‘If you go down to the woods today …… many woodlands are dark, overgrown and quiet. Too many of our woodlands are neglected, mis-managed or under-managed’. These are the conclusions of the charity Plantlife in their report ‘Forestry Recommissioned: Bringing Woodlands back to life’.
The report goes on to explain that lack of management may be the biggest threat facing our woodlands today. ‘A lack of active management means that sunlight can often no longer reach the woodland floor. Rarely grazed by livestock, woodlands are often overgrown with brambles and suffering from high levels of nutrient pollution, which encourage plants like nettles instead of our specialist woodland flora. Woodland like this has lost its wildlife’. The first step in restoring neglected woodland is to write a woodland management plan. Writing a plan is an opportunity to bring together everything you know about your woodland; to think about what is important to you in your woodland; what you want from your woodland and to decide how best to manage it to meet your objectives.
With so many woodlands having fallen into neglect, woodland wildlife is suffering. The latest Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology in partnership with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, has highlighted a significant decline in woodland bird species. Numbers are down by more than 50% in several species, the worst hit being the willow tit which is down by 77%. What about butterflies? Nearly three-quarters of all British butterflies will use woodland as breeding habitat but during the 20th century there has been an increasingly rapid decline in woodland butterflies. The charity Butterfly Conservation reports that the abundance of butterflies in woodlands has dropped by 43% over the last 16 years. Some, such as the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Heath Fritillary are now endangered nationally, while others, such as the Wood White are undergoing a rapid rate of colony extinction.
What can we do to halt these frightening declines in our woodland wildlife? An important step is to open up neglected woodland to allow sunlight back to the woodland floor, stimulating the woodland flowers and shrubs which provide feeding and breeding areas for woodland birds and butterflies. Start with a woodland management plan. The Forestry Commission offers Woodland Planning Grants for woodlands of 3ha and over which can cover most, if not all the costs of preparing a plan. At Petra Billings Woodland Consultancy Ltd, we have extensive experience of writing Forestry-Commission-approved plans. We work with woodland owners to develop plans that fit with their own vision and objectives for their woods. Once the plans have been approved by the Forestry Commission we can also help with recommending contractors and, where appropriate, with applications for further woodland grants. If you would like to find out more, contact Petra.