Woodland Management at Polesden Lacey

The branches of a dead tree reach out into a blue winter sky in a green field

The Polesden Lacey Estate is managed by our in-house Ranger team and stretches to around 560 hectares (1400 acres), 2 tenants farms and 200 hectares (500acres) of Ranmore Common Woodland. There are around 26 miles of footpaths and bridal ways to explore with many running through chalk deciduous woodland with some coniferous plantations.

Our Ranger staff and volunteers carry out a range of woodland management tasks, mostly during the Autumn and Winter months to maintain the health of the woodland and create a mosaic of different habitats for fauna and flora.

Coppicing with standards

For hundreds of years most woodlands were coppiced. This involves the periodic cutting back of trees or shrubs to ground level, leaving them to sprout new stems from the cut stumps. This gives rise to the rapid production of small round wood which was used for broom handles, firewood, fencing stakes and hurdles.

Coppicing encourages the growth of woodland flowers such as bluebells, primroses, anenome and violets by allowing light and warmth to the woodland floor.

Bluebells around the grounds and across the estate
A close up of a carpet of bluebells
Bluebells around the grounds and across the estate

Coppiced woodland is divided into compartments or ‘coupes’ which can be cut on a rotation. In general, the best rotation is every seven to 15 years providing a range of ages, and therefore habitats for insects and mammals such as dormice. We mostly coppice hazel, sweet chestnut and willow however you can also use alder, field maple, small leaved lime, ash and oak. Standards are trees left to mature for timber such as oak and sweet chestnut often for 50+ years.

We fence larger areas such as coppice coupes with temporary fences, or make dead hedges with branches around areas or over individual coppice stools to protect the young shoots from being browsed by deer.

Thinning

Thinning involves the removal of poor, weak, diseased or overcrowded trees to make the remaining trees stronger and sturdier. Thinning can also be used to manage neglected woodland where dense shading has reduced the growth of woodland wildflowers and shrubs.

At Polesden we do this around every 10 years, taking out 15-20% of trees depending on their size allowing a break in the canopy and light to reach the floor.

Plantations

Across Ranmore there are plantations of conifers and some deciduous species planted as a long term timber crop. Gradually we are removing these plantations and allowing the woodland to return to broadleaf woodland through natural regeneration. Some timber gets sold to sawmills or milled on site providing building materials, some is turned into firewood, and some is chipped to fuel our biomass boiler onsite heating the mansion. We also make wood products to sell in our shop, and charcoal.

On site milling provides building materials at Polesden Lacey
Image of planks of wood milled at Polesden Lacey
On site milling provides building materials at Polesden Lacey

Glades and rides

Glades are open areas within woodland which naturally are created by falling trees and kept open by grazing animals. They provide light for woodland wildflowers to flourish and areas for insects such as butterflies to feed and breed, and habitat for woodland birds.

Rides are grassy tracks within the woods which vary in width. At Polesden we have rides with either two zones of vegetation, around 20m wide, or three zones around 30m wide. These allow a mix of vegetation from grass, through scrub and coppice up to the woodland edge.

Rides and glades must be maintained to stop them from becoming overgrown through mowing and cutting in the autumn and coppicing on rotation, and some of our narrower overgrown rides are being cleared and widened.

Dead wood

Old, dying and dead standing trees and fallen dead wood provide habitat for a huge number of animals and invertebrates and many types of fungus, lichen and moss. Dead trees are left standing as long as possible unless they are a safety issue near to tracks, and then left to rot naturally on the floor. Ash dieback, a fungal disease is killing many of the ash trees across the country, and on Ranmore Common. Where safe to do so we are leaving them in the hope that some may develop resistance to the disease and repopulate the woodland in future years, but any near to buildings and tracks are being felled.

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