February 2019 at Stackpole
It seems only days ago since I last posted, but with nearly a month having passed it highlights how our window for carrying out winter conservation work is fast slipping away. With this in mind, we have spent much of the past few weeks in Caroline Grove, a woodland set between the upper eastern arm of the lakes and the road to Stackpole village.
Clearing invasive species
Our first objective in Caroline Grove has been to begin the eradication of cherry laurel, which had begun to take on forest-like proportions. Through cutting, digging of roots and burning, we have managed to clear through this area well, and although the ground looks rather bare now, it will hopefully green up as spring arrives.
Cherry laurel is a highly invasive species, which whilst once planted on the estate for ornamental and game cover purposes, has now ‘gone rogue’ and tends to outcompete native species with its dense growth and shade-bearing leaves. It’s also extremely persistent and many of the plants we have cleared have been cut and treated in the past.
Woodland work continues
The second task being undertaken in Caroline Grove is an exciting phase of change for the estate woodlands, where we are gradually restoring areas of former ancient woodland which have been planted up with conifer plantations throughout the second half of the 20th century.
As post-war Britain rebuilt, many conifer plantations were planted over native deciduous woodlands with the help of government subsidies. However, many of these conifer blocks were unviable, either because of access issues or because they were too small to be economical and as a consequence were never thinned or harvested.
This brings us to the present day in Caroline Grove, where undermanaged remnants of a western hemlock plantation have been crowding out the saplings of oak, ash, chestnut and beech that were borne of the previous generation of deciduous trees that stood here.
With the work nearly now finished, we have removed around 150 western hemlock trees, allowing space for the native broadleaf species still present to grow. By allowing more light in, ground flora and tree seeds in the soil will be able to germinate, leading to better species diversity in this woodland in years to come.
We have left some of the more prominent hemlock, in part because they tell a chapter in the story of the Stackpole Estate, but also because in their mature, open grown form, they are rather handsome trees.
Willow work and people power
At the beginning of February, on a wet misty Tuesday, we had a near-record turnout from the Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park volunteer work party for a task I was particularly excited about. Our day began at King’s Mill woods, near Castlemartin, where we have been coppicing willow and alder with our friends from Pembroke 21c for the last six years.
With some of the regrowth from previously coppiced stools now encroaching on the path, we got stuck in to cutting back the long, straight poles of willow. As well as opening up the path and allowing light in to the woodland ride, these rods would also provide the material for the second part of the job.
With our poles taken straight to the bird hide on the fen meadow at Gupton Farm, we were ready to ‘plant’ our living willow fence. Despite the wet conditions, our volunteers soldiered on and quickly picked up the technique of driving the upright poles into the wet ground, before adding in the diagonal woven struts, which will add thickness and strength to the fence.
As well as providing habitat and shelter for wildlife, this screen will also allow visitors to the bird hide to approach without scaring off the birds in the reed bed.
Getting set for spring
With our last month before spring starts in earnest, we will be focusing now on finishing our winter tasks and looking forward to ensuring the estate is looking its best and ready for the season ahead.