Making management decisions
Woodlands are valuable for many reasons; as a source of wood and timber products, opportunities for recreation, bird watching and for wildlife. Management of your wood will depend on what type of wood it is and your own objectives – for example: Do you want to produce wood products or timber? Are you more interested in the wildlife in the wood? Or is your wood intended as a quiet retreat for you, your family and friends? Woodlands support a great diversity of wildlife and can be managed to increase populations of plants, insects and birds.
Are you concerned about archaeological features such as wood banks, sawpits, charcoal platforms, which add to the history of the wood? Perhaps all of the above!
Cost is often the overriding decision factor: grants are available to help with woodland management (see www.surreyhills.org). If timber within your woodland has commercial value, this will often determine what sort of management is most appropriate.
The following will help you to plan and manage your woodland;
- Assess your woodland for its conservation and commercial value, the surrounding habitats and landscape and consider as many options as possible;
- Draw up a management plan obtaining professional advice where needed, particularly if your wood has a designation.
- Monitor changes in the area, good and bad, and record them for future reference.
- Be prepared to change and adapt your plans as necessary
- Always take a year or two to really appreciate your woodland. Walk through it in every season to see what is present before committing yourself or a contractor to any works.
How woodland was managed in the past greatly influences its present landscape and wildlife value. Active coppicing and wood pasture were once much more common than they are today. Many species of wildlife have become adapted to the changing light levels and specialist habitats associated with coppicing. They can find it difficult to adapt and survive where these practises have been ceased, canopies close and shade dominates. A good starting point is to consider restoring the former management practices. Clues can be found quite easily: look out for ageing multi-stemmed coppice stools, or old pollards surrounded by young woodland, which may indicate former wood-pasture. However, if in doubt, seek expert advice. In most cases, restoring previous management in some form is usually the most appropriate choice.
An important note about Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s)
If your woodland forms part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, you will have been notified by Natural England. Owners of SSSI’s must give Natural England written notice before they begin any operations listed in the notification as likely to damage the special interest. If you are in any doubt contact Natural England.
Managing your woodland for conservation.
The most basic principle behind good woodland management is that there should be a variety of habitats, with a patchwork effect of different heights, structure and available light. This results in an increase in the variety of woodland wildlife, as different habitats are made available.
Some forms of management such as large-scale coppicing can result in great change within woodlands, and this needs careful management planning.
- Coppice areas on a rotational basis. This provides a woodland with differing age structures and avoids drastic changes.
- Maintain or create rides and glades to create up areas with increased light and warmth.
- Retain mature trees as standards and leave standing dead wood as both support many species of woodland wildlife.
- Use felling to re-open views, show significant landscape features or to break up intrusive straight lines.
- Aim for a diverse woodland structure with well defined ground, field, shrub and tree layers.
- Control non-native and invasive species, such as rhododendron, Japanese knotweed and sycamore.
- Leave small areas unmanaged, especially wet areas, as this will encourage growth of Mosses, liverworts and ferns.
- Manage sensitively around archaeological features.
Most native broad-leaved species of trees found in Britain are capable of being Coppiced. The practice, used widely to manage woodlands and hedges in the past, uses the ability of these trees to readily produce regrowth from cut stumps or stools. This allows a crop of wood to be harvested on a regular rotation of anything from 7 to 15 years, although in some cases this may be extended to 25-30 years, depending on the species and required produce.
Species most often coppiced within the Surrey Hills include hazel, oak, sweet chestnut and hornbeam.
Depending on the species, coppice stools will regenerate quickly assuming good light conditions. Coppicing may be undertaken if tall canopy trees are being left in place, but some light reaching the woodland floor is essential for re-growth. The minimum area of coppice should be approximately half a hectare.
There are several organisations that you may need to contact:
A felling licence may be needed from the Forestry Commission. In any calendar quarter you can fell up to 5 cubic metres of timber on your property without a licence, as long as no more than 2 cubic metres are sold. If you plan to be coppicing, you are exempt from a licence if the trees being felled are 15cm or less in diameter at a height of 1.3m above the ground. Contact the Forestry Commission for more details.
If your woodland is a SSSI, you should contact Natural England for more information.
Some woodland may also be subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) and you’ll need to clarify this with your local authority.
Yew woodlands should be managed specially and in a non-interventionist way.
Varied structure is often most beneficial for wildlife: Including a tree canopy with a mixed age structure, shrub layer, ground flora, dead wood of various types and sizes with a mixture of other habitats eg. Rocky outcrops, grassy rides, pools, streams and marshy areas.
Past management will have influenced the woodland structure to a large degree. Maintain current diverse structure in particular preserving special features such as veteran trees and damp flushes.
Woods with trees of a similar age, with little shrub layer, and a lack of dead wood etc. may be important for individual species but, generally species diversity will be low.
Improving the variety of structural elements can help landscape and wildlife eg. Encouraging a variety of different trees ages, allowing a shrub layer to develop, leaving dead wood, and creating or managing permanent open space.
Some hints for managing woodlands
Firstly look at your woodland to see how it has been managed and how it fits into the landscape. Consider what will be lost and gained by altering the management.
- Fell trees within the woodland to encourage new growth and a variety of different aged trees
- Allow trees to regenerate naturally where possible rather than replanting.
- Leave some trees (at least 4 per ha) to grow until they die naturally. Dead wood is an essential component of woodland ecosystems.
- Open up clearings by felling to increase variety and ground flora.
- Keep rides and paths open for butterflies, birds and bats.
- Manage groups of small woods together.
Do not undertake operations that may damage the existing natural character of the woodland. (eg disturbing breeding birds, inappropriate drainage, planting non-native species, excessive use of herbicide, clearing dead wood etc.)
- Woods with a history of coppicing, and that were cut in at least the last 50 years.
- Woods with south facing slopes which are more likely to provide the warm microclimate needed by species that need sunny open areas, such as fritillary butterflies.
- Woods likely to produce a diverse ground flora with a wide variety of trees and shrubs
- Woods where diversity is likely to be best maintained by restoring coppice, rather than developed a mature high forest structure with much dead wood allowing high forest to develop and many veteran trees.
Not recommended in woods:
- With lichens and mosses that may not tolerate the sudden changes in light and humidity associated with coppicing. Seek specialist advice if you are unsure.
- Suffering long term neglect (ie. For more than 50 years) and have developed a mature high forest structure with much dead wood and many veteran trees.
- Where grazing and browsing cannot be controlled to an appropriate level and where adequate fencing is not practical (deer will graze on new shoots from coppice stools).
- Sites with a history of wood-pasture that retain a scattering of veteran trees.
- Sites close to or adjoining existing wood pasture sites.
- Sites where traditional forms of extensive or seasonal woodland grazing is practical.
- Sites with ground vegetation normally found in open ground (heath/grassland etc).
Not recommended in:
- Former wood-pasture sites that is now important for wildlife species that would not benefit from wood-pasture treatment.
- In such sites, veteran tree management (eg pollarding) may still be desirable.
- Ancient semi-natural woodlands and coppice with standards.
- Small woods where poaching and trampling can destroy localised habitats.
Recommended in woods:
- Planted with conifers.
- That have only recently been replanted (in the last 30 – 50 years).
- Where some former broadleaved trees and/or ground flora survives within the plantation.
- Where open rides within the plantation are rich in plant species normally found in broad-leaved woodlands.
- Where professional advice is available.
Not recommended in:
- Well-established plantations
- Plantations that have become established as important landscape features in their own right.
Recommended in woods with:
- Areas of wet woodland which have established flora (including mosses, liverworts and ferns) and where working conditions for men and machinery are time likely to damage the habitat.
Not recommended in:
- Woods that have had continued management for some time and where light-dependent flora and fauna have adapted to the habitat.
While woodland planting is generally considered to be a positive undertaking, natural woodland regeneration is preferable. You may have real and positive reasons for woodland planting, but you must be sure it is suitable for the Surrey Hills. Always ask yourself first of all:
Is woodland appropriate here?
In some parts of the Surrey Hills open landscapes are important, and new woodland planting can look out of place and sit uncomfortably with the surrounding countryside, for example the open heathland and grassland areas.
Whether you are planting new woodland or filling in gaps, ensuring you select the right species is vital. This not only maintains the woodland character but also maximizes the value for local wildlife. Matching tree species to soil type is important. Planting in small irregular blocks of species creates a new woodland with variety.
Planting in a random mix based on a 1m to 3-metre grid with a range of species is recommended.
When planting for landscape and nature conservation consider:
- Creating a range of habitats within or near the wood, such as open glades, rides and forest edges; streams and ponds; wet places and ponds. An ideal size for isolated woodland is at least 5 ha allowing for rides and glades.
- Any valuable existing habitats, for example, heathland, unimproved and semi-improved grassland, should not be used for woodland creation.
- Linking or extending existing woodlands, taking into account any species or features, for example, rare plants that may be in neighbouring woodland which may benefit from new planting.
- Developing an age range of trees and shrubs with different height layers including a stock of old trees and some dead wood for a variety of wildlife. The planting mix will affect the future structure of the wood.
Seek professional advice on the siting of new woodlands.
Planting should be carried out any time during the winter (October to early March), but not during frosty or icy conditions. Providing you match tree species to location and type of soil native broadleaved varieties should not need any form of soil improver. Use of improvers can be detrimental in the long run as they also encourage the establishment of weeds, which during the critical first few years can out compete your trees.
Planting density (how far away each tree is from its nearest neighbour) varies not only according to size of tree, but also the type, purpose and structure of the woodland you are trying to create. Traditional planting densities normally involve planting trees around 1.8m (6ft) apart. Trees are often planted closer together than strictly necessary if lower survival rates are anticipated. If you are planting to produce a commercial crop, then specifications may be different and you should seek expert advice.
Whips (60-90cm in height) are the most commonly selected tree type used for planting purposes as they take much more readily than standard trees (275-300cm in height) and are considerably cheaper.
Various methods of planting are available, though the easiest and cheapest is usually to slit plant, but does bring with it an increased failure rate compared to the more costly pit planting.
Trees for planting should be of native origin (i.e. grow naturally in this country) and of local provenance (from seed collected in the UK, and ideally from within the Surrey Hills). This has several advantages including improved growth and a greater chance of survival. Consider the need for tree protection against deer and rabbits (see below).
There are many contractors that can undertake woodland planting. The www.surreyhills.org may be able to provide details.
It is important to look after your wood after planting. In the first few years, this consists of weeding, mowing and spraying to control the growth of weeds until the trees have become firmly established. After this, replacing any trees that have died, thinning out where trees are competing with each other, ride and glade management all become part of your annual management. If tree shelters have been used, it is advisable to remove them from the tree after they have become established.
Caring for your new woodland in its early years does need some protection of young trees from competing vegetation. Herbicides are effective and relatively cheap. However where the ground flora is itself of conservation value professional advice should be sought. Dense bracken, bramble or rhododendron may require more extensive herbicide treatment, although other environment-friendly alternatives are available. The use of herbicides on SSSI’s may need the approval of Natural England.
Other means of controlling the vegetation around the new trees is the use of plastic, woven polypropylene mats or mulch.
Generally, ancient woodlands and sites on which broadleaves might be established do not require the addition of fertiliser to obtain satisfactory tree growth, as the abundance of dead wood and leaf litter provide all the required nutrients.
It is likely that you will need to protect your new woodland from the attentions of browsing mammals such as mice, voles, rabbits and deer. The most common methods used include the use of tree shelters (plastic tubes placed over the tree) and fencing to protect against attack by rabbit or deer. Choice is usually dependent on cost, though for large areas under deer or rabbit attack, it is often cheaper to fence these animals out.
Rides and other grassy areas, for example glades and roadside verges, give a mix of habitats, attractive to a wide range of wildlife; mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and birds. Take care not to unwittingly allow important areas of open habitat to be lost to encroaching trees or insensitive woodland operations.
As a general principle the best rides are winding rather than straight, and have gently sloping profiles; from low grasses and herbs to brambles, low shrubs through to taller shrubs and trees. This maximises their shelter value both within the ride, and inside the wood. Where existing rides are too straight, ‘scalloping’ of edges by selective tree cutting and coppicing can provide a much-enhanced habitat. Maintaining a narrow track and allowing herbs small shrubs to grow up at the edges can also enhance diversity.
Grass rides within your woodland are often best maintained by mowing portions, eg strips, in alternate years, preferably in late summer. Any shrubby strip between grass and forest should be coppiced at intervals of 3-5 years, aiming to cut only a proportion of the shrub strip each year. Generally rides should be at least 8 metres wide with a range of vegetation heights.
East to west rides allows maximum sunlight, which is very valuable for wildlife such as bats and butterflies. Many species of wildlife need a variety of habitats for their lifecycle that the dense woodland, scrub and grassy areas provide.
Glades can be created along rides or woodland edges. Generally the compartment should be at least 1.5 times as wide as the height of the adjacent trees canopy to allow enough light in (or a minimum of 22-25 metres from canopy edge to canopy edge). Glades can either be coppiced on rotation or allowed to naturally develop into woodland with new glades created elsewhere in the wood. Well-Sheltered woodland rides make a great contribution to pheasant holding capacity, as well as providing an extra habitat for a wide range of other wildlife.
Historically, pheasant shooting has been an important motivation for the planting of new woods and the retention and management of existing ones. It increasingly provides the incentive for some private owners to do habitat management. Much of this management can, if sensitively carried out, benefit pheasants, other wildlife and the landscape.
The small size of many broadleaved woodlands, and the presence of glades and openings, increases the woodland edge, which provides habitat for many animals. It therefore follows that many of the guidelines for management for wildlife conservation apply to management for game. Neglected woods or outgrown coppice are usually of lesser value, being draughty and inhospitable. Pheasants require a tree canopy, which is not so dense that ground vegetation is suppressed and sunlight does not warm the ground. They need shelter and warmth, by means of ground cover and perhaps a perimeter hedge. Further advice can be found in the practical guide ‘Woodland and Pheasants’ produced by The Game conservancy Trust.
The guide highlights conservation and landscape issues in relation to pheasant releasing and the economic benefits, It also encourages the integration of nature conservation, landscape and pheasant management in woodlands.
Woodlands are one of the most important features within the Surrey Hills, and ensuring that they are managed correctly and appropriately will help to maintain this beautiful landscape for future generations.