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Spring Equinox on Exmoor and How to tap a Birch tree!

It's been a glorious Spring so far! I wrote a wee poem on Facebook earlier to celebrate the Spring Equinox...

Dear Spring, 
I love you very much. 
So much you make my heart leap and my belly flutter. 
I love you so much I spend weeks searching for you and then weeks watching you emerge, stretching out of your buds, leaves unfolding like a dragonfly's wings. 
Spring, when I wake up I grin at the feel of you. That unmistakeable energy you bring as the sap shoots up the tree and nests and dens are filled with the sound of the young. 
I love you for having the greatest soundtrack of all. Birds singing, bees humming and woodpeckers keeping the beat...
Dear Spring, I love you!

...It's been a tough winter ;)

I went for an explore of the wall at the top of one of our regeneration areas. I found many wonderful things. Like this Apple Moss... (thanks to David Spain for ID help!)

Lots of pennyworts, nettles and whispers of ferns too and many scuttles and shadows. 
I'm still blown away by the amount of work that's gone into building these hedge banks, miles of them! 

This beech tree is a really old hedge bank tree. It's girth at the base is 5 hen hugs. Which makes it.. erm... oh, it's just very old indeed.

This is the first bud burst of 2012 for me! Wonderful, gorgeous Hazel! This one is on the track, so it's really sheltered. I reckon it's another week yet before any of the other's start bursting properly. Can't wait!

One of my favourite wee flowers, the female flower of the Hazel. It's the colour I love and the joy at trying to spot them in the tree is one of my Spring treats, they're so tiny!

The farm is covered in barren strawberry. Absolutely beautiful but incredible disappointing for me... no strawberries... gah! 

I present to you, my wonderful beans, the Bluebell... throughout the coppice there are more and more bluebells appearing! In some areas there's a carpet of them. It's such a wonderful change and has taken 4 years to start to come back. The issue before, I think, was heavy grazing and erosion on the slopes. 

This is the leaves of Common Valerian. A beautiful plant that flowers later in the year. This is also growing in ever greater numbers in the single area that it lives, at the end of the river meadow on the edge of the coppice.

One of my favourite plants at this time of year is the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. There's carpets of it down in the valley. 

It's an incredible sight at the moment!

The photograph above is of a mix of wild plants.  This is how I learned to identify some wildflowers by their young leaves, before they flower. Not including the grass, I can name 4 plants in this photo. How many can you name?! : ) 

Birch Tapping

Today I did some Birch tapping. The sap is just right and was flowing freely! Here's how I did it..

What you need: 
  • An old water bottle, sterilised (I soaked it in a light bleach solution for a few hours).
  • Thick string (I use old baler twine)
  • A strong, sharp, CLEAN, knife. (I used my Chris Grant knife)
  • Bit of solid wood about as thick as your arm, for a mallet. (I used a seasoned length of hazel I found near the Birch tree) 
  • A green twig as thick as your pinky finger. (I cut a fresh hazel twig)

How to tap a Birch tree:
  • Choose a Birch tree that looks strong and healthy, with no visible fungi & with buds that look ever so slightly 'awake' or swollen. The girth of the tree should be over 25cm. I like to make my incision on a clean bit of bark (not knobbly).
  • Taking the middle of your length of twine, make a clove hitch, slip it on to the neck of the bottle and tighten. Tie the twine around the tree, securely.
  • STOP

Now you need to make your peg:
  • Collect a fresh, green twig from a nearby tree, that's as thick as your pinky finger. Here I used a Hazel twig.
  • Carefully, cut the twig to size, about inch or so is normally ok and scrape off the bark. This will give you a good clean bit of wood. 
  • Carefully cut both ends to a slope (in basketry we call it slyping). Make one end flatter than the other, this will be the end that goes into your incision. The flatter end of my peg is on the right of the picture below.
  • Carefully cut yourself a small channel in the middle of the peg.

Making your incision:

  • Use your peg to check where you need to make the incision, remembering that about quarter of an inch will be inside the tree. Obviously the peg shouldn't over shoot the top of the bottle!
  • Angle your knife upwards, with the blade horizontal. (see the pic below)
  • Using your sturdy bit of wood, firmly and in a controlled manner (!) thwack the end of your knife, TWICE. The TIP of your knife should be in the tree up to about 1/4 inch.
  • Give the knife a small wiggle, you do not want to break the bark. You should see a bit of sap gather on the knife.
  • Remove the knife.

Putting in your peg:
  • Gently put the flat end of your peg into the incision. You don't need to shove it in, just put it in a few millimetres till you see the sap start to run down it into your bottle. Make sure it's not going to fall out.

  • Birch sap is clear. If your sap is yellowy discard it. 
  • You can let your tap run for as long as you have bottles to catch it in. It will only stay fresh for a few days once collected and it's not recommended you drink too much as it can give you a bad belly.
  • Don't tap this tree for another three years. (Is dependent on how much you take & how big your incision..)
  • You can make all sorts of things with it. A syrup, wine, tea, cordial... I tend to drink it straight or make a cup of nettle tea with it & some honey. Quite a powerful energy boost for me that tea!


You must show the tree gratitude for the gorgeous elixir you've just taken by making sure the wound is clean, small and will heal quickly. A small slit like this will pose no threat to the tree as long as you follow those small steps. When I'm finished collecting the sap I press down on the slit for a little while and it slows the flow of the sap and finally stops altogether.

Let me know how you get on! 

hen xx


  1. Fabulous blog and now I even know about birch tapping! thank you.

  2. I tapped some birch tree a few years ago, using a slightly different method, but the result is probably much the same. I wasn't able to get back to the trees after tapping because of heavy snow for over a week, and when I got there the 5litre plastic containers had swollen under the pressure. One actually sprayed out when I removed the tube from the tree. The sap tasted fine, the wine a few months later was light and fresh. I tried boiling down some to make syrup - it took hours, &5 litres became about 100ml! Delicious but doubt I'd do it again.

    I haven't tried making butter but think I just might fairly soon.

  3. Excellent blog you have here with so many useful topics. Thank you!
    Didn't know about birch tapping. If I find a suitable birch on our small plot I will give that a try ...


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