MacBradan Bones is a Woodland Officer for the Forestry Commission based in the East and East Midlands Area. Here he shares tips on managing your woodland in spring.
The calendar may have reached spring several weeks ago but as we’re finally starting to be greeted by sunny mornings and clear skies, it’s only now that it feels like the chill of winter has been firmly left behind.
With the promise of summer not far away, getting outdoors has never felt more appealing, so if you own or manage a woodland it’s time to be making use of those lighter evenings helping it to flourish. Here’s our tips for the best management practices to carry out in spring.
Spring is when the woods really come into their own and now is the time to find out what grows in your wood. The first buds begin to open, snowdrops yield space to wood anemones and bluebells, and some trees are already heavy with catkins. Soon too will come some scarcer flowers like cow wheat, oxlips, dog’s mercury, enchanter’s nightshade and many more. These plants and flowers can really help you understand the soil that your trees are growing in and be brilliant to help inform species choice for any enrichment planting or woodland expansion you plan to do later in the year. It won’t be long until the trees are in full leaf and the canopy will close, ending the spring display.
The damp floor from spring rain means that tracks show well and spring is an ideal time to undertake deer surveys. Whilst the rampant growth of plants can make it difficult to see where deer are having an impact, if you look closely, you might spot new shoots that have been browsed by deer.
These can be identified by the torn strip that deer leave when biting shoots, while other animals such as rabbits and hares leave the shoots looking like they have been cut with scissors.
Another useful way of assessing the impacts of deer is by creating ‘exclosures’. These are small areas, of only a couple of square meters, which are fenced off from deer and rabbits/hares early in the spring. The difference between the vegetation which grows and thrives within the protection of the fence can be remarkable and a good indicator of the impact of browsing on the woodland.
Surveys are best done before the spring growth masks the impacts, this can happen earlier in the south of England than in the north so if in doubt consult your local Deer officer.
As the weather warms up, keep an eye out for tree pests like Oak Processionary moth, and Ips Typographus (Spruce bark beetle). They are notifiable pests and we should be informed if you think you have seen them. Any sightings should be reported via the online Tree Alert portal. Both of them are currently localised and you can click the links above to find out if they have been spotted in your area. Woodland owners in some areas can apply for funding support through the Tree Health Pilot if they find infected trees.
As birds and other wildlife, such as dormice, bats and red squirrels begin to nest, felling and moving large piles of brash etc should only be done with great care and good planning. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects our woodland wildlife from reckless disturbance so it is essential to check thoroughly to see what is living in the wood and plan how to work around it safely. If in doubt do seek advice.
It's not just birds that will be making homes in your woodland now; insects like bees and butterflies will be about too. Many species can be an excellent indicator of the overall health of your woodland so now is a great time to begin monitoring them. Take watch at different times of the day and see how the activity in your woodland differs.
Finally spring is the perfect time to stand still and connect with nature. The sound of insects buzzing, birdsong and the spring sunshine can be the perfect antidote to the rush of life, and being outside is great for your physical and mental health. Making time for your wellbeing is very important so get into the woods and enjoy watching them come alive!