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the village idiot

An Idiot's guide to Ancient Woodland management

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Hello fellow tree people!


As promised, here is a thread detailing what is involved in managing a large area of ancient woodland. I'll try and update it as tantalising events occur.


I have made it specifically for ancient woodland to hopefully stop too much crossover with some of the other excellent threads on the forum.


If you find yourselves working in similar sites please add your experiences to the thread.


It is worth noting that all ancient woodlands are different, and individual woodsmen/owners have different objectives. There are very few 'golden rules.'


This thread will detail the path we have chosen with our particular Wood. I'd be really interested to hear about what others are doing, and am very happy to receive advice from anyone working with trees. Knowledge sharing is invaluable, and an idiot needs all the help he can get!


I'll start with what I know about the chequered history of the Wood up until I became involved in 2013.


Happy reading!  





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I will say tho' it does look a bit compartmented for an ancient wood - however I hope to add some activities of my own soon . K

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The aerial photo in the first post is the Woodland I look after. It covers 200 acres and is designated as Semi Natural Ancient Woodland. 


The term 'Ancient Woodland' is applied to any significant area of woodland that has persisted since 1600. If the area was wooded in 1600 it is likely have been under trees since the end of the last ice age. The 'semi natural' refers to the fact that there has been human intervention. I believe all ancient woodland in the UK is semi natural as all has been 'managed' at some point. There is precious little truly unmanaged woodland left anywhere in Europe.






The map above shows the Wood in birds eye view. It is roughly split into three sections. 


Area 1 is around 130 acres and has seen some significant interventions over the past 80 years as eagle eyed Khriss has spotted (more on that later).


Area 2 is around 50 acres and is separated from area 1 by an old steam railway line. Area 2 had been largely untouched since coppicing ceased before the second world war.


Area 3 is around 20 acres and is close to, but separate from, the main Woodland. This area has also seen some pretty major forestry interventions in the recent past.


The Woodland fits into the British National Vegetation Classification (NVC) as W8 (Ash and Field Maple over Dogs Mercury). These are the main species you expect to find given the soil conditions (mostly heavy clay) and local climate. Within the Wood there are many more tree species represented including Oak, Birch, Hazel, Hawthorne, Holly, Sycamore, Aspen, Willow, and quite unusually for this site- Beech and Sweet Chestnut.


The Wood is in private ownership. It belongs to a fantastic local land owner who splits his time between farming, business ownership and charitable organisations.


Fun Fact: One of the woodland owner's businesses is Global Recycling. If any of you have Bandit machinery you may well be familiar with this company.


Next post I'll tell you a bit more about some of the unusual activity in the Wood over the last 100 years.





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I have very little pre war history about the Wood. In the dim and distant past it was probably all managed under a coppice or coppice with standards system, as most woodlands were. This is a woodland management system where areas of trees (often 1-2 acres) are felled on rotation and allowed to regenerate from the cut stumps. This provides a continual supply of all kinds of useful material from hedge laying binders to firewood. The 'standards' refer to trees that were left in the cut compartments (traditionally between 10 and 50 per acre) to reach a greater maturity for timber.


This system died a death when cheap plastics came in, this and some other reasons made managing the woodlands uneconomic and the vast majority became derelict.


This turn of events was unfortunate for a number of reasons, not least because the fuel sources we turned to instead of wood were very environmentally damaging. Also the woodland wildlife that had become adapted to the coppice cycles over many hundreds of years found it very difficult to cling on in habitats that had become dark and relatively sterile.

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In the 1940's the Wood got it's own road network.


The American air force built an air strip just outside the Wood and they used the cover of the trees for an ammunition store. 


A concrete road network was installed in area 1 of the map above, and several buildings and bomb storage pads were erected. 


By todays standards it would be unthinkable to put this much concrete into a sensitive habitat, but it was needed at the time and as it has turned out the roadways are bloomin' useful for getting around the Wood in wet conditions.


Below are pictures taken within the Wood in the 1940's. You can see the US airmen stacking bombs onto one of the concrete pads (the bombs were brought in on the old railway line that bisects the wood), and the fuses being installed inside one of the Nissen huts, the frames of which are still evident in the Wood today.



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Apologies, one more history lesson then we'll get to the big shiny machines bit.?


After the second world war the Woodland would still have had it's ancient woodland feel and constituents, just with a few roadways and small buildings added. 


This all changed (at least in areas 1 and 3) - see map above- under the stewardship of the next owner, a rather splendid but badly advised author named Hammond Innes.


Hammond Innes was a prolific adventure book writer. If you are as old as me you might remember his 'ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances' thriller novels. 


Mr Innes lived locally and has written about fleshing out the plots of his books whilst strolling around the Woodland. There is a small dilapidated hut in the Wood which had a thatched roof. I like to think this may have been his writing hut but I have no evidence to support this.


As was the vogue at the time (1950's and 60's) Innes was advised to have areas of his Wood clearfelled and planted up with fast growing conifer and poplar species. Not many people back then were aware of the disastrous biodiversity ramifications of this. Hammond Innes was a known as a keen environmentalist so I can only assume he was acting in good faith at the time.


The species chosen were predominantly Norway Spruce and Hybrid Poplar. About two thirds of Area 1 and all of Area 3 were coniferised and poplarised. This is what gives the Wood its compartmentalised appearance in the aerial photo in post 1 (picture taken in 2003). Luckily neither the USAF concreters or Hammond Innes' tree planters made it over the old railway line into the 50 acre area 2.


The present owner bought the Wood from the Innes estate in the 1990's, with a plan to return the Wood to as close to Ancient Woodland species as possible.


As you can imagine this would involve some pretty significant forestry fun. More on this in the next exciting instalment!

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Interesting thread, thanks for posting. It seems WW11 left it's mark on every woodland.

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