Restoring coppiced woodland in Row Heath and the Canadas.
Restoration of coppiced woodland to Row Heath and the Canadas, which began in 2016, has been continuing over the last few weeks. This restoration work aims to encourage a wider range of flowers, birds, butterflies and other insects.
During the 1960s, these woods were cleared and replaced with a pine plantation as a financial investment, facilitated by government tax-incentives. The crop, which is now mature and ready for felling, has given us the opportunity to return the site to the rich biodiverse habitat that it once was.
The densely planted conifers have dramatically reduced the amount of light reaching the forest floor, resulting in the suppression of native plant species. Many of these species have been unable to flower or produce seeds, and seedlings which have grown, have been unable to survive in the shade. This change has led to the disappearance of many insects and birds associated with the original woodland.
However, along some of the path edges, where the pines failed to grow, and more light was available, some flowers can still be seen, giving a tantalising glimpse of what used to be.
The benefits of conifer removal, coupled with the return to a more natural system of woodland working, are becoming apparent, with increasing diversity and abundance of flowering plants. However, much work still needs to be undertaken over the next few years to remove the remaining conifers and return the site to deciduous woodland with a diverse shrub-layer and open sunny areas.
This work can be split into 3 areas;
The first area is the Canadas or Eastern end this still has reasonable amounts of hazel struggling to survive under the pines.
Specialist woodland restorers, experienced in coppicing with standards, have been contracted by the National Trust to undertake the work in the areas with higher levels of hazel still surviving. Using low-impact machinery to avoid soil damage, the contractors will clear around 2 acres at a time. On each plot all the trees will be removed, except for a scattering of larger broadleaved trees called ‘standards’. Most of the under-storey of shrubs will also be cut and allowed to re-grow again or any gaps planted up, although flowering hawthorns, hollies and some rowans will be left as insect nectar-sources.
Deer will then be prevented from browsing the new shoots for 2 or 3 years, during which time it should be possible to assess whether, and how many, of the woodland flowers have survived the dense shading of the conifer trees.
The second area is the western end of Row Heath here there is little hazel surviving, so we have chosen to use larger mechanised harvesters to remove most of the pine to allow enough light in to plant hazel and some oak. Managing in this way has most of the benefits of the smaller scale work without the increased costs and time of that method. This area will also end up being managed as coppice.
The third area the eastern end of Row Heath (the bit between the other two) has no sign of coppice within it and people who have lived in the area since before the pines were planted remember it as a beautiful broadleaved wood with several glades within it. This is also shown on early maps and aerial photographs. It is intended to restore this area to that state.
This work has not really begun yet although we did thin this area 3 or 4 years ago. It will be done by cutting glades within the pine blocks which will then be replanted with native broadleaved trees.
These processes will probably take the next 15 years to complete. We have and will continue to work closely with our Forestry Commission adviser during this period and allnecessary licences for the work have been obtained.
With more sunlight and the re-establishment of plants to provide food for insect larvae and birds, we hope to see a wider variety of wildlife in greater numbers. In time, brambly undergrowth will also develop and provide more nectar sources for insects and cover for small birds to nest in. Although butterfly numbers vary from year to year, some of the species not seen in Norfolk for decades have begun to re-appear in the county and are re-establishing in suitable places. These include white admiral and silver-washed fritillary.
We intend these woods to be one of those places, as well as becoming attractive to a wide range of other wildlife.
The important thing to note, is that trees continue to grow on the site and so continue to fix carbon. We intend to maintain this area as woodland so CO2 will continue to be removed from the atmosphere. The wood that is removed from site will go towards either Sheringham and Felbrigg’s biomass boiler so reducing the amount of heating oil we burn, or it will go as timber into various industries where it may well be used for things like building. This wood will lock the carbon within it for the time that it remains in use, which might be many decades.