In almost every commentary on English woodland produced recently, it is stated that we need to bring more woodland into management. This presupposes that we know what “management” means and what we would get as a result.
“Coppice” they say; do they mean coppice with standards or clear fell coppice, will you be expected to produce small coupes of half a hectare or larger coupes of 2ha or more? Will you be following a sequential pattern of coppicing or a more randomised one? Will you be felling on a 7, 12, 15 or 20 year cycle?
Well that all depends on why you are doing the coppicing, what tree species you have present and probably the method you are using – forestry contractor, volunteers or one man and his dog.
Management includes a decision making process (audit, evaluate, prescribe), not just the activity in itself and unless you think about the underlying causes for that activity, the result might not be what you or the broader commentators are seeking.
A managed wood is one in which the owners have determined some objectives towards which their efforts will be directed. At one extreme this might include the decision to introduce or continue a coppice cycle, at the other it may be not to intervene at all with a view to creating wild wood. Whether you, I or the Government agree with them, the owners are entitled to make these decisions and all represent management – even the last one.
The underlying, valid, concern is that there is a history of intervention management in most of our woodlands and the changing economic and social landscape has led to a cessation of these activities. This is resulting in the development of uniformity of woodland structure and the loss of species which prefer light and open woodland.
But there are risks to intervention: the opportunistic species such as ivy, bramble and bracken might respond better to the change than all those pretty woodland flowers; deer and rabbits might find all that fresh new growth too good a prospect to avoid unlike the previous darker wood; and the less charismatic, shady species might be severely compromised.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t undertake intervention activities, but they need to be part of a plan and you need to understand both what you are doing and what could be the consequences.
Nightingale versus dormouse, firewood versus bean poles, ancient woodland restoration or, like me, you just really like messing around in woodland and so devise a plan to justify that activity! Thankfully there is loads of good advice out there, and a growing interest in working out the nuances of what sustainable woodland management could mean, rather than the knee jerk response that is sometimes portrayed.
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer