows, tool handles, tennis rackets and snooker cues. It is still popular to make furniture, flooring, walking sticks and lobster pots and is our choice of wood for our shelves, tables and benches.

Known for its helicopter seeds, growing on average to 18m tall but occasionally reaching a massive 43m, it rarely exceeds 250 years of age.  Mature trees are known to suffer ‘summer branch drop’ when apparently healthy trees drop large branches for no apparent reason. 

Ash dieback, caused by the fungus is a serious disease that is killing ash trees across Europe.  The fungus blocks water transport within the tree causing leaf loss, lesions on the bark and ultimately the dieback of the crown. There is no known cure. An infected tree will ultimately die. Scientists across Europe are fighting a race against time to find resistant strains to safeguard the ash from the devastating effects of Dutch elm disease on the English elm. 

Caroline Brett

Made by the Forge plants a native sapling for every order received. 2018 sees a new series highlighting the virtues of the British trees the company promotes as a major part of its ethos.

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

The hazel is the smallholder’s godsend. It grows relatively rapidly on rough and wet soils that aren’t much use for other crops. Commonly it’s found in hedgerows and in the understory of oak, ask and birch woodland.

Hazel sticks are flexible, strong and long lasting with multiple uses. Crofters and smallholders use them for sheep hurdles, baskets, walking sticks, thatching spurs, netting poles and even coracle boats. In spring, hazel is so bendy it can be knotted without breaking.

The trees were traditionally coppiced for their repeated growth of sticks every 6-10 years.  One tree or stool (cut clump) could last several hundred years.  When left to grow naturally, they can reach 12m and live for 80 – 100 years.

Hazel was grown for large-scale nut production until the early 1900s. Cultivated varieties (known as cob-nuts) are still grown in Kent.

The nuts are a favourite food of squirrels and dormice. Hazel nuts help these rodents fatten up for winter and in spring the leaves are an important source of food for caterpillars that squirrels and dormice also relish. Woodpeckers, jays and nuthatches also enthusiastically collect hazel nuts in autumn.

In coppiced hazel woodland, the open wildflower-rich habitat supports many species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. It also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds such as the nightingales, nightjars, yellowhammers and willow warblers.

Hazel is ‘the magic tree’. A hazel rod is believed to ward off evil spirits, it was a popular witches’ wand and reputedly good for water divining. Nuts were carried to ward off rheumatism. In Celtic legend and Ireland it’s known as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ as well as a fertility symbol. There are many versions of an ancient tale where nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool. Salmon (a fish sacred to Druids) ate the nuts and absorbed the wisdom.

Today the wise snack on hazelnuts which are loaded with health benefitting nutrients including manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron and numerous vitamins and anti-oxidant qualities. They have been proven to help prevent heart disease and improve brain function.