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.

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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.