Volunteers will be pleased that for the first time Ashridge has published a long term woodland management plan for the Estate allowing public comment. The draft twenty year plan is being displayed at the V C for a few weeks but if you miss it you can view the details by accessing the report on the banner headline.
Hoping for public input the Estate are asking for comments with three questions in mind;
What do you value most about the woodland at Ashridge?
What would help you enjoy the woodland more?
What would you like Ashridge to look like in twenty years time?
With two thousand acres of woodland Ashridge boasts the largest N T area cared for in-hand, comprising ancient woodland, coniferous and broadleaved plantations, five registered commons, remnant wood pasture and large areas of secondary birch woodland, most of which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation for lowland beech woodland and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Estate also includes Grade 2* registered Parkland.
Management of woodland introduces more sunlight by opening up the canopy As a general rule, woodlands which are structurally diverse and have a wide range of micro-habitats tend to have more biodiversity. Structural diversity means that there are, for example, trees of different ages which is not the case in a beech or conifer plantation, but also different physical ‘layers’: leaf litter and soil, ground vegetation, an understorey of saplings and shrubs, taller coppice and young trees, and then the woodland canopy. Microhabitats include standing and lying deadwood, damp and shady areas, sunny, sheltered glades, scrub, ponds, single stem timber trees, veteran trees, pollards and coppice stools. Research indicates that many species prefer to live in the first thirty feet from a woodland edge, where there is more sunlight. Coppicing and creating rides and glades can enhance the biodiversity of a woodland by increasing the levels of light, rejuvenating individual trees and allowing shorter vegetation and shrubs to grow, thus creating more structural diversity and micro-habitats leading up to the edge of the taller trees. An untidy wood is a healthy wood.
Look forward to coppicing glades and rides.
Species which benefit from coppiced woodland, rides and glades will include dormice and other small mammals, dragonflies which forage for insects along woodland rides, birds such as nightingale and chiffchaff, and reptiles which like to bask in the shorter, warmer grassland areas with scrub and tall grassland for cover nearby. Butterflies and moths will benefit from an increase in wild flowers and grasses, since many species have very specific larval food plant requirements like the caterpillars of the silver-washed fritillary which feed on common dog-violet and others that are reliant on nectar for food. Other species such as bumblebees will also benefit from an increase in nectar and pollen-rich plants. Bats forage for insects along woodland rides but some species prefer closed canopy and dense under-storey and will not benefit from the opening up of woodland.
Both coppicing and the creation of rides and glades mimic natural processes of fires and storms like the 1987 hurricane, which open up expanses of woodland to sunlight, allowing ground flora to flourish, taller grassland areas to thrive, and fallen trees to rot down. Eventually, scrub takes over, saplings grow, and the woodland canopy closes up again. All of these areas provide unique habitats for an array of species
Ashridge woodland is of course for nature conservation and public access – not timber production – and once approved the plan will provide felling licences for the next ten years and will enable grant funding for works identified within the plan. It is the intention that contractors will be employed for large scale clearance work as with conifer removal, with in-house staff utilised for more detailed work with the support of the volunteer groups.
Work has already started at Rail Copse, and other plantations have priority status having been neglected like Ringshall Copse, and the mixed plantation at Crawley Wood which is probably the oldest wood on the Estate – a waymark for early travellers on the Icknield Way being the highest point at 816 feet.
We can now see the woods for the trees so we must hope that we live long enough to appreciate the end results!