Meeting the Woodsman on Dorset's Heathland

This week, we ventured down to Three-Legged Cross and Holton Lee to meet up with one of our vendors, John the Jolly Forester to find out more about how he makes his living from the heathlands of Dorset. If you live in Dorset you will be aware of how precious our heaths are and how under threat they are from wildfires and pollution. They are also regularly swamped by invasive species that threaten the biodiversity of the area including insects, reptiles and birds and this is where John comes in. 

We met up with John in bright sunshine on an area of heath owned by the Dorset Wildlife Trust a few miles north of the better known Moores Valley Country Park. After a quick health and safety briefing about the dangers of tics and the need to check legs and privates when I get home to avoid any nasty diseases. For the past month, John and the DWT team have been clearing the heath of Silver Birch and Hazel from the heath to allow the return of ferns, flowers and associated wildlife. Traditionally the fastest way to get rid of the waste wood is to just burn it and the heath was littered with charcoal deposits from this.

John, who takes the wonderful title of "Woodsman" is indeed a man of the forest and has chosen to make his living by using the waste wood to create beautiful products that we now sell on Designed in Dorset. We enjoyed hearing about his back story, having always loved the woods and wildlife he chose a career change about 7 years ago from working in the care sector to the outdoor life he now enjoys. He has gathered a working knowledge of how to utilise the natural environment to his advantage from a variety of work stints with other forest workers. What comes across most is John's love for the natural world and the desire to care for and protect it. 

Dorset Heath Works

For us, the conversation was like stepping back in time with a re-enactor at a history festival. His knowledge is vast and we are indebted to find out so much about the heaths on our Doorstep. He divides his time between the Lower Common Heath and his storage barn on Holton Lee. We spent the morning at Lower Common and once we had gathered enough wood in the shape of twigs to longer and larger branches we headed over to the other side of Poole Harbour to his storage depot. John explained how hazel makes its way into so many aspects of our lives, from bean poles (like we have at home) to thatched roofs across the county. Waste not want not seems to be his motto.

He also carries a fearsome array of tools on his belt. A collection of which he is proud and are invaluable to his trade. The mini saw knife that works faster than a chain saw at times is his pride and joy. We did visit a shop on the journey between heaths and it made us laugh when he remembered at the door to remove the "weapon" from his waste for fear of frightening the shopkeepers. You will see from the video we made the size of his chopper which cuts through any bundle of sticks with ease.

At Holton Lee we discovered a location that we had never been aware of. A vast heathland that borders the North part of Poole Harbour and enjoys views across the bay. A family estate that has been given over to a charitable trust including the Livability Well Being Centre. Set in 350 acres of beautiful Dorset countryside. The centre offers gardening, forestry therapy, arts and ceramics, bird watching, walking and accessible camping, visitors can benefit from an inclusive and supportive community. This is also where John met his wife who works at the garden centre. Due to the Covid Lockdown, we were the only people on site so it had a magical peace about it.  

Man of the woods

At first glance, his lockup looks like a barn with a pile of sticks inside. Having pulled back the tarpaulin cover, a series of tables emerge that become the working tools of his trade. We moved these into the sunlight and he began to show us how to make "Pimps" out of the bundles of sticks gathered from the other side of Dorset. What is a PImp you ask? It is a natural firelighter made from the gathering of waste wood and pulled together using his table tools into bundles for use to get your Woodburner quickly up to speed. He matched a couple of pieces of thicker hazel with lots of tiny twigs and squashes them together and ties it off with twine.

The word pimp comes from the old English for number 5 and he pulls them together into bundles of five for sale. All you need ais a couple of pieces of dry newspaper underneath and your fire will get up to heat in no time at all. He also has a fabulous looking wrought iron stand that would look fantastic in your fireplace, this is also available on Designed in Dorset. We have filmed our day out so please watch the video to see what we have been talking about.