Native shrubs and trees

There are a few species that I would add to this excellent post. For example either purging buckthorn or alder buckthorn, but I couldn’t agree more with the idea of planting native shrubs and trees in a garden setting.

Wildlife garden

A lot has been said about why we should grow native trees and shrubs. However, a wildlife garden with non-native plants can be wonderful for wildlife; we all love lavender and the butterfly bush is popular with all sorts of butterflies.

As foodplants however, native plants really have some benefits. The common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna can be a host plant for over 300 organisms. The flowers provide pollen and nectar for pollinators and the fruits, haws, are important for birds in autumn and winter.

Below one of 5 young hawthorns.

Other trees and shrubs which I have planted are the blackthorns (beware of the suckers!) which is also very spiny and offering food to many moth caterpillars as well as a nesting

place for birds.

Wild privet, when allowed to flower, is attractive to many bumblebees, butterflies and leafcutter bees.

The pricky barberry, Berberis vulgaris offer protection from cats and…

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Woodland management plan Part II

Forest floor, herbaceous layer and Understorey

One of the main goals of the management plan for Brant River Wood over the next five years is to improve the prospects for declining woodland birds. It is therefore important to have a maintenance plan in place that not only provides suitable cover for nesting sites, but also provides food (insects, fruit and seeds) to support a successful breeding population. There are many aspects to achieving this, but this post will concentrate on the role of the forest floor, herbaceous layer and understorey in meeting this goal.

Three different prescriptions have been devised, the first applies to clearings, the second to margins and meadows and the third to high forest and coppice woodland.

NB. The seed mixtures mentioned below are from Emorsgate. However, many other suppliers provide suitable products.

Clearing

The aim here is to keep the grass short for much of the year and to create bare ground to simulate grazing by large herbivores. Plants such as clover, selfheal, birdsfoot trefoil and more are allowed to flower during the summer months. Early nectar producing plants such as snowdrop, primrose, and daffodil are also encouraged here.

1. At the start of the growing season, cut-back any areas that were left over the winter, then mow to a length of 1-2cm. Avoid cutting down any spring flowering plants until they have set seed. Only mow part of the clearing at any one time so that some grass is longer (up to 15cm), some shorter.
2. At the end of June, all mowing should be suspended for 6-8 weeks to allow herbaceous plants to flower. At the same time, any grasses that have been allowed to grow longer should be topped and the arisings removed.
3. At the beginning of September cut-down the grass, but leave around 10% uncut especially where flowering is ongoing. A week later, rake off the arisings and mow the aftermath.
4. For the remainder of the growing season, mow infrequently and only when necessary to keep the grasses in check.
5. In the autumn/spring, any areas where herbaceous plants are poorly represented can be harrowed to produce bare earth where seeds can germinate. If necessary, these areas can be sown with an appropriate seed mix such as EL1 – Flowering lawn mixture, or nursery grown plants introduced.

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 Clearing at the end of June, the sward varies from bare ground up to 15cm

Margins and Meadows

This prescription is designed to prevent scrub, bracken and bramble from becoming dominant, but at the same time allowing insects to find cover for the winter. In particular, tussock grass should be left to grow unchecked as it provides excellent habitat for some breeding insects and shelter for many overwintering species. Here, plants such as rough grasses, foxglove, daisy, teasel, knapweed, and scabious thrive. Sunny patches of Common Nettles are an invaluable food source for invertebrates and should only be topped every 2-3 years in mid-summer. It is also beneficial to leave some areas of bramble along paths and rides as it provides shelter and food for insects, birds and small mammals.

1. In the autumn or early spring, cut 30-60% of the meadows and the verges around the main clearing and along paths, rides and woodland edges, taking care to leave good basal growth. Rake off the arisings a week later and use them to create habitat piles. Be sure to select overlapping areas each year for this treatment, this ensures that a given area is cut every 1 to 3 years.
2. Allow to grow-on during spring and summer. Should grasses begin to collapse or invasive plants threaten to take over, then the affected area can be topped. Any path/ride can also be treated in the same way, keep short only when being used for access.
3. In autumn through to spring, pull-up annual grasses in any areas where herbaceous plants are poorly represented, then sow with an appropriate seed mix such as EH1 – Hedgerow mixture, or introduce nursery grown plants. The grass should then be kept short in these areas until the plants have had a chance to establish.

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Verge at the edge of the clearing providing both nectar and larval Host Plants

Coppice and high forest

The aim here is to check native invasive plants such as bramble and bracken and allow the understorey to develop naturally into a patchwork of young trees, dense cover and open areas.

1. In the spring, 10-20% of the undergrowth should be cut-down, the arisings can be left to rot-down. Take care not to damage any natural regeneration.
2. Keep some areas clear of trees and shrubs to promote a more diverse habitat. Bramble under shade is of little value to invertebrates and can be cut down, however leave some dense, sunny patches as some invertebrates eat the leaves and they provide nectar and fruit as well as shelter and nest sites.
3. Encourage shrubs and small trees at the edge of high forest and coppice to provide seeds and fruit for birds in addition to breeding sites for invertebrates.
4. During the autumn/spring, some areas of the forest floor can be disturbed to allow seeds to germinate. If necessary, a suitable seed mix such as EW-1 Woodland Mix can be sown.

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Coppice regrowth provides dense cover for nesting sites and many feeding opportunities.

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.

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.

 

 

About Brant River Wood

  
Sycamore in late spring

To the west of the Lincolnshire Edge, Brant River Wood is 7.5 acre lowland mixed broadleaf woodland which is part of a larger area of woodland known as Brant Plantation. It is located on an ancient river terrace consisting of a superficial layer of sand overlying the bedrock with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. In the southwest corner of the wood, the parent material of the soil changes to claystone /mudstone giving rise to a clayey/silty loam.
Currently the main species are hybrid poplar with oak standards and an oak and ash understorey and an area of sycamore. The field layer consists mainly of bramble, honeysuckle and bracken.
  
Diagram of Brant River Wood showing the various compartments

History

The Brant Plantation (which includes compartments 1c;1d and extends northwards along the Brant River) appears on maps of the area in 1905, It’s likely that the original plantation was established with Oak and Ash (there are a dozen or so standard Oaks that are over 100 years old and several substantial Oak and Ash coppice stools which we believe represent the remains of the original plantings). These trees were harvested and replaced with Poplar in the 1970’s. The poplar was harvested in turn by the mid 1990’s and again replaced, this time with hybrid poplar.

Maps prior to the 1970’s show the eastern part of the wood (compartments 1a;1e) as farmland and latterly scrubland. By 1971, this area is shown on maps as woodland, the area having been colonised by Sycamore giving rise to a very different species mix than the older part of the wood. The hawthorn hedge along the southern boundary has probably existed since the fen was first drained and could be very old indeed. It has become very gappy, and many of these trees have “stags-horns”.

In the late 2000’s, the plantation was acquired by “Woodlands for Sale” and split into smaller compartments to be sold separately. In 2010, we then purchased the compartment known as Brant River Wood.

A survey of the woodland was carried out in late 2013 instigated by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT). Areas (1a, 1d and 1e) were classified as WD3a, species index score of 30 whereas (1c), an area of wet woodland, was classified as We2, with a species index score of 16. In 2014, the woodland was cited as a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) based on the results of this survey. The woodland is linked to other nearby LWS by the Brant River which runs along the western edge of the woodland. There is woodland adjoining to the north; the Brant river forms the western boundary and there is farmland to the South and East.

Management

  
Poplar coppice shown just after cutting

For the past five years, we have been managing Brant River Wood under a Woodland Improvement grant (WIG), 2015–16 sees the end of the work carried out under this prescription. The WIG provided for coppicing to be carried out in 1a;1c and thinning work in 1d over a five year period. Coppice regrowth of the sycmore in 1a has been very good and has resulted in low, dense cover with plenty of open ground between the stools. Brambles became very invasive in this area due to increased light levels, however annual mowing has allowed the field layer to become much more interesting with many woodland and wayside plants now thriving here. Poplar regrowth in 1c on the other hand has been very poor which was somewhat unexpected. Here though there are many Oak and Ash stools which are doing well and regeneration of Ash is very strong.

Along with this work, several tree and shrub species have been introduced to increase biodiversity:

2010 – Wayfaring Tree; Wild Service Tree; Hazel; Dogwood; Spindle; Field Maple

2011 – Alder Buckthorn; Rowan; Bird Cherry; Yew; Box; Pedunculate Oak

2012 – Hornbeam; Whitebeam; Alder

2013 – Wych Elm; Scots Pine; Osier

2015 – Small-leaved Lime; Larch; Grey Willow; Aspen

  
More light allows for more diversity

During the five years we have owned the wood, a system of paths, rides and glades have been established which not only improve access, but also give nature further opportunities to colonise the woodland.

Coppicing Wrap-up – 2015

To mark the end of the season at Brant River Wood, we’re organising a ‘coppicing wrap-up’ event on Saturday 28th of March. Of course, there’ll be work to do, but we hope to ‘ring the changes’ from the normal woodland work. The two main activities will be tree planting and mushroom log inoculation. We have a number of trees and shrubs to plant during the day and we want to use some of the poplar that we’ve cut down this past season to try some mushroom farming.
The day starts at 10am and Should finish around 5pm. We’ll break for lunch at 1pm, on the menu will be Lamb Stew for the meat eaters and for the vegetarians a Vegetable Stew.
Invitations for the event should be emailed to you in the next few days, please let us know if you’re able to make it and if you’ll be camping at the wood over the weekend.