Managing Oakley Wood
Woodlands have been essential to people for thousands of years. They are used for timber, fuel and shelter, and more recently for public recreation as well. We know woodlands play an important functional role in securing carbon, purifying the air we breathe and also helping prevent flooding.
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 woodlands can support.
Warwickshire is now among the least wooded counties in the UK, which as a country is one of the least wooded in Europe. This makes the woodlands of Warwickshire precious and important within the landscape.
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. In the case of Oakley Wood, which is managed by the Wildlife Trust in partnership with the owner Warwick District Council, and supported by the Friends of Oakley Wood, there is an increased emphasis on the value of the site as an amenity and wildlife resource for the local community.
Oakley Wood is managed with an overall ambition to restore the site to native broadleaves. Recent management has focused on thinning to reduce the proportion of conifers and promote natural regeneration. Other works include widening of rides and clearing around ponds aimed at improving the wildlife value of the site.
Frequently Asked Questions
Read on for answers to your questions about how we manage our woodlands.
Why are trees being cut down?
All woodlands in the UK have been managed through felling trees at some stage in their life. Indeed, the reasons people and wildlife may benefit from a particular woodland could be due to the way it has been managed in its past. For example, large veteran oaks provide much visual and wildlife value, but would not exist without the felling of trees around them over their life time.
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 (habitats) 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 through tree felling 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. Native British broadleaf woodlands also support much more wildlife than non-native conifers, which is why conifers will slowly be thinned out at Oakley Wood. We are also protecting woodlands for the future by allowing space for the next generation of trees to replace those that exist now. We will be planting a mix of native broadleaved species which will help make the woodland resistant to diseases and pests that target individual tree species.
Why can’t woodlands be left alone to be “natural”?
Much of the woodland wildlife that is now endangered used to rely on key natural processes to survive. These could include trees naturally falling over to create light for wildflowers and shrubs, large herbivores keeping areas open through grazing, and dead and decaying wood providing habitat for insects.
The woodlands that remain in the UK are only fragments of huge sprawling woodlands of the past, and many important species that drive natural processes have been lost. This means that the conditions that endangered species used to rely on occur less frequently in individual woodlands. This has contributed to a significant decline in woodland wildlife.
Our work aims to recreate the right conditions to prevent the further loss of wildlife. We do this through a variety of traditional techniques including felling trees, creating and cutting open areas, encouraging dead wood, and planting new trees. Science has shown that well managed woodlands hold a greater diversity of wildlife than unmanaged woodlands.
Of note, the woodland at Oakley Wood is not natural woodland. Most of the ancient woodland that existed here was felled to support the efforts of the first and second world wars. The woodland was then planted up as a non-native pine crop resulting in what we see today. This is known as a Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Warwick District Council are working to restore the site to resemble more closely what it previously would have looked like.
How does the use of machinery to fell trees impact the woodland and its important features?
Traditionally, woodlands were managed using low impact techniques such as felling by hand and moving wood with horses. This way of working is now no longer economical or sustainable and so where appropriate, machinery may be used to provide the required woodland management. Whilst the use of machinery can cause disturbance, not managing our woodlands to provide the right conditions would be more damaging to the wildlife that lives there. We also take many precautions to minimise the disturbance caused by machinery.
Before any work commences, areas are checked for sensitive wildlife, and workers are made aware of places to avoid. Tree felling is takes place outside of the bird nesting season and potential bat roosts are marked and left alone. Dedicated routes for moving machinery are also used to minimise disturbance to the soil, and any deep rutting is repaired before work is finished.
Oakley Wood includes the scheduled monument of Oakley Wood Camp, (a historic hillfort), which will eventually be managed as an open area with scattered feature trees. Any work within here will be carefully and sensitively planned with agreement from Historic England to ensure no damage is caused to the monument.
Why does it look so different after management?
Whilst the management of woodlands can cause a significant visual change in the short term, we must remember the importance of undertaking the management to ensure are woods are healthy for the long term. An area that has been managed may not return to how it looked for several decades as woodlands are slow growing and change over far longer periods. Whilst as humans we see the change and expect it to return to how it was quickly, woodlands work in centuries and therefore the work that we undertake now will be for the benefit of wildlife and people for generations to come.
Why do paths have to be closed?
Some paths may have to be closed temporarily as the work cannot be done safely without the exclusion of people. Workers operating machines may have limited visibility and trees being processed have the potential to fall on unaware pedestrians (or their dogs). We apologise for any inconvenience and try to make sure there are alternative routes available.
How is it decided which trees are cut down?
The woodland management carried out has been planned out in woodland management plans and felling licenses that have been approved by the Forestry Commission (the statutory body responsible for authorising this kind of work). These plans were created with the advice of the Forestry Commission and Natural England and with the help of woodland management consultants. They detail the different types of management (including tree felling selection) to be carried out throughout the woodland for the benefit of people and wildlife.
What impact does woodland management have on climate change?
To provide any form of useful carbon storage, woodlands need to exist and be protected in the long term, not just in the present. We recognise this, and sustainable management that protects and enhances our woodlands is the basis of our long term vision in our woodland strategy.
What this means is that the rate at which carbon is removed through tree felling is less than the rate at which it is stored in the trees, soils and other organic matter throughout the woodland. Furthermore, the tree felling work that adds resilience and wildlife benefit to our woodlands does not result in deforestation. This way the woodlands will not only contribute to tackling climate change now, but they will be around to do so over centuries to come.
Where is the timber going?
In order to sustainably manage our woodlands for people and wildlife in the long term, it is necessary to cover the costs of management. Timber generated from management is sold and money is reinvested into the woodland nature reserves. As a charity, we do not make a profit from selling timber or biomass. The money that is brought in pays for the tree felling itself as well as a range of activities such as improving access and signs, tree planting, tools and equipment, as well as other habitat management work that comes at a cost. Warwick District Council will be agreeing where any income is spent on Oakley wood.
A proportion of the wood is also left as standing and fallen dead wood which provides habitat to a range of wildlife, including birds, fungi, bats and insects. The dead wood further decays over a longer time period to provide the soils of the future.
How is ash dieback being dealt with?
Ash dieback is a disease that has been sweeping its way across the country killing off a majority of ash trees where it hits. The disease is spread by fungal spores and results in branches dying back and falling off and the eventual death of the tree in almost all cases. We recognise the damage to people, property and wildlife that this disease has the potential to cause and follow expert advice to take proactive steps that mitigate the effects.
Over time, ash trees infected with the disease become unpredictable, making them more dangerous and expensive to deal with the longer that they are left. Where ash trees in infected woodlands pose a threat to people and property, particularly on the sides of busy roads, we will remove the ash trees within road striking distance. We will judge each of our nature reserves on a case by case basis and the likelihood of the trees causing injury or damage.
Where infected woodlands contain a high density of ash trees, we may also remove a proportion of ash in favour of other species. We will retain saplings and larger trees that show fewer symptoms as it is thought that some ash will be genetically resistant to ash dieback. This management aims to give a head start to the woodland recovery following the initial impact, with alternative species and resistant ash trees ready to replace the ash that is lost.