Woodland management at Potteric Carr

Reserves Officer Jim Horsfall explains why woodland management is necessary, and how we go about doing it.

During the winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19 we’ve been doing some larger scale woodland works - that is, felling lots of trees. Works like this can look shocking when dozens of large trees are felled at once. This blog explains a bit about why woodland management is necessary, and how we go about it.

We acquired Beeston Plantation as an extension to Potteric Carr nature reserve in 2015. Before this, it had been more or less neglected for several decades.

Looking on the ground at the old rides (management tracks), these were largely indistinguishable from the rest of the woodland. Widening these rides was a starting point for our work, which creates variety in structure in the wood. You end up with areas with no canopy at all, areas with just smaller trees, and finally areas of full height closed canopy woodland. This structural diversity leads to more variety of the species that are found in the wood.

Although the most of the things that will find a home in the managed wood are invertebrates that are hard to see and difficult to survey for (as they need specialist identification), we did see an improvement in numbers of breeding birds in a single year (after the first winter of work), and the ground flora was improved.

Canopy at Beeston

(c) Jim Horsfall

As well as the rides we created open clearings. One clearing was around a pond, which helps to reduce shading in the pond and let more sunlight in. It also reduces the speed at which the pond fills with leaf litter.

Other clearings were small areas that will be new coppice areas. These areas will be cut occasionally down to ground level to stimulate regrowth of the trees and produce wood fuel. We will manage them on a long rotation (perhaps 20 years or so) to allow a variety of structure.

We would prefer to allow natural regeneration of trees from seed or from regrowth of stumps, but the tree species present are limited (mostly sycamore and birch).

New growth at Beeston

(c) Jim Horsfall

In the same way that diversity of tree structure is good, having a variety of tree species is also good. We’ve replanted some species that will do well here, such as under-story trees like hazel, and species that should deal with tree diseases that are likely to affect us in the future.

The quote “a wood that pays is a wood that stays” is important here. We want to ensure that the trees felled are used for a useful purpose, and we can sell the wood to contractors who sell it on.

The wood that was felled was not of a high quality, but the wood fuel market has become buoyant in recent years. The trees felled will be keeping some nice Yorkshire folk warm somewhere, and handily, the carbon that is emitted will be reabsorbed as the trees regrow.

Logs at Beeston

(c) Jim Horsfall

As with most of the habitat management works, this project is ongoing and will need further work in future years. But for now we will sit back for a few years and see how the habitat develops, and plan our management accordingly.