Island Hopping

I was out with the volunteers at Swanwick Lakes today and we were joined by the Beechcroft team headed by Rob, so there was scope to get lots done, and we did. We worked on two main tasks, making a start on clearing the tree regrowth on the island of the Centre Lake was one.

Centre Lake island at the start of the day

Centre Lake island at the start of the day

A really good start was made and by the end of the day we had over half of the island cleared and the material burnt up, generally I am not a great fan of fires on nature reserves,but I made an exception today. Fires consume a potential wildlife resource in the form of small deadwood, which is at least as valuable for beetles etc as large logs, so I favour dead hedging wherever possible. Fire sites also sterilise the ground they are burnt on and make a mineral rich spot that becomes dominated by plants such as nettles, so they are especially damaging on flora rich sites such as chalk grassland and ancient woodlands. Obviously even material dead hedged will input nutrients as it rots down but not in such a concentrated way and much of it will be consumed by fungi and invertebrates along the way. At the end of the day the island looked somewhat different and hopefully we will get the rest done next week.

Island at the end of the day

Island at the end of the day

The bulk of the team was working in the area behind the Centre thinning tall, thin birch trees that are starting to die off and fall over, the area is used by the Education team so action was needed to keep the area safe. The history of this patch is interesting, it seems it was used when there were strawberry fields and has a series of ridges and dips. The area grew up with scrub, mostly hawthorn and then seems to have been invaded by birches, this resulted in the thorns getting drawn upwards to try to keep in the light. The close growing trees have all become very tall and thin posing a real risk of falling, so we have decided to thin the birches out and coppice or pollard some of the other trees leaving a few to grow on. Luckily there are several aspens, a potentially very good hornbeam and a scatter of other trees. Here we have been dead hedging the cuttings and also laying over some of the smaller dogwoods, sallows and thorns to make a lower denser layer to provide cover for wildlife and an understory under the remaining trees.

dead hedging at Swanwick

dead hedging at Swanwick

On Sunday I got out in the New Forest for a bit, the Forest is a real UK wildlife hotspot and haven to lots of species found rarely elsewhere in the country. This is largely due to the continuity of management and so habitat over a very long period, the Forest is largely a human construct, the product of hundreds of years of active management and commoning of animals.

birch by New Forest stream

birch by New Forest stream

Much of the Forest is very nutrient poor, the thin soils unsuited to agriculture, as a result it was pretty much passed by when farming transformed the landscapes of the rest of southern England, ancient Forest rights continued to be practiced and continue to this day. There was not a lot f this richness on show on Sunday, it was raw cold and the wildlife was keeping a low profile, a few lichens and mosses were the most eye-catching things on show.

lichen on birch tree

lichen on birch tree

One tree can have several different lichens and the same birch had a large growth of a second species as well.

More lichen on the same tree

More lichen on the same tree

Not much that was on show was green, apart from a few mosses.

moss on tree stump

moss on tree stump

The way that much of our wildlife has become confined to a few hotspots such as the New Forest, perhaps more of a “hotpatch”, in that at least it is quite a large area, is a real problem. Many species are now found only on a few sites, often nature reserves, where you might think they are safe, but such isolated populations are very vulnerable. A Plantlife report entitled “Our Vanishing Flora” highlights the alarming changes that have occurred since serious plant recording started in the UK. Since the 17th century 80 species (flowering plants, mosses, liverworts and lichens) have become extinct in Britain as a whole, England has actually lost 106 species in that time. This is only part of the story though, a very large number of species that once were common are now scarce or rare and some of these will undoubtedly follow the lost species in the coming years. The full report can be downloaded from Plantlife’s website www.plantlife,org.uk. This and lots of other fascinating wildlife stuff was covered in the latest issue of “British Wildlife” magazine, one of my favourite publications, just behind the Trust’s own “Wildlife”agazine of course!

 

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