In this new feature, our nature reserve manager Jonathan tells all about the next few months of work on the St Nicholas Fields nature reserve.
As winter draws in and vegetation dies back, the main focus of the management of our nature reserve will change to our woodlands. Our young woodland areas are maturing well, but in the next few years we will begin to thin certain areas in order to open up light, both for the benefit of struggling trees and on the woodland floor to encourage more of an understory to develop.
Thinning will take place in the form of traditional coppicing, which doesn’t kill the trees but instead involves cutting them to ground level in order to encourage new lower level growth in the hope of creating more diverse habitats for our wildlife. This thinning work will take place over a 5-year period so as not to dramatically alter the aesthetic value of the woodland. Some of the trees we coppice, for example willows, will have shot out 6 to 10ft of regrowth the following year. The upcoming tree work will mainly be completed by myself and our team of volunteer park ranger interns, but there are some trees that will require the assistance of our local tree surgeon. Consultation has taken place with our local Forestry Commission officer to give us as much advice as possible in helping us to prioritise the coppicing programme and choose which trees are worked on.
The majority of wood felled during the process will be left in the woodland as habitat piles to make homes for wildlife and to provide nutrients for our clay-heavy soil. Some of the wood will be brought into the centre compound and left to season for firewood to keep our staff, volunteers and visitors warm in coming months.
As well as coppicing trees we will also be planting more of them. A delivery of saplings donated by the Woodland Trust has just arrived and we will use them to create new hedgerows and to fill out and improve existing ones around the site. Hedgerows have been in decline in the UK for many years, and they are important because they create excellent habitats and safe transportation for a variety of wildlife. Along with this hedging we will also be planting elder saplings around some of our existing elder trees, which are now mature and rather battered (but full of character!). We won’t be felling any of these older trees as they provide valuable habitat for some of our on-site wildlife.
If you would like to find out more about our management plans for the nature reserve I am happy to answer any queries and show you around the site. If you want to get more practically involved and help with the thinning or planting this winter get in touch with Vicki, our volunteer coordinator.