8 August 2018

2018 / 48

A change in the weather. Wind increasing from the west. Overcast with threat of rain. Prolonged sunny spells – 22°C

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Met at 2pm with the Forestry Commission’s Beat Officer and new Wildlife Ranger, onsite litter-picking as I arrived. We talked FC history, ongoing work, conservation strategy and woodland management, recreation, wildlife etc. I learned a lot in an hour and a half, explained my reasons behind wanting to work more closely with them and be allowed to retain a presence in the wood. It was respectful, encouraging and generally very positive.

I learned of targeted spraying and the complexities of appropriate windows of opportunity in a hot dry summer, trees struggling to establish themselves due to deer and rodent predation, Nightjar breeding seasons. Contracts, budgets, development strategy etc. My naive questions about the reasons for some practises and strategies were answered with detail and patience, and my information on Ravens, Firecrests and butterflies in particular well received. They appreciated my ‘work’ and my presence, and I appreciated their candour and flexibility.

Both officers were keen to stress there in NO PUBLIC ACCESS to the wood, and I witnessed them talking to a dog-walker as she left and two cyclists trying to get in. They mean it now, and will be patrolling / working on site more regularly. By restricting access, clearly forestry operations can continue without consideration of and provision for public safety; but also some of the ride management and wildlife surveys / management initiatives can proceed here where the subjects will be less disturbed. University reptile mats for example don’t become frisbees or barbecue fuel. Pioneer plant species have a chance to return and establish etc.

It was interesting to have the ride management programme explained as we walked around. Making the track wider enables more light into the wood, and the edges provide nectar plants for butterflies and insects. There is evidence of this already – Knapweed is gaining a foothold and managing to even appear among the dense bracken, a favourite among pollinating insects, being a source of good quality nectar. And as well as supporting bees, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds. It’s an encouraging development.

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Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

There are already Violets coming on the track, whose sandy soil and  flat surface should provide value nutrients and easier access for reptiles and voles. I have been aware of an increase in the number of flowering plants this year over last, and it is set to get better. Trampling by people and especially horses is a major problem. FC are in touch with the farm, but the relationship is ‘difficult’. Fences don’t necessarily last long.
They present a barrier too. As i walked up the footpath on the north side today, there is strong evidence of wildlife runs out of the wood into the fields.

The track edges are being encouraged to provide transition from grass through herbaceous vegetation to trees. Spraying is targeting only the bracken – fritillaries are expected to colonise within the next couple of years. Cock’s foot, bugle and violet all like grass and should be beneficial.
Also explained ot me was the process of cutting bays or ‘scallops’ which I have wondered about. These provide sunspots and shelter, as well as breaking up the edge of the rides to control wind. Some trees are left over hanging or protuding into the rides to have the same effect. Overhanging branches being occasionally allowed to meet provide safe crossing points for small mammals.

Structural diversity. All very encouraging. We talked about the arrival perhaps of Stonechat, Meadow and Tree Pipits, Woodlark. The Kestrels were performing well today in the middle – there is at least one new juvenile. A good sign that there is a strong – if unseen – population of mice and voles.

The Raven came over. We talked about those, and i picked up a Black-tailed Skimmer.

Next scheduled appointment is a detailed wildlife walk where we can discuss the specifics of present and future species on site. I can both share and learn.

But to re-iterate: there is henceforth NO PUBLIC ACCESS to the wood. It remains to be seen what difference that makes in practise… I have clearance to be here, but that comes with some conditions and expectations etc.

I look forward to seeing how things work out here in the next couple of years, and learning more about the flora and fauna of this special place.

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