The characteristics of a managed woodland

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We have posted a few articles recently regarding the fact that 53% of our woodlands need to be managed.

This needs to happen in order to encourage their development, to generate a greater amount of timber, a greater amount of wood fuel and to encourage wildlife currently under threat.

Managed woodlands also support a range of leisure pursuits as well as helping to capture CO₂ to help us breathe more easily.

The Guardian has also discussed how the growth in the biomass boiler sector is a catalyst for woodland management.

Demand for wood fuel driven by growth in the biomass sector, and the associated new income streams, are providing a financial incentive to woodland owners to manage their woodlands.

In this piece, we will look at the characteristics of a managed forest in order for anyone who has their own woodland to be able to assess how well managed their stock may be. We hope this will assist them in taking the first step in managing our woodlands.

One of the key drivers in developing a sustainable wood fuel supply is the need to bring neglected and under-managed woodland back into active management. To some, the notion of managed woodlands may conjure up a vision of row upon row of neat, evenly spaced, regimented trees of the same species lined up uniformly as if on parade.

It is true that there are vast areas of Forestry that look like this. Indeed the post-World War II philosophy was to grow such 'monoculture' woodlands for the sake of ease and efficiency.

This approach, as well as looking unsightly and unnatural, has a number of inherent problems.  If all the trees are of the same age, they will all be felled at the same time and this will leave vast gaps in forest and woodland cover.

Such gaps break down the ecological balance and affect the wildlife, flora and fauna that are also found in woodlands.  As we know from recent experience with the spread of contagious diseases, a single species forest or woodland is very vulnerable to a specific infectious disease or pest, which can wipe out the whole crop.

Forest and woodlands have multiple functions – they are important not just for timber and wood fuel production, but they are also valuable for both environmental change mitigation and in providing valuable leisure resources and services.

In summary, woodlands need to support:

  • Timber and wood fuel production
  • Biodiversity
  • Landscape  – visual appeal, interest  and ‘naturalness’
  • Public access, safety and recreation
  • Water quality and flooding  – trees can absorb excess rain and slow down potential flooding
  • Carbon management, both in the soil and in standing timber
  • Cultural values including archaeology, history and community interest

The key to bringing all these elements together is a management plan which can describe and map the nature of the forest and what needs to be done to bring it into management and meet its full potential.

Because forest and woodland management can provide benefits for the public as well as for the woodland owner, the government supports this multipurpose management with a range of grants administered through the Forestry Commission.

Forests and woodlands have a lifecycle and longevity way in excess of that of the human being. Changes we make today may not necessarily reach their full potential until our grandchildren are adults.

This means we have to think and plan carefully ahead. With the inevitability of climate change now widely accepted, there is an increasing drive to make our forest and woodlands more resilient.  After all, we hardly own the woodland – we are merely managing and stewarding for future generations.

New work is being undertaken to try different varieties of species in new environments. For example variants of our traditional species, which can grow in sunnier climates. To increase the resilience of the woodland to pests and diseases, resilience can be built in through mixing and planting different tree species.

This not only has the advantage of making the whole forest and woodland less prone to the devastating effects of disease and infection on a single species. It also adds to the aesthetic value, the look and feel, of the forest and woodland.  It simply looks more natural.  It also allows the woodland owner to grow different trees for different markets, increasing the overall economic balance, worth and value of the woodland.

Growing a mixed range of trees, each with their own growth rates and cycles, creates a more balanced woodland. It allows for what is termed ‘Continuous Cover’ forestry. Continuous Cover forestry involves the maintenance of a forest canopy during all stages of the forest lifecycle, and by its very nature, avoids large areas of clear felling. This results in a very structurally diverse woodland or forest, which in many in many cases is much better for wildlife.

This approach to woodland management allows the woodland owner to have a real impact in the shape and nature of the forest or woodland they manage.  This approach allows for flexibility in the nature of tress grown, the markets that the timber and woodfuel will be supplied to, and what environmental and social benefits the owner wishes to incorporate.

We can see that there is no such thing as a regimented, unsightly, managed woodland. Rather, we have the opportunity to create something that is both aesthetically pleasing, is of sound ecological and environmental benefit and economically viable.

Wood fuel can be an early source of income in clearing and managing neglected woodland, and can also be a means of taking poor quality timber out of the market. This leaves the market to utilise better quality timber for higher value products and goods.  All of this not only adds value to the goods and products of forestry, but has the potential to return that added value back into the communities and woodlands for further benefit, creating further local employment.

Some of these benefits are the core of the Grown in Britain Campaign. This campaign aims for new and stronger market pull for products from our own forests and woodlands – wood fuel plays a part in that drive.

This campaign will bring together everyone who values our forests, woods and trees and the products we can make from the wood they produce. Grown in Britain is already out there campaigning is now up and running and will bring its message into focus during Grown in Britain Week – 14th -18th October. Sign up and show your support on twitter to @GrowninBritain.

There are significant grants and incentives available for woodland development. Individuals can support the growth of woodlands and trees through contributing to organisations such as the Woodland Trust, that promote woodland development and preservation, as well as promoting opportunities to enjoy woodlands.

In summary, we do not profess to be foresters, but we hope to have given you some food for thought. Managing woodlands generate new income streams for woodland owners. They generate a greater amount of high quality timber for use in furniture and  construction. They also generate a greater amount of poor quality timber for use as wood fuel. Biodiversity will be encouraged and managing our woodlands may help protect endangered species such as the dormouse. The issues and considerations above are just the tip of the iceberg that we will discuss more fully in blogs over the coming months and our first hope is to help highlight some of the characteristics of a managed woodland. Do contact us and tell us what you think!  Or you could do far worse than to join in with the Grown in Britain Campaign!

Do you have a biomass or low carbon project?

Speak to our biomass team today

01884 250790

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