Winter woodland conservation work
To a nature lover, chopping down trees goes against all our instincts, yet this is land cared for by a conservation charity. What’s going on, why don’t we let nature take its course?
You’re walking in beautiful estate parkland or countryside on a bright, chilly day and suddenly you hear the whine of a chain saw. Your heart clenches as it can only mean one thing. Why would a nature conservation charity allow people to chop down trees in its woodland? Nature has been looking after itself for eons, why do we need to step in?
Humans have changed the landscape
Neil Harris has been Countryside Manager looking after the Chilterns countryside for 25 years. He says: ‘Nowadays we can’t 'let nature take its course’ because we’d be starting on a false premise. Before humans got involved, native wildlife species moved through a shifting patchwork of habitats created by natural disturbances such as grazing, fire or flood. Now, we have roads, fences, gardens and buildings so wildlife can’t move freely and we control fires and floods.’
It's our responsibility to look after it
Today, the landscape looks the way it does and supports the range of wildlife species it does, because people work at it. On our estates and in the countryside we look after, armies of rangers and volunteers work hard in autumn and winter, coppicing trees and keeping scrub at bay. (Work slows down after March so as not to disturb nesting birds.)
‘Scrub is a valuable habitat in itself, but is invasive,’ explains Neil. ‘The chalk grassland we have in the Chilterns is like Britain’s tropical rainforest, supporting a huge range of wild and rare flowers, butterflies and invertebrates, but it’s under threat and will be lost unless we manage the scrub.’
On the Buscot and Coleshill estate near Faringon and at Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames, it’s a similar story. Both have areas of countryside looked after by the National Trust and they also have teams of rangers and volunteers who go out clearing encroaching scrub.
Another job is coppicing trees to regenerate growth and create clearings in the woodland for wild flowers and butterflies. They also ‘halo’ veteran trees to prolong their life, which involves removing the young trees crowding them and competing for light and space.