Ride cutting at Hatfield Forest
We have an active programme of managing the rides in the forest, to improve the habitat, mainly for wildflowers and butterflies, as well as improving the walking track for our visitors.
What is a ride?
It’s pretty much a wide path through an area of coppiced woodland. A ride is the historic name for a linear open space within a wood derived from the need for access. Rides may have a hard surfaced track making up part of the width or more commonly are unsurfaced. A path or track becomes a ride at the point when it is wide enough for there to be a gap in the canopy above the ride which allows sunlight to reach the ground.
The ride is usually made up of several zones. Most commonly rides consist of a central grass zone with a mixed herbaceous and shrub zone on one or both sides. The diagram below shows a 3-zone ride where the shrub and herbaceous zones are separated. A path or track becomes a ride at the point when it is wide enough for there to be a gap in the canopy above the ride which allows sunlight to reach the ground.
What are we doing?
We currently welcome half a million visits from our supporters every year – that’s twice as many as ten years ago and a lot of footsteps on muddy paths . The result of all those footsteps is that the grass wears away and the clay soil becomes even more compacted and water won’t drain away, meaning some areas become a big muddy mess!
As well as not being much fun to walk on, these muddy areas also have a more serious impact because they can lead to damage to tree roots and soil erosion. As a National Nature Reserve it is our responsibility to care for these, which in turn provide a home to hundreds of insects, birds, bats and much more.
To enable the recovery of these paths, we are working hard to widen them at specific points to open them up to light and help encourage grass growth, increasing the airflow needed to help dry them out.
In 2017 we managed to work on 5,000m of paths and in 2018 we intend to do the same, if not more. It is a daunting task but we hope to get all the rides opened up by 2020 . Some we can do from the ground. Others we will need to do with the help of a mobile platform (MEWP).
The benefit of managed rides and open spaces
Sensitive management of open habitats introduces greater wildlife diversity – particularly butterflies and wild flowers. This encourages a larger range of species, providing additional interest for recreational visitors and expert naturalists alike. Many species make regular use of the edge habitats for feeding due to higher herb layer productivity and larger invertebrate populations. A greater number of species inhabit the first 10 metres of any woodland edge or ride edge than inhabit the remainder of the woodland.
Wider rides are generally drier and therefore maintain a better surface for access all year round. They are also more comfortable to walk on and keep footfall to the centre rather than the sensitive edges and coppice woodland interior where trampling is a serious problem to the wildflower population.