Woodlands are dynamic habitats which are constantly changing. These special places can appear large to us, but on a landscape level they can unfortunately become uniform in structure and degraded in terms of biodiversity potential. Keeping our woodlands healthy and as diverse as possible for wildlife is one of our top priorities. In order to do this, we sometimes have to fell trees. Such work is carefully planned to ensure that nesting, roosting, and hibernating wildlife is protected.
The autumn and winter months, when deciduous trees have lost their leaves and few birds are nesting, is an ideal time to undertake active woodland management work. This often involves traditional techniques such as coppicing and thinning.
For centuries many woodlands have been managed by coppicing. This practice involves the periodic cutting back of selected trees or shrubs to ground level, leaving them to sprout new stems from the cut stumps. This is done during the winter when the tree is dormant. Coppicing results in more direct and indirect sunlight reaching the woodland floor and can stimulate growth of woodland plants such as primroses and bluebells. Foliage and flowers of these plants are a food source for invertebrates which in turn provide food for other animals such as birds and bats. The practice also ensures a mixed age range and variety of trees therefore benefitting the overall diversity of the woodland. Coppicing is a traditional woodland craft used to grow straight stems of wood which are used for making broom handles, bean poles, baskets, hurdles, etc. Several tree species react very well to coppicing, enabling them to last for many years, meaning they can provide further crops of timber or wood harvested every 5–20 years depending on the crop required.
We may also thin woodlands. This involves the removal of poor condition, diseased, or overcrowded trees to make the remaining trees stronger and healthier. Thinning is used to manage neglected woodland where dense shading has reduced the presence of woodland wildflowers. Thinning often takes place in newly planted woodlands to allow stronger trees to grow well by giving them more space in which to flourish.
Did You Know?
Trees in woodlands communicate with each other through a fungal network or a ‘wood wide web’!
Fungi have fine threads called mycelium which spread underground and link with other trees and plants. Trees can use these networks to communicate with one another.
Much of the wildlife within woodlands relies on active management to provide a varied habitat structure, from piles of dead wood which can be essential for certain beetles and fungi, to open glades that are home to some butterflies and other insect pollinators.
The most diverse woodlands typically have a range of different species and ages of tree. Without some form of active management woodlands may become dark internally resulting in little variation in structure, age, or species. Ultimately this reduces the amount of wildlife that can live in them. By managing woodlands sustainably, we are nurturing a habitat that is beneficial for trees, wildlife, and people.
Health and safety is also a high priority and woodlands are monitored through a series of tree inspections. Findings from these inspections enable us to act appropriately to safeguard trees from pests and diseases while maintaining a welcoming environment for human visitors.
When a tree is felled we consider the impact upon the woodland and will plant replacement trees where necessary. However, natural regeneration of local tree species is the preferred choice as nature gradually fills the gaps left behind.