In January we had forestry contractors come onsite to carry out work to improve our woodlands, including working on areas of former pine plantations. Pine plantations are planted at high density and volume with the sole purpose of producing large volumes of timber for future harvesting. This is why, when you look at our woodlands which consist of areas of former plantations, they contain a dense number of pines. When you look closely, you also begin to notice that a lot of the pines are very skinny and only have a very small canopy with many actually starting to die, due to the lack of light and space. It tends to only be those on the edge of the woodland which tend to be bigger and contain a large, healthy canopy, as they have more space to grow in and exposure to light. In a lot of these areas it is also apparent that there is no understorey and very few new tree shoots coming through, due to the combination of a lack of light and deer grazing. Having a woodland that consists of trees of all the same species and age is not very healthy and restricts the biodiversity of the habitat.

Unfortunately wet ground conditions prevented our contractors carrying out all of the targeted work, but they were still able to thin out some of these areas. These areas are now visibly more open, allowing a lot more light to penetrate the high canopy and reach the ground. This will help create the conditions to encourage new growth for the next generation of trees. Several glades and rides have also been created within the woodland. These are open spaces, which will be managed to improve the diversity of the ground flora (which is currently dominated by dense bracken), which in turn should attract an array of invertebrates e.g. bumblebees, butterflies and dragonflies. We have still retained a healthy number of pines as well as a lot of the standing dead pines. Both standing and lying dead wood is an essential habitat for birds, bats, invertebrates, fungi and lichen, so a lot of the felled brash has also been left. This may look messy, but it will provide the perfect home for thousands of insects and mammals, including nesting wrens and robins.

To accompany the natural regeneration of trees, we will also be planting a variety of native woodland scrub and broadleaved species, which have been grown here in Bedfordshire including blackthorn, hawthorn, oak, hazel, aspen, hornbeam, rowan and dog rose. The first stage of planting has just been finished, with our amazing team of volunteers planting 200 saplings within one of the thinned compartments. These have been erected with accompanying tree guards to help protect them from grazing. Unfortunately these are plastic guards, with a lot of them coming from existing stock that have been recycled. In future planting, we will be looking to switch to an environmentally friendly alternative.

Overall this work should help establish a healthy, diverse and structured woodland, consisting of a variety of species to form a ground, shrub and canopy layer to benefit the biodiversity of the site.

Written by Alan Kell