Anna’s Woodland Diary

My partner and myself became official custodians of Brant River Wood on the 17th January 2010, exactly seven years ago today. Having looked at many small woodlands across the country, in the end we decided on this one, perhaps because it was near where we live and work, or perhaps because we saw its potential.

We started by taking stock of the wood, basically 7 acres of hybrid Poplar with a few veteran oaks and an understorey of oak and ash. We counted around 12 different species on day one, but as we got to know the wood that increased to 18.

One of the things we wanted to do from the start was to have a collection of British native trees and shrubs. To date we have 40 of the 42 true natives as well as the ‘newer’ natives such as sycamore and larch.

We also wanted to make the woodland more accessible, moving around was difficult to impossible thanks to the tangle of brambles, so we put in some paths and a clearing which helped a lot. We also introduced a more diverse flora by seeding around the edges of the paths and clearing. We hope that this will encourage the insects and therefore small mammals and birds.

For now, we continue to remove hybrid Poplar and to extend the sycamore coppice. In the middle of our clearing we have a beautiful 5 stemmed coppice oak, we use this space for gatherings of family and friends.

It’s a lovely place, full of butterflies, birds, grass snakes, stoats, deer and many other visitors.

Our learning continues, green woodworking, charcoal making, anything woodland related really.

We intend to continue to work on Brant River Wood ’til we can’t anymore, it is our legacy, and labour of love. Please come and visit us, we enjoy meeting like-minded people, to share experiences and hopefully learn new things.

Anna.

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Woodland Management Plan for Brant River Wood

Introduction

It is clear that heterogeneous landscapes are of great benefit to the environment, able to support more stable and diverse populations of plants and animals. This ideal landscape is in stark contrast to the reality of large areas of monoculture that can still be found in modern forestry and agriculture today. The management plan at Brant River Wood has been geared towards diversifying the existing plantation in order to create a series of habitat fragments and to cause events designed to produce a more dynamic woodland with especially pronounced edge effects.

For example, advantage is being taken of the ecocline between wetland found near the Brant River and the higher ground to the east. The wetland is now being managed as poplar and willow coppice whilst the adjoining woodland is being selectively thinned to allow the succession of native trees and to allow full development of the understorey. Where these two zones meet, everything from standard trees, shrubs, climbers, grasses, herbaceous plants as well as mature canopy are all fully represented. This was not the case just a few years ago when the area was covered with dense, poor quality Poplar with little economic or environmental benefit. The tension between these two different ecosystems is expected to enable a wide variety of edge species to thrive here.

Over the next few years, as the coppice regrows, it is hoped that it will provide dense cover for many species of invertebrates, small mammals and woodland birds.

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Ecotone between the wetland near the River (left) and rest of the woodland

In order to maintain and improve the potential of these areas, an ongoing plan is being developed to ensure the woodland continues to offer a wide variety of habitats. As a priority, the cycle of coppicing will continue whilst additional areas of coppice will be created by new plantings of Hazel and by converting existing areas of poor quality woodland. The mature woodland will continue to be thinned, primarily by removing hybrid poplar, whilst native plant species will be introduced where appropriate to further enrich habitat. Additionally, periodic mowing will be carried out to keep scrub and invasive plants at bay thereby allowing a thriving community of grasses and herbaceous plants to emerge.

In the next post, a management plan for the forest floor, herbaceous layer and understorey will be detailed.