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Our work at Maidenhead and Cookham Commons

Trees with no leaves at Pinkneys Drive at Maidenhead and Cookham Commons, Berkshire
Pinkneys Drive, Maidenhead and Cookham Commons | © National Trust Images/Rachael Warren

With around 500 acres of grassland and 340 acres of woodland habitat, the commons of Maidenhead and Cookham are home to an abundance of wildflowers and insects. All year round, we work to protect and conserve these valuable habitats – from vital tree management to hazel coppicing. Learn more about the conservation work we do.

Our work at Maidenhead Commons

Ride management at Maidenhead Thicket

Woodlands with structural diversity offer a wider range of habitats, which means you’ll find more species living in these areas.

At Maidenhead Thicket, we’ve created scalloped rides (linear tracks that act as corridors between the trees) and woodland glades. Doing this increases edge habitat and allows more sunlight into the open spaces. Linking these rides and glades together creates wildlife corridors which further increases species diversity.

Scalloped rides and glades are especially important for supporting cold-blooded species such as insects which, in turn, provides more feeding opportunities for other animals, such as bats and birds.

In connection with these ride improvements, we’re working alongside Butterfly Conservation to plant elm trees that are resistant to Dutch elm disease. Elm trees are the larval food source of the white-letter hairstreak, a small butterfly which is in serious decline.

Working together at North Town Moor

Working alongside the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, we look after this area of important green space for the benefit of all. The northern part of North Town Moor is regularly cut for amenity purposes, providing a great space for running or dog walking.

The pond next to the car park is managed by Make Space for Life, along with the community orchard, where you’ll find a variety of apple trees.

Winter Hill Road Woods

Once an old plantation of oak and larch, much of Winter Hill Road Woods is now managed as traditional coppice woodland. To increase the biodiversity of the woods, the non-native larch was removed, and the larger oaks were freed from competition using a process called ‘halo releasing’, which allows more light to reach these old oaks.

As well as the halo release of mature oaks, many younger oak trees have undergone ‘veteranisation’, a process by which we manage trees to speed up habitat production. Veteranisation techniques mimic natural damage, such as that caused by lightning strikes, branch failure and decaying wood habitat as a consequence of woodpecker holes.

The aim of veteranisation is to further support notable wood-decay invertebrates, such as the nationally scarce oak jewel beetle, which is already found on the site.

Coppice management

The understorey of much of Winter Hill Road Woods is now reverted to hazel coppice, a sustainable form of woodland management whereby trees are regularly cut off at ground level, causing rods to regrow from the stump. These rods can be used for many crafts and products, including bean poles, pea sticks, charcoal production, firewood, spoons, and hedge laying materials such as stakes and binders.

Coppicing can extend the life of the tree, creating a self-renewing source of timber. It is estimated that well managed hazel stools can survive for several hundreds of years.

Traditional coppice management increases biodiversity and creates a variety of vegetation heights within the wood, and is great for bluebells, wood anemone, germander speedwell, marsh marigold and violets. Coppicing is especially good for woodland fritillary butterflies and dormice.

Buzzard in Southern Wood at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
Common buzzard | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Our work at Cookham Commons

Looking after the SSSI at Cock Marsh

Cock Marsh is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because it supports plants that find it difficult to survive elsewhere in the countryside. To maintain the quality of the grassland, we clear areas of scrub in the winter and graze cattle in the summer.

This combination keeps the grass short, prevents invasive plants from establishing and encourages the germination of wildflowers.

Natural regeneration at Winter Hill

After grazing rights for Winter Hill ended, natural regeneration of woodland could once again take place, with tree saplings self-seeding over the course of many years.

Much of the work carried out by the National Trust today is aimed at maintaining what calcareous (chalk) grassland is left, by removing encroaching scrub such as brambles and self-seeded sapling trees.

Wildflowers and insects

Regular butterfly transects are carried out at Winter Hill, Cock Marsh and Maidenhead Thicket by a team of surveying and monitoring volunteers. A transect is a line across a habitat, or part of a habitat. It can be as simple as a string placed in a line on the ground. The volunteer then records the number of occurrences along the line of whatever species they find.

We also work in partnership with Butterfly Conservation on their disease-resistant elm project, with Maidenhead Thicket being a principal site for the planting of elm trees that are resistant to Dutch elm disease. The aim of the project is to encourage the rare white-letter hairstreak butterfly, whose caterpillars feed on elm.

Close-up of the bright yellow flowers of a cowslip plant, taken at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire

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