Outlined below are some recognised woodland management techniques to bring areas of neglected woodland under a sensible cycle of prudent management. These techniques are expected to significantly increase the natural biodiversity and range of flora and fauna within the local woodland environment.
Coppicing with standards or maiden trees was once a very common woodland management practice in the southeast of England. It provides a sustainable timber crop for construction and furniture making, whilst at the same time providing a range of locally coppiced products and firewood.
The standards (trees which are not coppiced) could be one species or multiple species. For instance it could be Oak standards over Hazel, Sweet Chestnut or Lime or a mixed woodland understorey.
The rotation period averages 10-15 years, but could be over 20 years with some standards being left to mature for up to 6 rotations. In any one compartment there would be a number of standards at various ages. Up to 40% of the canopy can be occupied by standards. Too many standards will result in poor coppice re-growth due to insufficient light reaching the ground. Standards should be retained at a density of about 30-100 per hectare at approx. 10-18m spacing. These compartments should be staggered or staged to increase the canopy height throughout the woodland.
Thinning removes the less healthy or less desirable trees and gives the remaining trees more space to develop. It also allows light to the woodland floor, encouraging an ‘understorey’ of small plants, shrubs and trees to grow. Thinning occurs naturally in a wood as weaker trees die, and such man management involvement, should be seen as ‘working with nature’.
Thinning work will change the light levels to the benefit of the understorey and ground flora, to allow the remaining tree crowns to develop better growth patterns, without letting in too much wind, which may cause damage.
Rides & Tracks
Rides and tracks through the wood will enhance plant diversity within a woodland. These act as long narrow glades which open up the woodland to light. Woodland ride edges provide major habitats for flowering plants and animals, forming corridors for wildlife to travel form area to area.
The edges of the rides can be scalloped or bayed rather than being straight, which will also help to lessen wind funnelling. Individual scallops or bays should preferably be cut on a rotational basis.
Rotational cutting can be alternated from side to side of the ride, as well as being staggered along its length. This adds structural variety and diversity by creating different stages in a ride-side succession.
Some existing woodland path edges between compartments often have good potential for widening to create better wildlife habitat rides and tracks.
Habitat enhancement in the form of manmade installations (e.g. nesting/roosting boxes) can increase any existing populations of mammals and birds and encourage wildlife into the woodland areas.
- Bat boxes – Bat boxes are artificial roosts which are designed to encourage bats into areas. There are various designs of bat box from DIY wooden boxes to ready-assembled boxes and even integrated bat boxes that can be built into walls. Different bat species need different spaces. Wooden bat boxes are usually cubic or wedge shaped, with a grooved ‘bat ladder’ and a narrow entrance slit at the bottom. They can be nailed to trees or walls.
- Owl/larger bird boxes – Many larger species of birds that nest in cavities in trees or in older, undisturbed, buildings are having difficulty finding suitable nesting sites, as trees are felled or blown over and buildings are knocked down or converted. Well designed and properly sited boxes undoubtedly help. About half the UK population of barn owls now nests in boxes provided by man. Barn and tawny owls readily take to boxes in areas where they have suitable food to support themselves and their chicks. Little owls will use boxes but tend not to have as much difficulty in finding nesting sites as they need much smaller cavities than the larger species. Kestrels will take readily to boxes.
- Dormouse boxes – The Dormouse is suffering from loss of habitat and suitable places to nest. Local Wildlife Trusts and woodland owners are helping this species by providing nesting boxes, monitoring populations and even overseeing relocation and reintroduction programmes. These inconspicuous boxes can be secured in the bases of existing coppice stools to provide excellent nesting habitat for these protected species. The dormouse is strictly protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended)