Why manage woodlands? Connecting people to our cause

Sun shining through tress at Cushendun

‘Why are those guys in red cutting down the trees? Surely that’s the opposite of what the National Trust is about?’ This was a question which was put to me while my Countryside team were carrying out invasive scrub clearance and thinning as part of the woodland management programme for Glenmona woodland in the idyllic village of Cushendun, nestled at the foot of Glendun, one of the famous nine glens of Antrim.

Woodlands provide a great diversity of habitats for plants and animals as well providing many other social, economic and environmental functions.  Contrary to popular belief, most of the woodlands which we know so well today have come about as a result of being managed, and the wildlife which we have come to associate with this particular habitat will gradually disappear if this management doesn’t continue. The health and wellbeing of woodlands relies on effective management to maintain a diverse environment in relation to species diversity, age and structure.

Glenmona woodland, like many types of woodland today, is relatively uniform in age and without intervention would struggle to achieve a healthy mixed aged structure, providing the wide array of functions that society has come to expect of them.  Non-native species such as Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) also pose further issues, by forming dense thickets, over shadowing the diverse mix of plants in the understory, causing them to decline. Such invasive species also reduce the likelihood of natural regeneration as they choke out the new tree seedlings.  Woodland management techniques such as thinning, coppicing, scrub clearance and re-planting are therefore essential tools to all those involved in conservation woodland management.

Over the last few years, through the winter months, my team have been focusing on key areas which have become over run with Rhododendron and other scrub thickets alongside thinning of less favourable trees. This job requires some hard graft and really is the equivalent of a ‘Green Gym’ as some of my guys like to call it. However when you stand back and look at what you, as a team have achieved, knowing the overall benefit you’re bringing to the health of the woodland, it really is rewarding and the reason why we work as Countryside Rangers. It was fantastic to see in the spring; carpets of bluebells appearing in the areas we worked on this year. We hope to see an increase in other species in the coming years due to the increase in light to these areas.

We also carried out some planting in order to give the woodland a helping hand through organising tree planting events. This gave the public a ‘hands on’ opportunity to be involved in the vital conservation we do as an organisation. This created the platform for us to engage effectively with them, to explain why our work matters and how their support is vital, making this management a success on the social landscape as well as the physical one. Creating experiences which, ‘Move, Teach and Inspire’.

“What a wonderful idea, we planted for the Future while remembering the generations of our family who had Cushendun in our roots going back over 50 year” Brenda Cassidy, commented on FB on the photos which were put up of one of the events.

“Ultimately through our continued sensitive management I aim to create woodland which is more resilient to future environmental changes.  So that it can function as a healthy system which continues to sustain a wide variety of species to be enjoyed by future generations.”

Glenmona woodland, Cushendun
Kevin Duncan – Area Ranger