Conserving our woods

Dan Billington, Ranger Dan Billington Ranger

The largest job our Ranger team have been tackling recently, was the clear felling of an area of mixed woodland for its replanting with native broadleaf this coming winter.

The plantation was planted approximately 50 years ago with a mixture of Conifers and Oak trees. At that time forestry practice was to plant three rows of oak and then three rows of conifer, then oak, and so on. This was to help to ‘force’ the growth of the oak trees. As all trees grew up to the light the idea was that the faster growing conifers on either side of the oak sections would shade the light reaching the oaks and cause only the area above the oaks to have clear sunlight, and therefore encourage the oaks to grow up, straight, to that light. This use of trees planted alongside oaks to assist their growth if often called a ‘nurse crop’

Unfortunately, due to Dutch Elm Disease that struck the estate hard in the 70s and 80s, this planting was somewhat neglected as the time and manpower on the estate was put to use dealing with the effects of the Dutch Elm Disease; which saw the infection, felling and removal of over quarter of a million Elm trees from across the Buscot & Coleshill Estates.

In the case of the plantation, this lack of aftercare led to the woodland not being thinned - meaning the better trees being identified and the not so good ones being removed to allow more light and growing room for those better ones. Due to this lack of management not only were the nurse crop not thinned to stop them over shading the oaks too much, but also the oaks themselves were not managed so they grew very close together and created too much shade, causing poor growth or failure to the entire crop of trees. Other trees, that were not originally planted, have seeded and grown across the site, mainly Ash and Sycamore, and these also added to that ‘overgrown’ state of the plantation.

To clear the site of trees for felling our Rangers have felled the trees with chainsaws and the tractors have been used to extract some of the usable timber, whilst the brash (cut off branches) has been burnt to keep the ground clear for tree planting in the winter. 

As there is a fire wood fueled heating system (Biomass) at our National Trust offices and buildings at Coleshill the wood does not go to waste. The vast majority of the trees are measured and cut into six ft lengths and then collected by a tractor and timber trailer and taken to be stacked to dry at the woodland ride sides (a ride is an access track through the woodland). Once there, it is left to dry for about a year before it will be cut and split for firewood to fuel the boiler. It will then be stacked undercover for another year until it is nice and dry and ready to be burnt. This way our forestry works help to heat our offices, which we feel is a great way of making use of a renewable resource of fuel on our site and reduces our need for using non- renewable fuels such as gas and oil.

We do also aim to leave some piles of timber behind to rot down as deadwood and we will also be leaving a few of the trees that have died as standing deadwood to help provide some much needed habitat for insects and bugs and some useful features for birds such as Woodpeckers and Owls, who could make use of an occasional perch until the newly planted trees have grown to an appropriate size for this.

Milled seasoned timber

The planting of the site should take place this coming winter, and it is likely we will be planting a mixture of native broadleaf trees typical to this part of the country, which will include a mixture of Oak, Beech and Hornbeam.

Look out for updates this winter as the new plantings begin and the new plantation begins to take shape.

Felled trees on the woodland rides