Thank you to guest blogger Paul Rutter, Plantlife‘s Woodland Adviser, for our latest post. Plantlife, like the Woodland Trust, promotes the value and importance of woods and trees in the natural world, along with all other wild plants…
“Trees can be objects of great beauty, as well as serving very valuable purposes and functions. Why is it then that we have come to see trees in this country as either a weed that has to be removed, or a hazard, or just as a source of revenue?
Conversely some see trees are considered as being irreplaceable, deserving rigid protection at all costs and not to be touched.
We used to rely heavily on trees and the timber that trees provide. We had a high regard and respect for them, even though we cut them down and turned them into beautiful and functional objects.
But we have more recently and sadly taken them for granted. Now we are losing them, due to disease and neglect. We must change the overall attitude and feelings toward trees.
The Independent Panel on Forestry have recommended that we expand the existing tree cover by 5 per cent over the next 50 years. If we are to do this well then we need to learn from history and be very careful about what, where and how we plant those trees, and indeed how we intend to manage them.
Much of our landscape has become fragmented due to roads, urban development and modern agriculture practices. Consequently we have lost a large percentage of woodland plants, insects and birds. This has also happened due to the introduction of exotic tree species and woodland neglect.
Establishing new woodland will in future play a key role in repairing the landscape fabric in which these plants and animals can survive.
We should however first decide, why we want to plant a wood, what is its purpose and where is the best location. We also need to remember that trees will plant themselves, and that local provenance is by far the best way to obtain built in resilience from disease. Nature does a pretty good job, given time and space.
Of course we need to step in and be sure that the woods and forests develop well, as we have been doing so for centuries. So we must have good management of the trees from the day they sprout out of the ground.
Skills are vital in woodland management and silviculture, and we need to develop and bring more people into the timber and woodland professions, to pass on valuable skills which are being lost all too quickly. The good design of a new wood will ensure it becomes a multi functional space for people and for wildlife. However, we first need to enhance the existing woodland we have already.
Trees in so many woods across the country today need to be thinned to allow them to develop into grand and stately objects with a broad crown and healthy root structure. If left alone they can become stressed, weak, diseased and eventually fall over.
Light must be allowed back into the woods. A wood need not necessarily be a place where there is a tree every few feet. Many of our woods are small, less that two hectares in size. For them to function, we need to enlarge them and join smaller woods together.
We need to integrate a new woodland culture into the management of our farmed landscape. The trees in hedgerows are as important as the trees in a wood and we need to begin to manage them again. We must feel happy about having trees in and around farmland and along the hedges.
Pollarding was a traditional and effective way of harvesting timber from a tree to prevent it being browsed. This also produces a rich habitat for plants and wildlife, not to say extending the life of the tree.
New woods should surround or be close to already well established woods, so flora and fauna can colonise the new areas as habitats develop. The wood should be allowed to develop slowly, to encourage natural regeneration and have space within it for wild flowers, shrubs and lichens to grow. We need to adopt slow woodland management.
The hydrology and catchment characteristics of the site should also be considered. Woods serve a useful, if not vital, purpose in absorbing and slowing down rainfall which, as I write, has recently affected many parts of the country.
Today we are at an important place regarding the future of our trees and woods. What we do over the next 50 years will be inherited by future generations, so we must get it right.”
Paul Rutter, Woodland Advisor, Plantlife