February 2019 - Dead Wood at Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle estate and castle as seen from Tyn y Groes
Published : 31 Jan 2019

Increasingly, our visitors have been asking the question ‘why don’t you tidy up the estate, and get rid of those rotting trees that litter the landscape?’ Some of us may be perhaps intuitively inclined to agree with these voices of concern, until we chat with our Head Ranger, Carl Green, who presents a different viewpoint to the whole matter.

The first impression, as we drive in along Emes’ approach road, is purely (and deliberately) an aesthetic one: we are all impressed by the fine castle in its open parklands, but most of us will pay little thought to the unseen wildlife which exists purely because of this estate – the insect life which thrives in this ancient parkland.

Conservation interests need to be understood by all who have an input into Chirk Castle and its parklands – Chirk is a site of enormous importance, both nationally and internationally, but far too few of us yet appreciate the natural surroundings which we largely take for granted.

Since 1996 the parkland around the castle has been declared a site of ‘Special Scientific Interest’ (SSSI) – but before we acknowledge this acronym and move on, let’s ask WHY Chirk is so important.

The findings from a new survey carried out in 2018 will give us some relevant facts.

It is one of the very best examples of ancient wood pasture and parkland in Wales, with an extremely large and diverse species of veteran and ancient trees: careful management means that we have a vast number of invertebrates living on them!

We have no less than 313 ‘saproxylic’ (dwellers in dead wood) insects, which is a simply remarkable for a single site, but a very good reflection of Chirk as wood and pastureland. 207 species of beetle, 82 of fly, 1 snake-fly, 12 bees and wasps, six spiders and 2 millipedes contribute to this grand total – of which 17 of the saproxylic beetles are regarded as ‘Nationally Scarce’. Most notably, a ‘False Blister Beetle’, a ‘Tumbling Flower Beetle’ and a ‘False Ladybird’ can be found in very few natural environments in Wales. They exist in Chirk’s parklands!

We are hosts to 4 species on the ‘European Red List’ (‘near-threatened species’) including the ‘False Click’ Beetle.

We are home to a ‘vulnerable’ species of Cranefly, a ‘near-threatened’ Dancefly (not known anywhere else in Wales) and a ‘nationally scarce’ Hoverfly.

A black-headed cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea)
black-headed cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea)
A black-headed cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea)

The great number of these saproxylic insects is due in no small way to the wood decay and the fungus assemblage. The survey noted no fewer than 10 Bracket fungi, making Chirk among the top sites in Wales for Oak-Bracket fungi.

So, even if you weren’t aware of it, Chirk Castle's parkland is an outstanding national site for old growth, invertebrates and fungi: since the 1990s, land-management practice and awareness has improved so much that standing and fallen deadwood habitats are now available across much of the parkland.

Chirk Castle Parklands is a great British site of conservation: among the top 25 of such sites!

Carl’s philosophy is a clear one:

" In an important site such as Chirk Park, nature-conservation should ideally have priority over agriculture or forestry; grazing and trees are essential, but the primary objective should be nature conservation, and not agricultural or forestry productivity"
- Carl Green

Those of us who are very familiar with the castle and gardens may assume that we are aware of all we need to know: dates, times, biographies are at our fingertips, but Carl’s reminder that we are ultimately just a small part of a vast complex (and mostly unseen) network of existence.

Looking at the fallen trees from a different perspective, perhaps they’re not such blots on the landscape after all...

If you would like to find out more join our Ranger team on their Spring Ranger Ramble, on March 17. To find out more and book a place visit our website here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chirk-castle/whats-on