How we're helping wildlife in Mottisfont's woods
We manage the estate woodlands to make them as wildlife-rich as possible. Most of this important conservation work is carried out by our rangers in autumn and winter. And it's not just the woodland, but the edges, open spaces and network of ‘rides’ too - the grassy paths you’ll find in and around woods.
These areas are often the most ecologically diverse in terms of vegetation, so they attract a huge variety of wildlife. In fact, the first 10m of any woodland edge can be home to more species than the rest of the woodland in its entirety. These rides also act as vital ‘wildlife corridors’ for animals - in particular bats.
Ranger Ryan Scott: "The scrubby woodland fringes here provide sanctuary for butterflies like the white admiral and silver-wash fritillary, which feed on honeysuckle and violets. And the central grassland areas on the rides are just as important - they attract invertebrates such as weevils and click beetles, and I'll often see treecreepers, blackcaps and nuthatches here too."
Giving bats a home
The Mottisfont estate is part of the Bat Conservation Trust’s national monitoring programme (NBMP). In 2003 our woodlands were designated a Special Area of Conservation for rare barbastelle bat maternity roosts - one of only six known UK breeding sites at the time.
We carry out barbastelle bat surveys between July and September, along three known wildlife corridors on the estate. We're also working to protect eight other species that have been recorded at Mottisfont, including noctules and brown long-eared bats.
Individual trees are also surveyed, for features that indicate their potential as a bat roost. This could be woodpecker holes, branch splits, a hollow section, or dense ivy cover. We sometimes use aerial surveys too, and an endoscope to look for cavities invisible from the outside.
Trees with no bat activity but which are favourable in other ways may be considered for monolithing (being cut back to the trunk) or a crown reduction. This is done by an experienced arborist, who creates cuts that imitating natural damage, providing favourable conditions for all sorts of wildlife. Other trees may be ring-barked to encourage dead wood - an important part of a woodland’s ecological process. A small number of low conservation value trees might be felled to help maintain the wildlife corridors.
These techniques don’t just provide more wildlife habitats: they break up the canopy cover, introducing more light along the ride edge. This encourages ground flora, which in turn attracts invertebrates like bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
Ryan: 'It’s really important that the various landscapes within woodlands support each other. For example, we need to make sure that tree-dwelling mammals like dormice have connectivity between the different woodland ‘compartments’ and don’t become isolated.
'We aim to create a mix of habitats; grassy swards and ‘herby’ edges, scrub and coppice areas. One of the ways we do this is by cutting on rotation. This is carried out in winter when the trees are dormant, so that we cause the least disturbance to wildlife.'
Visiting the woodlands in autumn
Beautiful, natural and historic places matter for our sprit, and our wellbeing. An autumn woodland glowing with colour and rich with the smell of damp earth is a wonderful, uplifting place to be, but it’s easy to forget that the natural life of a tree can span several hundred years. For our woodlands to be sustainable it’s essential that we look well beyond our own lifetimes to ensure they continue to thrive.
If you explore the Mottisfont estate in autumn you may well see some traditional woodland practices in operation. Our rangers are always happy to stop and chat, if you'd like to know more about charcoal-burning or coppicing.
Woodland in the South East
London and the South East is the UK's most densely wooded region. It ncludes the largest concentration of ancient woodland in the National Trust’s care - we look after more than any other UK non-government organisation. Last year the Trust funded almost 40 tree-related projects, creating natural corridors by linking up woodland habitats, and developing nectar-rich tree planting schemes for bees and butterflies.