Woodland Management at four nature reserves continues Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s ambitious 10-year plans.

Ryton Wood Kate Sugden

Trust continues its step change in woodland management to provide long-term protection and resilience to its nature reserves.

In 2019, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust began implementing its newly created ten-year woodland management plans, covering 12 large woodlands owned or managed by the Trust. These plans run alongside a new strategy aimed at making these woodlands better protected for wildlife and people, more resilient to change, and sustainably managed. The first nature reserve to see new ways of working last year was Snitterfield Bushes near Stratford-upon-Avon. This year, management will continue at Snitterfield Bushes, and work will also take place at Ryton Woods near Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Clowes Wood near Solihull, and Warwickshire District Council owned Oakley Woods near Leamington Spa. Other large woodlands looked after by the Trust will see management in subsequent years as the plans progress.
Warwickshire is among the least wooded counties in the UK, which in turn is one of the least wooded countries in Europe. This makes Warwickshire’s woodlands precious and important within the landscape. Woodlands have been essential to people for thousands of years, used for timber, fuel and shelter, and more recently for public recreation as well. We know woodlands play an important role in securing carbon, purifying the air we breathe and also helping to prevent flooding.
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust advocates for actively managing wildlife habitats for biodiversity and sustainable woodland management which can help secure the long-term future of woodlands. A woodland with trees of different ages and varied structures created through cyclical felling, thinning and coppicing, will attract a bigger range of wildlife, and will also be more resilient to pests, diseases and climate change. Therefore, one of the biggest threats to our woodlands is the decision not to manage them.
After the Second World War, Oakley Wood was cleared and replanted with non-native conifers to remedy timber shortages. As a result, the woodland is all of the same age and therefore of limited use to wildlife, which benefits from a more diverse selection of native trees. To promote the establishment of native broadleaved trees, the Trust will partner with the woodland owners, Warwick District Council, and work over a ten year period to replace the conifers with native species. This work will be supported by the local community group the Friends of Oakley Wood. This autumn and winter, a third of the trees will be removed across specific areas, and several 30 metre clearings will be created. These openings in the tree canopy will provide light and space for native trees to grow. The natural growth of native trees will need to be supplemented by increased tree planting in the wood which will begin this winter.
At Snitterfield Bushes, the focus will be on thinning out ash trees in favour of alternative species. The disease ash dieback has been devastating ash trees throughout the country as it sweeps its way north, and has now reached Snitterfield Bushes. As the ash trees die they become dangerous to people and property, and where they form the majority of a woodland, as at Snitterfield Bushes, the ecology of the woodland can also be threatened. So, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is planning ahead by removing potentially hazardous roadside trees and thinning woodland blocks in favour of alternative native species. This should add some resilience to the woodland and provide long-term protection for wildlife and people.
The work at Ryton Wood and Clowes wood is focussed on improving the structure of the woodland. Some areas of these woodlands are suffering from a closed canopy due to a lack of management in recent decades. Whilst this type of woodland benefits many common species adapted for such conditions, some of the threatened and rare species that require a varied structure and differing levels of light and micro-climates are in danger of being squeezed out. The woodland is also lacking enough canopy gaps and light to encourage the next generation of trees to come through, which would replace the older trees once they reach the end of their natural life expectancy. This is particularly concerning in a woodland made up of mainly similar aged trees, and threatens the long-term stability of the wood. Work in these woodlands will make them better for wildlife and more resilient in the long term.                
The larger scale work will be achieved by contractors and whilst woodland management can appear destructive, cause temporary inconvenience, and hamper access - the woodland soon recovers.  During these works the contractors will avoid using the path network wherever possible and any areas that are disturbed will be repaired before works are completed (by March before the bird nesting season begins).
Local people can get involved in their local woodlands by volunteering with the Trust, and the charity aims to provide positive opportunity and continued access for local people through our woodland management; making them healthy and vibrant places for both people and wildlife.