Today, 3rd March 2021, is the United Nations World Wildlife Day. It is a day in which we can celebrate an aspect of the myriad of habitats around the world, ecology and environments. This year’s theme is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet” as a way to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally. The day has a focus on indigenous colonies living off the forests of the world, but we wanted to explore UK forests and woodland patches which have great importance to wildlife and people.
Large patches of woodland are, as you would imagine, more beneficial for the wildlife they support, as they can support more species and larger populations of individual species. However, huge areas of the UK are made up of a mosaic of landscapes including smaller patches of woodland between farmers’ fields, residential areas and even between the fairways of a golf course.
One benefit to small woodland patches is the increase in woodland edges that these contribute. A ‘soft’ woodland edge is a great way to add suitable nesting bird habitats to a small area. ‘Soft’ woodland edges consist of around a 4 m width of shrubs and bushes adjacent to the woodland edge, as opposed to a ‘hard’ woodland edge of tall trees adjacent to fields. This provides great nesting opportunities for woodland specialist bird species, as well as scrub specialists and field specialists.
These benefits are amplified when woodland edges are interconnected with others, both through treelines and hedgerows. Bats use echolocation to move around meaning they need linear stand-out structures, such as woodland edges and hedgerows, to navigate. Creating these wildlife corridors across the UK will increase the biodiversity and maneuverability for many species.
Woodlands across the UK have different purposes, be it recreational, shooting or timber, and the management of woodlands must suit the purpose. Having said that, there are some easy and more general woodland management practices that you can implement on your woodland/s to increase wildlife and biodiversity.
Woodlands with the highest biodiversity have a range of plant heights and habitats, with mix of old and new trees. Coppicing creates ideal conditions for some wildflowers in the first few years after cutting as the sudden influx of sunlight can stimulate a wonderful display. As the coppice grows and becomes denser this creates good opportunities for nesting birds. Opening out already existing paths or less shaded areas to form light glades and rides is also beneficial for encouraging beautiful plants such as vetches, trefoils and strawberry, perfect for butterflies and other pollinators.
Dense brash and scrub such as holly bushes, ivy and bramble may not look the prettiest, but provide great habitats for nesting birds and mammals who can hide away in the scrub. Often there needs to be a compromise within a woodland between the beauty and the brash, for example cutting back some areas of brash to let bluebells grow in the spring which make the woodland more attractive to visitors. Keep in mind that any vegetation clearance needs to be done out of the nesting bird season (March – August, inclusive) as it is illegal to disturb any nesting bird in the UK.
It may be tempting to remove dead trees, either standing or fallen, to keep your woodland tidy, however these provide great homes for bat roosts, fungi, mosses, and lichens which in turn provide ample foraging for birds and mammals. If fallen branches and plant debris need to be moved, it is best to tuck them away somewhere out of the way in the woodland so they can still be used by small mammals and insects. Make sure to visit dead wood in the fungi season (September – November) to experience a full variety of fascinating fungi which develop from decay.
Forests and woodlands, no matter the size, provide a pleasant space to exercise and watch nature which can greatly increase the happiness and wellbeing of the people that use them. These woodland patches still have a large impact for the species and people that use these habitats, both smaller scale and in the wider landscape. What makes you happy about the woodlands around you?