Tuesday, 30 March 2010
This butterfly has experienced a -71% decline with 33% of colonies gone.
Dartmoor is one of its few remaining strongholds.
On the 25th March 2010 all the great and the good (and a few oiks such as myself) descended upon Reading University (Berkshire) for a conference on the 'Future of Wildlife in British Woodlands' organised by Butterfly Conservation.
The morning session was The Changing State of British Woodlands and some very well known names, to those involved in woodland conservation, took to the stage, such as George Peterken, Rob Fuller and Martin Warren (names that those who follow the 'Woodlands' blogs may recognise).
Nothing ground breakingly new emerged, but a renewed sense of urgency was instilled upon us all as regards the future of our woodland wildlife, and several key themes emerged.
I will not labour on everything said, much i have covered in other blogs, or will do so in the future. Here i shall cherry-pick some of the best, or the most alarming, bits.
George Peterken, first up, after the preliminaries from Martin Warren, reminded all 400 or so of us of the importance of open spaces in woodlands, a theme i shall explore in greater detail in an upcoming blog, and that things such as Gap Creation Rates in woodland are at too low a scale to support the rapidly declining species that specialise in open spaces. It needs us to do it.
He implored a return to the medieval view of 'Forest' whereby we had a mosaic of habitats, of wooded areas adjacent to species rich grassland and rough pasture, and greater variation and structure to the wooded areas. In modern parlance this idea is underpinned by landscape style projects, increasingly being initiated, whereby core woodland areas form the hub around which other habitats are brought into more sympathetic management allowing for greater dispersal of wildlife through 'forest habitat networks'.
Emma Goldberg (Natural England) was up next to discuss the changing status of woodland vascular plants in the last 50 years ( more than 50% of which are glade or open space species).
Although abundance has decreased, species diversity has not been lost, and she outlined several factors in the overall decline in species richness, with such things as climatic effects and increased nitrogen levels coming into play.
For woodland vascular plants the picture, if not rosy, is not all doom and gloom, but Dan Hoare (Butterfly Conservation) brought us all crashing back down to earth.
71% of butterflies are in decline. 69% of common moths are in decline, with 71 'common' species now qualifying as threatened under IUCN criteria.
He then chatted about the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), running since 1976 with more than 1,600 sites monitored, and concentrated on the woodland species and their habitats.
For species specialising in more mature habitats the future looks good, numbers up by +64%, but this advantage, gained through such things as the neglect of woodlands, is cast against a drop of -65% for species who inhabit woodland rides, and a drop of -80% for species specialising in clearings. For Pearl-bordered fritillaries alone there has been a -71% decline, with 33% of colonies gone.
With about two-thirds of Britain's 59 butterflies utilising woodland, along with 500 of our 900 species of larger moths, their presence and survival is a key barometer to the biodiversity of woodlands, and the above statistics are very alarming.
From this, and i hope, from recent blogs, you may see that the picture emerging is of a need for our woodlands to be more structurally diverse, that a shift is needed from the even-aged closed canopy woodland we have, to increased clearings and species rich rides interspersed within these more mature stands.
Tony Mitchell-Jones (Natural England) was up next discussing specialist woodland mammals such as the Dormouse, and Bechsteins and Barbastelle bats, and continued the calls for a more structurally diverse woodland which such species need as habitat to roost/nest, breed and feed within. He also, sort of, apologised for all the rare, declining woodland moths such bats like to munch upon.
Roger Key was up next, discussing deadwood (which i covered in a previous blog 'There's life in the deadwood'), and a funnier exponent of deadwood and its invertebrate fauna i challenge you to find. For such complicated, hidden, and in many cases unpronouncable and ugly creatures, a champion such as he is a boon.
Rob Fuller (British Trust for Ornithology) then brought us all crashing back down to earth again. Woodland birds are in serious decline. The reasons are many, some to do with problems in the overwintering grounds of our migrants, some to do with climate change and its effects on invertebrate numbers, thus the availability of food. Woodland structure, again, was a key theme, with species ranges of those of early successional habitats (young growth) in serious contraction. Allied to this we have increasing deer numbers.
At Bradfield Woods in Suffolk a study was done in 8 paired plots which were coppiced (as these woods have been for centuries), with one area of a plot fenced and the other protected only by the resulting brash from coppicing. Before long only rank grasses dominated the unfenced areas as the deer got in, whilst the fenced areas were more herb rich. What was more interesting was that the territory density of birds was found to be 15 times higher within the fenced areas than outside. The breeding densities of at least 6 bird species were found to be reduced through increased deer browsing.
After lunch the speakers discussed Delivery of Woodland Conservation. Three different speakers discussed landscape style projects that had been initiated around core woodland areas, from which other woods and habitats were brought into management with the result that 'forest habitat networks' were created allowing for wider dispersal of wildlife through a larger area, or mosaic of habitats.
The South-east Woodlands Project in Kent, the West Weald Landscape Partnership in Sussex, and the Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme in Somerset all highlighted the need for landscape style approaches to nature conservation rather than the sometimes disjointed approach we still have whereby we manage our own little bits independant of each other.
James Phillips (Natural England) then asked whether the huge success of agri-environment schemes for farmland birds in England could work for woodland birds, and Pooran Desai discussed the increasing demand for woodfuel, and the benefits of the charcoal industry burgeoning in British woodlands.
Jonathan Spencer (Forestry Commission) then summed up the future of Englands Woodlands. He highlighted how the economic factors of the past, especially in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, such as demands for fuel and timber, are being mirrored in the present. That after the decline of woodmanship, the revival in the current climate is timely. As woodmanship declined in the past as other cheaper sources of fuel were utilised, we now face an age of increasingly scarce and expensive fuel supplies, with many eyes looking towards our woodlands as a renewable resource. With this renewed demand we must provide best practice and good legislation. The woodlands must be able to internally regenerate themselves to be sustainable though (planting must always be the least preferred option in ASNW), and one of the greatest obstacles to this, as outlined in Rob Fuller's talk, is deer.The harvesting of wood for fuel and charcoal can obviously aid the recovery of those species utilising early successional habitat, the very species that seem to be declining the most. But such habitat is cyclical, and the threat deer pose to it, and thus the species that utilise it, is one of the biggest threats woodlands face. Put rather bluntly, as well as consuming wood for fuel and charcoal, we need to consume the deer that are munching their way through our woods. As Jonathan Spencer put it as he gazed up at the ranks of people at the conference, he was, vegetarians apart, looking up at 400 potential consumers of venison. So this year, if we have a BBQ summer, please use local British woodland charcoal, and to make yourself feel even better, put some venison burgers on your BBQ.
All in all it was a very interesting day, very well put together and organised by Butterfly Conservation.http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/
Letterboxing is similar to orienteering. It began on Dartmoor and is now popular throughout the world. At Castle Drogo between 6 and 18 April you can have a go at this popular outdoor activity and learn about the tors on Dartmoor. You will need to hunt around the garden and grounds looking for Letterbox stamps. You need to take a copy of each stamp you find. There is a prize for a full collection of stamps. The letterbox trail costs £1.50 per child and normal admission charges apply.
Make your very own tasty Easter treat. On Wednesday 7 April between 11am and 1pm, or 2pm and 4pm, you can decorate your very own cookie. You can either take it home or if you can’t wait that long you can eat it straight away! £2 per person and normal admission charges apply.
If craft activities are more your thing than come along and decorate a jute bug on Wednesday 14 April between 11am and 1pm, or 2pm and 4pm. You can create a unique and individual design of your choice using an array of crafty bits and pieces such as ribbons, sequins, buttons and fabric bags. £2 per person and normal admission charges apply.
Alongside the extra activities Castle Drogo is a great place to spend the day with family and friends. As well as the castle, garden and estate to explore the Café at the visitor centre provides a wide menu including delicious breakfasts between 8.30-10.30am, lunches, cakes, and hot and cold drinks. If you are planning a picnic you can buy it at the café with our pick and mix picnic bags. Entry is free to the visitor centre.
Some signs of spring. Although this photograph was taken in between heavy rain showers with a bit of hail mixed in it seems good old mother nature is struggling to get spring going.
Around the woods ransoms are making an appearance, bluebell leaves are starting to poke out of the soil and the occasional hawthorn is putting out its first leaves.
In the woods around Steps Bridge situated between Mortonhampstead and Dunsford on the B 3212 out of Exeter these lovely wild daffs. are in full bloom for Easter. One of the best woods to see them is Dunsford wood owned by the National Trust and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT). Go to http://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/index.php?section=places:reserves&reserveid=26 for more information.
Although Bridford wood and St Thomas Cleave woods have good showings although these are patchy and a bit more off the beaten track. But a great daff hunt for the more adventurous of you.
After the last war there were organised charabancs from Torbay taking bus loads of people out to these woods to pick the daffs. With the constant picking and resultant damage the daffs declined and were in danger of disappearing. When I was at college, 20 years ago, the DWT use to advertise a temporary job as daffodil warden to protect the daffs from people trying to pick them.
Now with the protection of the National Trust and the DWT the daffs are safe. Most people also have a different attitude and enjoy coming to see them in their natural habitat. Much better than taking hand fulls home, destroying the natural environment and stopping other people enjoying this vernal spectacle.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Daffodils out this weekend!
If you can brave, or dodge the showers for the next few days, and you vist the National Trust woods at Hembury , near Buckfastleigh, you will be rewarded with a magnificent display of the famous Hembury wild daffodils. They are just coming into bloom and look wonderful.
The easiest place to see them is by walking from the top car park (closest to Ashburton) towards the Iron Age hillfort. Just before the gate to the fort is a good spread, on the grassland that has been cleared of bracken and bramble.
For a more extended walk, go into the woods and follow the tracks down towards the River Dart. Keep an eye open and all around you can spy these shy little flowers bursting out.
True wild daffodils are more common than is often supposed, but have a patchy distribution, generally on moist banks in open oak or ash woods. Most daffodils seen outside such places will be escaped cultivated varieties.
Of course, it goes without saying, but in order for everyone to enjoy these flowers, please don't pick them.
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
As these logs are not very big or straight they can’t be used to make planks or beams or anything like that. The only value they have is for energy. Some of the logs extracted were of good enough quality to be milled. This will be the subject of another blog later.
These logs will remain stacked for a couple of years to start drying out. Then the ones with a diameter less than about 26cm will be chipped to provide fuel for the boilers at Castle Drogo. Anything over 26cm is to big to go through the chipper so will be logged and sold locally for firewood.
It’s funny how things go round in circles. For generations the oak woods here were cut down regularly then allowed to regrow a process called coppicing. This renewable source of wood was burnt to produce the charcoal. The bark was stripped from the logs before burning and sold to be used in the tanning industry.
However when coal became available and cheap it replaced charcoal and the woods were left to grow. Coal was then replaced by gas and oil and now oak in its turn is replacing oil. The oak is carbon neutral, it’s local so needs little transport saving more carbon and is sustainable. Some of the oak is even being burnt again to make the finest charcoal this time for Bar B Q’s and is available from the National Trust at the shows we attend and at the Dartmoor office at Parke in Bovey Tracey.
The woods are once again providing energy but also provide a haven for loads of wildlife and still create the wonderful landscape around the National trust properties on Dartmoor.
On other parts of the Castle Drogo estate conifers have been felled to produce wood chip and broad leaved trees are being planted to create new coppice woods (see earlier entries on the blog). These will in their turn provide a sustainable source of energy for Castle Drogo.
Allot of children (and some mums and dads) got involved in making woodland sculptures. This involved much sawing, drilling, hammering, shaving and lots of artistic talent.
Woody the owl and Drogo the donkey seen here are two of the sculptures taken home by proud children.
After all the hard work with the saws and other tools visitors had the chance to sit around an open camp fire and toast marshmallows on a stick.
Some people were seen just sitting quietly around the fire enjoying the warmth of the fire the smell of the wood smoke and the peace of the moment.
In the optimistic hope of a fine summer there was charcoal for sale which was produced on the estate.
The estate and the woodlands have always been an integral part of Castle Drogo. Julius Drewe was very much a hunting, shooting, fishing man and spent much of his leisure time enjoying the estate.
Look out for future events which will bring the woodland and countryside experience to our visitors.
We will also be attending a number of local shows again this year where we will have information, fun for the family, National Trust merchandise and woodland products from our estate.
Starting with the Bicton College Open Day on the 12th of June.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
The most recent improvements have been to both the vehicle and footpath gates that give access to the historic Plymouth to Dartmoor Tramway which was built in 1823 and now gets regular use as a footpath.
As part of their NVQ in Environmental Conservation, our long term volunteers have replaced the hanging posts on two gates that had failed resulting in them dragging on the ground and making them difficult to open. The work was assessed by BTCV's Tamar Valley Training Officer and will count towards Unit CU22 'Construct, maintain and repair boundaries and access points'.
Friday, 19 March 2010
Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW) classed as Upland Oakwood, formerly managed as coppice and wood-pasture, now with characteristic high forest structure.
I swear that sometimes, no matter how much i try to explain the reasoning behind woodland management to members of the public, the perception persists that it is 'boys with toys' who know nothing, randomly creating mayhem with chainsaws and tractors. Its one reason i began this series of occasional articles on woodlands and their management, as a source of reference to refer the public to, utilising quotes from those whose lives have been devoted to the study of this most important of Britain's habitats. More than any other habitat, decisions made can impact, for good or bad, for decades after. There can be nothing random about it.
I believe that the management of woodlands requires an empathy and dedication that is not as keenly felt in other habitats. Trees are large organisms which people feel strongly about. You need to know what you want to achieve before a tree that is nearly 100 years old is removed in 5 minutes. In forestry the tree is merely a product, a crop. That is why i see a huge difference between forestry, the farming of trees, and the management of woodlands, as a whole ecosystem. This empathy towards woodlands and the constant quest for understanding them, my long suffering partner would call an obsession, as once again, in our spare time i drag her around some wood or another ( though i am quite proud of her knowledge compared to the average member of the public..maybe she does listen sometimes). Often it is Hembury and Holne Woods we go to at weekends, of which i am proud to be a warden for. But how can you not be a guardian for such places and not want to have an intimate knowledge of every stand and area of coppice, where the rare trees are, and where the woodland archaeology can be found? How, more importantly, can you be responsible for the management of such woods without a detailed knowledge that has led you to decide where, and how, work is to be implemented?
To answer this we need to know the answer to several questions (there is more to it but we need to simplify this).
What is the history of the wood? What is the woodland type? What is the woodlands structure? What wildlife does the wood support? What are the timber and wood objectives? What are the long term objectives?
References are made throughout to previous 'Woodlands' blogs and are highlighted in bold green.
It is also worth noting that this blog is rather long and involved, so if you are not that interested in woodlands, i would skip this one. You have been warned...and i promise i am unlikely to do another this long! Like i have said, this is building up the reference for future, shorter, blogs.
History of the wood
Woodland is the naturally dominant vegetation formation of most of Britain, and woodland of ancient origin, that is, woodland that retains this link to the wildwood, is thus the priority for woodland conservation. Secondary woods and plantations have value but rarely posses the suite of species to be found in ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW). Note; for an explanation of these terms see 'Seeing the wood for the trees'.
The emphasis from here on in is therefore upon ASNW, which is our most valuable form of woodland nationally, and which covers the majority of National Trust woods on Dartmoor.
Woodland nature conservation as regards ASNW puts a stress on habitat continuity and the species that have been sustained through this.
Thus, as George Peterken says in Natural Woodland(1996);
'This emphasis on origins and stability has led to history becoming more of a basis for nature conservation in woodland than in other habitats. Historical studies have focused on identifying the remnants of the original woodland and elucidating the effects of millenia of use and management. In other habitats, the historical element is a less important factor....'
As briefly outlined in 'Reading the wood', the wood itself gives us these clues as to use and management so long as we know how to look. Comprising of such long-lived plants, the trees themselves inform us as to how they were previously managed. Again, as mentioned in this same blog it would have been in one of four ways; coppice, coppice with standards, high forest and wood pasture. Once you know the clues you can go to most woods and tell how it was historically managed so that the history of land use informs us in the present of the current wood, and the direction in which its future might head. Alongside this we have 'old forest lichens' and 'ancient woodland indicators', plants associated with ASNW. Such plants have responses to various forms of management which helps in deciding which form of management to take, and help illustrate how a wood was once managed.
ASNW due to its long associations with use and management by man also contains direct links to the past in the form of archaeological features such as hillfort's and barrows, medieval boundary banks, and charcoal hearths and saw-pits reflecting industrial use of woodlands.
An oakwood in the south-west is completely different from an oakwood in the south-east. The lime woods of the east are unique to that area. The beechwoods of the south have a historical significance there that is not true elsewhere where it has been introduced through planting ( see 'A place for Beech'). Correspondingly, the floras and faunas are different. Thus, the maintenance of these different woodland types (as defined in both botanical and structural terms) throughout their current ranges is of the utmost importance.
Again, as mentioned in 'Reading the wood' , naturalists have devised systems for classifying woodland into types, from the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) of 25 woodland and scrub communities, to George Peterken's 12 'Stand Types'. The Forestry Commission have greatly simplified matters by recognising 8 broad ASNW types based on composition and geography (see notes at the end of the blog).
It should be remembered that though two woods may be of the same vegetation type, if one is regularly coppiced and the other is high forest (ie, they have a different structure), the bird and invertebrate life will be very different.
Such things as the NVC and Stand Types should not be seen as the only way of describing woodland, but rather as one element in such descriptions.
This variation of woodland types often has recognition at a European level as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and as a habitat type at regional level in Biodiversity Action Plans (BAP's) (again, see notes at the end of this blog).
The tree species present in our woodland type further informs us as to which forms of management would best suit them. Trees such as oak are intolerant of shade, so to maintain the succession quite large scale felling areas are needed in oakwoods. Beech on the other hand is able to grow in shade, so a beechwood can be sustained through selective and group felling.
Thus, where we are in the country dictates the woodland type, which informs the management system we initiate, which is informed by the history of the individual wood and the history of that woodland type within the region. The next factor in it's management is its current structure.
This is strongly linked to the botanical woodland type, but through man's historical use of woodlands (hence our need to understand woodland history) the past management system and the current stage of growth (the structure) influences what flora and fauna are, or should be, present in the woodland type to inform us in our management decisions.
As mentioned, all ASNW (regardless of woodland type) would have been managed in one of 4 ways ( or 3 if you combine coppice and coppice with standards - see the quote below) that each produce different, but easily recognisable structures, though this is somewhat masked either by forestry practices or by no management at all in the last 70 years.
As R.J.Fuller and M.S.Warren in 'Management for biodiversity in British woodlands-Striking a balance (British Wildlife vol7 no1 1995) put it;
'Different management systems produce contrasting vegetation structures with particular communities of associated animals. From a conservation perspective, therefore, different woodland management systems should be regarded as complementary. Each of the 3 main classes of woodland management - coppice, high forest and wood-pasture - can be implemented in different ways, leading to substantial variation in woodland structure.'
The populations of flora and fauna found within woodland are strongly influenced by these variables of management. As Warren and Fuller go on to note, the focus for woodland conservation has been upon the two ends of the growth spectrum, that is, very young open stages (coppice) and very old trees (wood-pasture), 'young-growth' and 'old-growth'. As they note;
'Both of these broad habitat types have become increasingly scarce and fragmented in British woodland and require positive measures to maintain their associated wildlife'.
As an example, most of the National Trust woods on Dartmoor are oakwoods which were formerly managed as coppice-with-standards, thus they occupied the 'young-growth' end of the spectrum. Unmanaged in the last 70 years or so except in terms of forestry, the 'young-growth' interests have been shaded out. The woods are mid-succession, exhibiting characteristics of 'old-growth', but much work is needed to balance this out with the needs of species utilising early-successional habitat, which are rapidly declining. Nationwide much the same could be said for most ASNW.
To maintain and diversify structure within woodland we need to utilise these 3 main classes of woodland management- coppice, high forest and wood-pasture- alongside the various forestry systems for the management of stands, dependant upon what species occur (eg, selection systems for beech, shelterwoods for oak), and other objectives such as timber and wood .
What wildlife does the wood support ?
The conservation value of 'young-growth' and 'old-growth' is a blog of its own, though it was touched upon, especially as regards 'old-growth', in 'There's life in the dead wood'. To simplify this for the present, we need to know what wildlife species, and their specific habitat requirements, need to be prioritised. What is present is strongly influenced by the woodland structure and type (as mentioned). I apologize for the length of the following quotation, but it ably sums up this section far better than i could, so here's George Peterken from Natural Woodland (1996);
'Priority has to be given to 'vulnerable species', if only because they need more protection than resilient species. These include not only rare species, but also species with a poor dispersal or colonising ability, widespread species which habitually occur in small populations, species which depend on a declining habitat, and those which are subject to declining habitat, and those which are subject to wide fluctuations in numbers. One important element of vulnerability is isolation. Put generally, it is the ancient woodland species which need most protection.
Two practical implications emerge. First, the combination of habitat isolation and the limited ability of many woodland species to disperse, implies that woodland conservation should aim to maintain species and populations in the sites they now occupy. We cannot rely on recolonisation to make good any local extinctions. Woodland species at the edge of their range may be particularly vulnerable to future climatic changes, natural or artificial. Second, only a very limited number of species can be individually considered in designing management for particular woods, because autecological knowledge is limited, and plans have to be fairly simple to be practicable. This limitation may, however, be more apparent than real, for management plans can be designed around a small but representative selection of 'feature species', which should create optimal conditions for the woodland fauna and flora as a whole.'
Such 'feature species' as mentioned are usually those protected by law, covered by Biodiversity Action Plan's (BAP's) on a regional basis, or on the Red Data Book List.
Species (for example Dormice and Pearl bordered fritillaries) are covered by Species Action Plan's (SAP's) within the Devon BAP and are further protected through other legislation. These species are therefore the' feature species' we prioritise management for, with more common species benefitting by default.
Timber and wood objectives
Some may feel this is not compatible with other objectives such as management for wildlife, but the opposite is true as long as it does not conflict with conservation objectives. Therefore, remembering the importance of 'young growth' and 'old growth', as long as a high proportion of mature trees are allowed to senesce naturally, and therefore exhibit 'old growth' characteristics, objectives for the harvesting of timber and wood are entirely compatible with species specialising in early-successional habitat, ie, 'young growth'.
If the damage caused by extraction is incompatible with conservation objectives then it has more value as deadwood (see 'There's life in the deadwood') and should be left where it lies. As much as anything it is poor economics and poor PR, its value as pulp or firewood negligible compared to potential damage to the site and to public perceptions (though i must add that public perceptions of damage can sometimes be off the mark).
As R.J.Fuller and G.F. Peterken put it in Woodland and scrub in Managing habitats for conservation (1995);
'In ancient woods, especially on nature reserves, commercial considerations should be subordinated to those of conservation, whereas timber production is a major objective in most recent woodland.'
Long term objectives
The long term objectives are probably the most important part of woodland management planning. Imagine yourself stood in a wood. You now know its history, what woodland type it is, what structure it has, what wildlife it supports, and what your wood and timber objectives are. Now imagine it in 10 years, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. This long term vision is informed by all the questions we have asked, and should keep asking.
Woodlands are complex ecosystems, its responses slow and gradual so that decades can pass before a woodland area changed through management exhibits the growth structure envisaged. This is why the future must always be envisaged in the present.
R.J.Fuller and G.F.Peterken in Woodland and scrub in Managing habitats for conservation (1995) list 5 general principles to observe when planning the management of ASNW. Remember that these are only guidelines as is everything that i have written.
General principles such as these can be tailored to suit the needs of an individual wood. Following rigid pescriptions can sometimes fail to take into account that every wood is unique, even if it is of the same 'type' as another. What makes each wood special can be forgotten in the determination to fit a wood into prescribed guidelines of what it is, or what it should be. Anyway, over to Fuller and Peterken:
'Five general considerations should be borne in mind when planning the management of ancient woods:
1. Woods often act as reserves for the whole landscape, especially in intensively arable regions. Many, for example, should be regarded as grassland reserves, as well as woodland reserves, because ancient rides sometimes carry relic semi-natural grassland. Management of open spaces within the woods may, therefore, be at least as important as management of the tree stands themselves. Many woods are still linked to a network or mosaic of habitats in their surroundings, effectively a 'landscape-scale reserve'.
2. Management should aim to sustain all species now present within the wood. Most woods, especially small woods in intensively arable districts, are now so isolated that species with limited mobility cannot readily recolonise after local extinction.
3. Managers should base silvicultural treatments on the native tree and shrub species already in the wood. Maintenance of each species at its present level of abundance is not necessary, provided all species are retained. Maintenance of their present distributions within a wood is desirable, but minor adjustments are usually acceptable, especially if these come about by natural regeneration.
4. The long-term aim should be balanced age-structure within each wood or cluster of small woods. ideal treatments should aim to (i) maintain a continuous supply of young growth through regular felling and (ii) protect and enhance mature features, such as large trees and deadwood.
5. In the great majority of ancient woods, management should either continue or revive the management which was traditional in the wood, or incorporate the main habitat features of traditional management within high forest systems. '
All i will add to this is that these long-term objectives are purely for nature conservation, but as mentioned, wood and timber objectives can be compatible with the delivery of them.
I deliberated with ending this blog by briefly utilising what we have gone through with the example of one of the National Trust woods on Dartmoor, but this has been a long blog and the space remaining would not do justice to our woods. Instead we shall keep building up this resource of reference for when we enter the National Trusts Dartmoor woods themselves.
From all the above i hope there might be a dawning realisation that we as wardens are more than 'boys with toys' and that a lengthy process has been gone through before we even go near a wood with our chainsaws. Legislation has not even been touched upon.
1. The National Vegetation Classification (NVC) for woodlands and scrub has 18 main woodland types and 7 scrubs and underscrubs, most of which are further divided to give a total of 73 sub-communities (denoted by letters).
2. Oak woods such as found in Dartmoor's river valleys would be NVC types W10a, W10e, W11, W16b or W17, Stand Types (after Peterken) 6a and 6b (with 8a and 8b where beech has been introduced). Under the Forestry Commission's broader categorisation of ASNW it is Upland Oakwoods, which is also a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitat. The Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designation many woodland types have is a Habitats Directive Annex 1 Type, in the case of Dartmoor's oakwoods, '91AO - old sessile oakwoods with Ilex and Blechnum in the British Isles'. This is further broken down into 'site accounts ' so that pretty much all of the National Trust woods on Dartmoor come under the 'South Dartmoor Woods' site account.
3. Other NVC/Stand Types can occur within a broader 'Type' of woodland, for example, a large stand of alder occurs at Hembury Woods in a wet area by the river, such woodland is NVC type W7, Stand Type (after Peterken) 7, with various permutations of sub-communities.
4. The National Trust is lucky to have the Biological Survey Team who provide a comprehensive biological survey of every site. Unfortunately, with so much land ownership their visits are few and far between (20 years and 19 years respectively for Hembury and Holne Woods) so to add to the warden's skill sets, identification skills are necessary to know what you have on site as regards fauna and flora.
5. All woods within the National Trust are covered by a Woodland Plan outlining the long term vision and the objectives for a 5 year period.
6. The effects of deer (especially on lowland woods) and sheep (in upland woods) may be inhibiting the ability of many woods to internally regenerate and must be factored into decisions about woodland management (hopefully the esteemed Mr Jones might write a blog on this).
7. Climate change could change everything.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Thursday 1 - Monday 5 April, 11am-4pm: Sexton's Cottage, Widecombe-in-the-Moor
Friday 2 April, 11am-3pm: Parke Estate, Bovey Tracey
Friday 2 - Monday 5 April, 12 noon-3.30pm: Lydford Gorge, nr Okehampton
Saturday and Sunday 3 and 4 April, 11am-3pm: Finch Foundry, nr Okehampton
Sunday 4 April, 11am-3pm: Plymbridge Woods, nr Plymouth
If you would like further details call Parke on 01626 834748, Lydford Gorge on 01822 820320, Finch Foundry on 01837 840046, Plymbridge Woods on 01752 341377 and Sexton's Cottage on 01364 621321.
Friday, 12 March 2010
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
How do, Brecon here. After all of one person requested it, we are back by popular(ish) demand.
First off, we are told we owe Fin an apology for calling him 'handsome but dim', so we apologise Fin....BUT...how many Border collie's do you know who run AWAY from sheep! Plonker!
Right, its been requested that we outline a day in the life of a warden, and though it pains me i have to include the efforts of Spike and Fin...so here we go, over to you Fin!
A day in the life of a warden - by Fin
Right..yes...well...we arrive at work in a 4 x 4, then its off to our work place in a 4 x 4....then i'm not too sure because i refuse to leave the 4 x 4... so then its home time in a 4 x 4!
Give me strength...right, Spike, any better?
A day in the life of a warden - by Spike
Rabbits, fox-poo, barking, badger-poo, more rabbits.
Right, thats it, i'm not asking for their input again!
A day in the life of a warden - by Brecon
8 am- arrive at work, tea-break, and discussion of the day ahead
9 am- eventually decide its time to get ready
10 am-arrive at site
10:15 am- Tea break
11 am - Bit of work or, ahem, 'patrolling'
11:30 am - Tea break
12 pm- Bit more work or patrolling
1 pm - Dinner
3pm - Leave the pub
4pm -Wake up from siesta
4:30 pm - Home time!
Disclaimer - The wardens would like to completely disassociate themselves from the Parke Packs comments. Area Warden Gus Fergusson was quoted as saying ' This is scandalous! It detracts from all the incredible hard work we do, not to mention that they missed out at least two tea-breaks!'
Monday, 8 March 2010
The move will aim to cut our carbon emissions from energy use for heat and electricity by 45 per cent – beating the Government’s target of a 34 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
In addition to the benefits to the climate, the move could also help us dramatically reduce the amount we spend on fuel - we currently spend around £6 million each year on power and heating for our buildings.
Meeting the target
The target will be met by reducing energy use for electricity and heating by 20 per cent and introducing ‘grow your own’ micro and small scale energy schemes using wood fuel, solar, heat pumps, hydro and wind.
The initiative will involve our entire in-hand building stock, which includes 300 major historic houses, office buildings, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages.
We also plan to install more than 50 new wood fuel boilers into our mansions and larger buildings over the next five years. The fuel will be sourced either from our own estates or from local suppliers, with replanting and maintenance benefiting woodland and wildlife habitats. All will be consistent with our high aesthetic and conservation standards.
We anticipate that most of the schemes will break-even within the next 10 years, even allowing for the huge variability in the price of energy and uncertainty over the future of grants and subsidies.
Our reduction in the use of mains electricity, gas, oil and LPG will be equivalent to removing 4,500 family cars from the road.
'World leaders may not have provided a political solution to the climate change problem at Copenhagen, but that should not delay us from delivering practical solutions on the ground,' said Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust.
'The Trust has a responsibility to look after the special places in our care for ever, requiring us to make long term decisions that will protect them for future generations to enjoy.
It also makes good business sense. By cutting our energy consumption and growing our own energy, locally, from renewable sources we will have more money to spend on the places we look after, and a more sustainable and resilient operation.
Growing our own will also give us greater energy security so that we’re not subject to fluctuating energy prices, or disadvantaged by any energy shortages or rationing.
Greater ambition and support for investment from the Government is key to realising the full potential of small to medium scale renewables. More needs to be done to help householders reduce their energy consumption and grow their own energy from renewable sources.'
'Grow your own' energy projects
As an organisation we already have more than 140 renewable energy systems in operation on sites across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with an installed capacity of 2.3 MW heating and over 1 MW of electricity generation. Click here to read about the biomass boiler at Castle Drogo.
Twenty-seven of these initiatives have been installed with the help of our energy partner, npower, who have developed National Trust Green Energy. Revenue from sales of this product helps fund our green energy initiatives, which includes helping two communities in Trust-owned villages cut carbon emissions and save money on energy bills.
Other ‘grow your own’ energy projects include solar panels on the roof of Grade I listed Dunster Castle in Somerset (funded by Barclays) and wood-pellet boilers at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire (funded by the Trust’s energy partner npower), Scotney Castle in Kent (funded by the Big Lottery Fund Bio-Energy Capital Grants Scheme) and the wind turbine at Middlehouse Farm in Malham (funded by the Rural Development Programme).
We hope to contribute to the transition to more sustainable forms of energy generation by sharing experiences in growing your own energy with our 3.8 million members, 15 million visitors, local communities, policy makers and industry, and where possible, exporting electricity to other users.
'Climate change is already having a major impact on our properties and is one of the reasons why we need to act now, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to change,'
Fiona Reynolds continued.
'To avoid more severe damage to our cultural heritage, wildlife and countryside in the future, we need to move towards a better, more sustainable approach to energy use, based on energy conservation, localisation and greater use of renewable sources.
We have a special interest in helping rural communities find alternatives to coal and oil for heating.
Like many rural households, many of our properties are located away from mains gas and in some instances mains electricity.
We want to help these communities escape ‘fuel poverty’, help them to contribute to a renewable energy grid and demonstrate the practical benefits of going ‘off oil’ for good.'
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director of Forum for the Future and former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, has warmly welcomed this 50 per cent commitment:
'This is exactly the kind of ambition level we need to help us navigate our way towards a low-carbon society.
James Strawbridge, presenter from the It’s not easy being green television series, said:
'The National Trust faces a very difficult challenge to eco-renovate its historic buildings because they come under all sorts of stringent planning regulations.
Owning an old listed building is no longer an excuse for not using renewable energy systems, the National Trust has shown it is simply a challenge and that individual actions can make a difference. Obviously there is still lots more to do and now it's up to others to join in the effort and follow the lead of the National Trust's inspirational green properties.'
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
One very misunderstood concept in the management of woodlands is the importance of deadwood, both as standing trees, and fallen trees and boughs. This can also include log piles and trees 'thinned to waste', ie, left where they lie. Some of it, i believe, is from our compulsion to tidy, to treat woodland as an extension of our gardens. Another factor may be that the life that depends upon deadwood is largely hidden from view, and, it must be said, is generally composed of species that would not win a beauty contest. Consequently, when we talk of declining woodland invertebrates it is always the glamorous species such as the butterflies that garnish all the attention.
To begin this brief exploration of its importance we must first return to a time before man had fully exploited the wildwood for agricultural purposes.
In this primary woodland there would have been many trees of an old age with broken boughs, fungal growth and rot holes. Equally there would have been an abundance of standing dead trees , making dead wood one of the most abundant habitats in Britain. Through evolution a large number of animal and fungi species thus adapted to feeding upon, and living in, dead wood, accelerating its decay in the process.
Life beneath the bark
As many as 1000 species of animals have been recorded living in deadwood.
Such creatures recycle the fallen trees minerals and nutrients that are locked up in bark and wood, returning these valuable chemical substances to the soil for the next generation of trees in a process similar to invertebrate maintenance of the fertility of the soil after leaf fall.
Unless speeded up by the growth of fungi and invertebrate activity, the decay of wood can be a very slow process, a large log perhaps taking 20 years to decay completely to the point where all the nutrients have been used up and the wood disintegrates.
The creatures that colonize the dead wood appear in a natural sequence depending upon the stage of decay.
Bark beetles are among the first colonists, the female boring a hole into the bark and laying her eggs, the hatched larvae then burrowing beneath so that the bark is loosened, enabling other species to colonize, such as cardinal beetles, wood lice, centipedes and so on. Such creatures dominate the area just below the bark. Deeper under the surface, the wood as it decays is attacked by the larvae of larger beetles such as the longhorn beetles, click beetles and cockchafer. Hover flies are also found here.
From the above you will have noticed that it is largely the larvae of invertebrates that live and feed upon deadwood, the adults of the species utilising available nectar sources in more open areas of the woodland.
Whilst a decaying fallen log provides a habitat whilst it decays, an ageing tree is a longer term habitat, with old, hollow veteran trees perhaps taking a century to die.
Alongside invertebrates and fungi, such aerial dead wood and rot holes as found on old trees are of immense importance for birds and bats, who alongside insect-eating mammals, depend upon the invertebrates as a food source, thus completing the chain of inter-dependence.
The importance of veteran and ancient trees is most definately a future blog of its own.
The decline of our saproxylic invertebrates
Today dead wood is relatively scarce because man has changed the character of the woods, felling trees before they reach maturity and keeping woodland nice and tidy so that fallen wood is a rarity. A tidy wood free of dead wood, it has been estimated, may be impoverished by up to a fifth of its fauna. This rapidly declining one-fifth of our native invertebrate fauna of natural temperate woodland, that depends on dead or dying wood, are dubbed 'saproxylic', from sapros meaning dead, and xylos, meaning wood (it should be pronounced 'saprozylik', not 'saproksillik'). These species account for almost 40% of Britain's extinct, endangered and vulnerable invertebrates.
The conservation value of 'old-growth'
Naturalists use the term 'old growth' for stands composed predominantly of large trees allowed to grow well beyond their economic felling age, and where large quantities of dead wood in various stages of decay (both fallen and standing) occur. Other micro habitats fall within the category of old growth including various kinds of rot holes and fungal growth.
Where there is still virgin natural woodland barely touched by man (such as in Poland or the United States) saproxylic invertebrates are an extremely numerous and important part of the woods natural processes. That such species are now rare in Britain (and indeed throughout most of Europe) illustrates how modified our woods are from their natural state.
Many of Britain's scarcer 'saproxylics' are therefore more common in wood-pasture, especially medieval deer-parks, than in dense woods and perhaps only 2 places today retain the original diversity, if not the numbers, of insects in natural woodland; the New Forest and Windsor Forest, which between them contain the largest number of old trees surviving in the lowlands.
Mature and old-growth habitat is also of especial importance for fungi, and epiphytic lichens and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts).
Many British epiphytic communities are relics from the wildwood and are of international importance. Epiphytes are plants absorbing their nutrients from the air around them, thus they are therefore found on trees in the humid western parts of the British Isles where the air is often saturated with water vapour from fog or rain. The Atlantic oakwoods of the western seaboard (which includes the National Trust woods on Dartmoor) support many such communities.
Old-growth also supports distinctive assemblages of hole-nesting birds and bat roosts, as already mentioned.
Thus, it is not hard to concur with Oliver Rackham that 'a thousand hundred year old oaks are no substitute for one five hundred year old oak'.
Deadwood and Dartmoor
Bearing in mind all that has been said, let us briefly look at some of the National Trust's woodland sites on Dartmoor.
Sites such as Whiddon Deer Park SSSI are thus our most important in terms of old growth and its associated communities.
When it comes to the woods themselves, there is great variation again.
Holne Woods SSSI/SAC for example, due to its topography and location, has abundant fallen trees and standing deadwood, and is rich in its epiphytic communities, but poorer than it could, and should, be. Ford's Newtake, at its northern end, was formerly wood pasture and would have had a more interesting fauna and flora before it was left to revert to high forest, thus shading out much of interest.
Those of you who have been paying attention, will be noticing the apparent dichotomy between the need for old growth and of the need for more open conditions in woodland. Those invertebrates and other fauna and flora that prefer early successional habitats are also declining. Striking a balance between the two underpins the reasoning behind good woodland management and may perhaps be a blog of its own. Suffice to say, many species that depend on mid-succession stages are known to have a wider tolerance of woodland management and occupy broader niches than those of early and very late-successional woodland which is why the emphasis for conservation is upon these two woodland stages.
Bearing this in mind, a site such as Hembury Woods SSSI/SAC is classic mid-succession woodland. Formerly managed as coppice with standards (early-successional) it is now high forest (mid succession) with its overgrown standards and mature riverside plantings approaching late-successional woodland (but still very young in woodland terms). In the post war years it was managed with a strong emphasis upon forestry and was quite possibly one of the tidiest woods I have ever seen when I arrived, with all wood extracted for timber and firewood. So yes, I am to blame for the increasing mess and I make no apologies when people describe wood left lying around as 'a mess' and 'a waste' and 'a shame', as in it would look better in their wood-burner.
Saproxylic invertebrates are attuned to stability, being poor colonisers. The removal of deadwood means the removal of its saproxylic invertebrates and fungi. The link is broken so that places such as Hembury Woods will always be impoverished in comparison to places such as Holne Woods and Whiddon Deer Park, but if conditions permit, ie more 'mess' and 'waste' is left lying around, the woods will accumulate more species over the years as they crawl and fly in.
Management of deadwood
Deadwood on the woodland floor makes an important contribution to potential habitats for saproxylic species even in woods without a specialist deadwood interest.
The following is adapted from Woodland Habitats by Helen Read and Mark Frater (1999)
1. Bigger is better, both in terms of diameter and length. The larger the log, the more valuable it is.
2. It is best to leave deadwood where it falls, but if it has to be moved, move it as short a distance as possible, preferably in a semi-shaded spot. Most invertebrates prefer damper wood, and in full sunlight it can dry out too quickly.
3. If there are large quantities of logs, they can be piled up, again, best left in partial shade.
4. Large quantities of brash (twigs and branches) can be made into habitat piles. A small number of big piles are better than many small ones. They are of limited value to invertebrates but are fantastic for birds, small mammals and reptiles.
5. When freshly cut timber has to be moved from the site, do so before colonisation by invertebrates.
6. Dead standing trees should be left where they stand (bearing in mind public safety).
7. Consider deliberate 'damage' to trees to make them better for deadwood invertebrates, eg, drilling holes, breaking branches and ring-barking.
8. Fungal fruiting bodies are generally only rotting the heartwood, and this does not neccesarily indicate the tree will die, so do not remove them.
9. The adults of many saproxylic invertebrates whose larvae utilise deadwood need flowers for nectar and pollen for energy and protein. Important nectar plants include hawthorn, hogweed, ragwort, thistles and ivy.
I deliberated with calling this blog 'Deadwood; eyesore or ecosystem', borrowing the title from a piece by Ancient Tree specialists Keith Alexander and Ted Green. But that implies a debate. It is an ecosystem. If it's an eyesore, too bad.
For further information visit the Ancient Tree Forum website at http://frontpage.woodland-trust.org.uk/ancient-tree-forum/
Monday, 1 March 2010
On Friday, Wardens from Plymbridge joined pupils from Leigham Primary to plant a Plymouth Pear in their school orchard. The pear (Pyrus cordata) is one of the rarest native trees in Britain being found only in Plymouth and Truro.
The tree was presented to the school by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Warden was called in to assist the children with the planting. At the same time it provided an opportunity for the children to learn how to prune the apple trees they planted last year as part of the National Trust's Guardianship Project.