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Woodland Edge

The sound of chainsaws

Feanedock Covert

Out and about in The National Forest at the weekend? If you’re headed for your local woodland, don’t panic if you hear the sound of chainsaws!

The long awaited thrum of machinery will soon become a common sound in The National Forest as landowners and managers realise the positive effects woodland management has on their land. The National Forest’s woodlands have grown from mere sticks and stakes into fledging young forests and, like any maturing youngster, they are testing the boundaries, getting a bit unkempt and gangly in places. With a steer in the right direction these woodlands will be set to develop into fine figures of mature forest, bringing multiple benefits to a variety of users and wildlife.

Why is it good to manage woodland? In The National Forest the majority of trees have been planted close to their neighbours, producing just the right amount of healthy competition. Planting at close quarters encourages the trees to grow upwards towards the light and not to become too bushy. This also means the branches touch at a young age, therefore reducing light to the grasses and weeds below which are also competing for the soil’s resources. There reaches a point (anywhere between ten and 25 years old) when competition becomes less beneficial: the trees, having used each other in happy equilibrium for the first ten (or more) years, are now cramped but still reaching for the skies. This can cause the trees to become “leggy” and the risk of them being blown over in the wind increases.

This is when it helps if we intervene. As humans have done over the last thousand years, we grow and manage trees for a multitude of uses and benefits, and tailor their management according to the uses the trees will be put to. But some basic rules apply for all woodlands when trees get to a certain size and start competing with each other: it is time for a first ‘thin’. We need to remove some of the competition so the strongest and healthiest trees are given more space to grow. The remaining trees broaden in girth as well as putting on new upward growth.

If this thinning does not occur, eventually the trees will do the job themselves with the smallest and unhealthiest trees dying off as the stronger ones consume all the light and nutrients; however, this does not result in a healthy forest for all. In this situation you are left with trees of a single age competing with each other causing all new growth on the forest floor to die out. This is not good for wildlife, recreation and/or timber production.

Thinning is the most basic and common forestry practice. Working through the woodland on a cyclical basis, you are eventually left with the final crop of perfect specimen trees, which will attract a high premium when sold.

Not all woodlands are managed for premium quality timber, but the same principle applies. And even if we don’t care about timber prices, do we not want the best and strongest trees that are more resilient to changes in climate and threats from pests and diseases? Do we not want a strong understory layer of other trees and shrubs which house some of our most precious and endangered woodland wildlife? We are looking to plant and tend for the next generation of four hundred year old veteran oak trees which will grace our landscape and be the focus of many a photo, story, day out and fond memory. Without intervention at this stage to select the best of the crop, this may not happen.

So back to business, The National Forest’s Forest & Woodland Management Programme has been promoting woodland management across The National Forest for the past five months. This programme has allowed Charles Robinson (Woodland Management Officer) to get out and about in the Forest and talk to landowners and managers, providing advice and guidance on the next steps for their young woods. Charles has also been promoting the production of woodland management plans which allow owners and managers to set their objectives for the next ten years and to create a vision for their woodlands.

The woods around the Forest are starting to vibrate and change with the signs and sounds of management. No woodland management is undertaken lightly; it is a costly process and can, at times, seem harsh on what was lovely looking woodland. But trust me, give it a year and you could hardly tell it had happened; in that year the woodland will have transformed into a happier, healthier and newly invigorated individual that is entering the next stage in its development.


Contributor: Charles Robinson