Nature Reserve Management

A small army of staff and dedicated volunteers are needed to maintain and care for our nature reserves and the wildlife that inhabit them. Many of our nature reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), noted for their rare species or habitats. In order to maintain these habitats and the species that live within them, we have to manage our nature reserves in order to maintain their wildlife value and diversity. This may take the form of Woodland Management that may involve tree felling or thinning. Meadow Management may be in the form of taking a hay cut and we may have to intervene to remove non-native or invasive species that threaten our native flora and fauna.

The majority of our nature reserve management takes place in the autumn and winter to avoid disturbing breeding birds but some management such as woodland ride mowing, balsam pulling and site maintenance of fences etc may be undertaken throughout the year.

For more specific information about the management work we undertake on our nature reserves and why the work is vital, please see below.

Woodland Managment - Grassland Management - Hedgerow ManagementNon-Native & Invasive Species Control - Wetland Management

 

Woodland Management

Why are woodlands important?
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust manages a number of important woodlands across the county in order to make them the best possible places for animals and plants to thrive. These include some ancient woodlands. Ancient woodlands have a high wildlife value and are identified as such by the presence of a range of woodland plants you are unlikely to find elsewhere.

Historically much of the woodland in Britain and across Warwickshire has been lost. That which remains may have suffered through both lack of management or wholesale removal of trees. In addition the planting and or colonisation of non-native trees may have reduced the native wildlife that a woodland can support.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is committed to maintaining and enhancing the woodlands under our management, and where appropriate restoring those woodlands, which may have suffered in the past, to be more in keeping with native British broadleaved woodland.

Why how and when do we manage woodland.
One of the main aims of our woodland management is to create woodland that is made up of trees of varying heights, ages and species. By doing this we are creating a wide range of places where different plants and animals can co-exist.

Woodlands made up of similar sized and aged trees with little variation in tree species can only support a limited number of plant and animal species. By actively managing woodlands we are able to create light and shade, wetter and drier areas and ensure varied structure to the woodland, which will support a much greater range of woodland species.

Whilst there a large range of different woodland management techniques some of the more common management practices you may encounter are as follows –

  • Coppicing.
    Coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique dating to prehistory in Britain, whereby trees were cut at the base and the resulting regrowth was used as a wood crop. Coppiced trees will re-sprout from the base and will continue to grow for many years to come. Although it can look drastic in appearance coppicing will prolong the life of the individual tree and ensure new growth in subsequent years.

    We now coppice trees as part of our wildlife conservation management. This is typically carried out in designated plots which are then re-coppiced periodically over a set number of years. The result is a range of ages of coppice, supporting a much greater variety of wildlife than if this practice were not to take place.
     

  • Planting.
    Planting young trees is occasionally used to improve the range of species within woodland or to create woodland. Where other management techniques are also used to promote the growth of trees in addition planting may sometimes also be needed to assist the natural process.
     
  • Felling.
    Tree felling is one of the most important methods available to us for woodland management. Trees will often be removed to both create glades and to let light into a woodland, benefiting the woodland floor and its associated plant and insect life. It may sometimes be necessary to remove certain species of trees where if not removed they will they predominate to the detriment of other tree species of equal or greater benefit to wildlife. Where trees are diseased and or present a hazard it may be necessary to remove these.

    Felled trees are often left in-situ, and providing cover for small mammals and a host for fungi and boring insects.

    Combining felling with other management such as coppicing or planting helps us create a woodland that has lots of light and space, is full of new growth and is able to best support wild plants and animals across the county.
     

  • Edges & Rides.
    The most diverse and vibrant part of a woodland is normally along its edge or along the tracks or ‘rides’ that sometimes pass through it. This is because the brighter, sunnier edges allow for a wide range of plants to grow, which in turn support insects, which in turn feed small mammals and birds. Managing these areas is vitally important as the majority of nectar feeding insects will only be found here. In this respect rides are managed in a similar way to grassland.
    We complete the majority of our woodland tree management work during the dormant winter months where the minimum disturbance is caused . On occasion where a tree presents a hazard we may need to undertake works outside of this period. Our woodland ride management is typically undertaken from July onwards, taking into consideration nesting birds and flowering periods.

Grassland Managment

Why are meadows important?
Our grasslands are a vital habitat for a whole range of native British species from the grasses and wildflowers that make up a meadow to the insects, small mammals and predators that rely on this unique habitat. 

Historically we have lost the vast majority of our species-rich grassland. That which remains not only supports a range of rare and unique species but also forms part of our natural and agricultural heritage. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is committed to preserving what remains, to enhancing the grassland under our care and to working with our partners and landowners to sympathetically manage our meadows and improve the wildlife value of grasslands in the wider landscape.

How and when do we manage grassland?
Throughout the seasons you are likely to see a range of both traditional and contemporary management techniques taking place.

We will typically cut our meadows from mid- July onwards, although this can take place at other times of year. Grassland is cut at this time of year as it allows the majority of wildflowers to both flower and set seed. Cuttings are usually removed as this promotes a greater diversity of plant life. Removed clippings will often be piled around the edge of the grassland, providing an ideal home for small mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

Some grassland sites are sympathetically grazed by cattle or sheep for a specified period after being cut to aid the management of the grassland. Please bear this in mind when visiting reserves and observe any instructions provided on signage.

You may see areas of grassland which haven’t been cut. We often leave areas of rough grassland to provide a habitat for small mammals, insects which overwinter as part of their life-cycle and for wildflowers to go to seed – this also provides winter food for birds.

We will sometimes give our meadows a helping hand by both planting and seeding with wildflowers. This improves the diversity of plant life and its associated fauna.

Left unmanaged any area of grassland will, by a natural process, become dominated with coarse grasses shortly followed by small trees, and will provide an environment where nettles and brambles will thrive. Whilst this scrubby habitat is of value to wildlife in itself our traditional grasslands are of far greater conservation value for their host of rare species they support. Therefore we routinely remove any excessive scrub during the winter, taking care to retain a sufficient amount as a food source and refuge for wildlife.

Hedgerow Management

Why are hedgerows important?
Hedgerows form a quintessentially British feature of our landscape that provides a living link to our pastoral history. Intensive agricultural methods, urbanization, and changes in our gardening habits have resulted in both a huge loss of and a degradation of our hedgerows. This makes those hedgerows that have endured the modern changes to our landscape all the more important. 

Hedgerows are vital for wildlife, providing semi-natural corridors that link-up larger habitats and provide a sanctuary for a host of wildlife, including nesting birds, small mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and a surprising diversity of plant life.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is committed to working with our partners, landowners, and local farmers to both plant new hedgerows where appropriate, and to reinstate, restore, and manage existing hedgerows to provide the maximum benefit to our natural world.

How and when do we manage hedgerows?
We manage hedgerows using a number of techniques, mostly undertaken in late winter and early spring, and all of which you are likely to see when visiting many of our sixty-five reserves across the county. 

If you see part or all of a hedgerow that has been cut off at the base it has been coppiced. Whilst this may at first look destructive it in fact prolongs the life of the individual hedgerow plants and promotes new growth the following spring. This is typically done when a section of hedge has become too large or to reinstate derelict hedges.

In combination with coppicing any excessive gaps and whole new sections of hedgerow are usually planted with two-year-old saplings. Species used typically include hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose and other native species, which are responsibly sourced.

When restoring a hedgerow a lot of woody material is often produced. This is frequently woven and staked to create a dead-hedge. There is a great deal of life in a dead-hedge. It provides a home for fungi and wood-boring insects, and can provide some protection to new hedgerow growth from excessive deer and rabbit browsing.

Hedge-laying is a rural skill dating back to the 1800’s and was commonly employed as an effective method of enclosing livestock. Traditionally thorny species such as hawthorn and blackthorn were cut at the base and laid staked and bound. Care was taken to retain a living tongue of wood on each cut stem in effect creating a living fence. As well as promoting and reviving a traditional skill, laid hedges are a haven for wildlife, including many declining farmland birds.

Non-Native & Invasive Species Control

Why do we need to control non-native and invasive species?
We have a multitude of species that do not originate in the UK. Many species we think of as native will have colonized Britain through prehistoric human migration, early farming communities and into the early middle-ages, and be considered naturalized. In our more recent history and into modern times – agriculture, horticulture, trade, movement of people and globalization has resulted in a much great influx of alien species from all over the globe. The vast majority of these species do not pose a threat to our native wildlife. However, some species through being adapted to a different environment are able to gain an unnatural advantage and have the potential to cause catastrophic damage to our native ecosystems. 

How do we manage non-native and invasive species when they become problematic?
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and our partners seek to undertake management to control non-native and invasive species where they have the potential to cause damage. Any management undertaken is proportionate to the threat posed. Although avoided wherever possible at times the use of herbicide is the most effective control method. This is undertaken by appropriately qualified and trained operatives under strict protocols. The following species are amongst those we commonly manage to control their extent – 

  • Japanese knotweed
    Japanese Knotweed grows aggressively to out-compete other plants and can spread through an extensive root system. It is controlled with selective and targeted use of herbicides.
     
  • Himalayan balsam
    Himalayan Balsam can predominate along riverbanks, watercourses and wetland habitats shading out native plants and potentially resulting in riverbank erosion. It is controlled by manually pulling up at the root in-situ and or cutting off at the base using a strimmer before its seeds become viable. Once its seed pods are formed no control is undertaken as this has the potential to cause further spread of the plant. 
     
  • Rhododendron ponticum
    Rhododendron ponticum can spread aggressively through suckering of the root system and abundant seed production. Its canopy produces excessive shade ultimately resulting in a monoculture under which very little else grows. Cut material is left in-situ to compost down.
     
  • Cherry laurel
    Cherry laurel can be invasive arising from its rapid growth, seed dispersal through birds, evergreen habit and tolerance of drought and shade. It is controlled by uprooting saplings and cutting off larger trees at the base and selective localized treatment of the cut stem with herbicide.
     
  • Sycamore
    Sycamore, although being naturalized in the UK for centuries can dominate the woodland canopy of a native woodland by way through seed proliferation, its fast grown rate and shading produced by its large leaves. It is controlled through manual removal and selective herbicide treatment.
     
  • Spanish bluebell
    Spanish bluebell is larger than our own native bluebell and is invasive through its production of fertile seed and ability to hybridize with our own native bluebell. It is controlled by selective use of herbicides.
     
  • Variegated Yellow Archangel
    Variegated Yellow Archangel is a garden variety of a native plant. It can spread through both its seed and long creeping runners which form their own roots. It has a habit of carpeting the woodland floor, out-competing other ground flora. It is controlled by manually pulling up at the root and leaving removed material in-situ, and where appropriate selective use of herbicides in winter.
     
  • New Zealand pygmyweed
    New Zealand pygmyweed is an aquatic succulent which forms extensive matts in ponds lakes and wetland margins. It controlled by a variety of methods to prevent it photosynthesizing whilst taking extreme care not to spread its extent.

Wetland Management

Why are wetlands important?
Together wetlands form our most diverse habitats, in Warwickshire ranging from damp wheel ruts seasonally holding water to small ponds to marsh, fen, wet woodland, canals, and extensive lowland river systems and lakes. Each of these habitats has its own unique characteristics and associated animal and plant life. 

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust works with landowners and partner organisations to maintain and enhance wetland on a landscape scale. This has included our active partnership in the Tame Valley Wetlands Project and the expansion of the Newlands Reedbed at our Brandon Marsh Headquarters.

How do we manage wetlands?
Many if our reserves contain a range of wetland habitats. Left unmanaged open still waters will reduce in size and depth through the accumulation of silt and organic matter, and through colonisation by marginal plants shrubs and trees. This will ultimately result in the loss of wetland and reversion to scrub then woodland.

In our managed landscape as natural processes are usually not at work to create new wetland areas human intervention is often needed to maintain our wetland habitats in their optimal state for their watery wildlife.

A number of management techniques are carried out to maintain and improve wetlands. This takes place in accordance with management plans and at appropriate times of year to cause minimum disturbance to wildlife. When visiting our reserves you should be able to view an interesting and varied range of wildlife that is likely to have benefited from some of the following wetland management techniques we employ –

We will sometimes give wetlands a helping hand by introducing responsibly sourced native plants. This could for example be creating or expanding a reedbed – providing a home for rare birds, or sowing water meadow seed – providing an impressive floral display and an important nectar source for bees.

We often remove alien invasive plants that spread along waterways. This could be for example uprooting himilayan balsam, which unmanaged can result in the loss of our native plants and riverbank erosion.

We may selectively fell trees along wetland margins where there is excessive shading. This also gives plants along the wetland margin a chance to establish, in turn providing cover for birds, and small mammals and a home for aquatic insects.

The wholesale removal of trees within a wetland and along its margins is sometimes needed to maintain a wetland. This often takes place where ponds are silted-up through leaf litter and water depth is low through thirsty tree roots.

We may manually or mechanically remove large amounts of silt to restore a wetland where it has been lost or water depth is too low. This could for example maintain a population of small fish for kingfishers.

You may see heavily pruned stumpy trees along river banks. These trees have been pollarded. Pollarding prevents trees from growing to a height that they may split, as is often the case with willows, and block watercourses. It also has the benefit of prolonging the life of trees. Veteran pollarded trees can often provide a home for bats, nesting birds, and support a large range of insects.

Our watercourses can sometimes suffer through the accumulation of both litter and everyday items picked up in flood, which are often not biodegradable. Where possible our dedicated volunteers, often together with members of local communities, undertake clean ups of streams rivers and ponds.

Who to contact

If you have any questions about any work being undertaken on our nature reserves, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team below.

Karl Curtis

Karl Curtis
Director of Reserves and Community Engagement
t: 024 7630 8975
e: karl.curtis@wkwt.org.uk


George Green

George Green
Reserves Officer (South)
t: 024 7630 8995
m: 07958 634 678
e: george.green@wkwt.org.uk


Peter Thorne

Peter Thorne
Reserves Officer (North)
t: 024 7630 2912
e: peter.thorne@wkwt.org.uk