|Woodland Management||We have had a number of queries about the clearing going on in the East Arboretum which is the enclosure between Acer Walk and the school gate. The word "devastation" has been used and worries expressed on behalf of bird life and wild flowers. So it might surprise members that the Friends were consulted beforehand and agreed that this was a useful way forward. Here's why.
Nature only stands still when the vegetation climax is reached. In England this often means full-grown trees making a closed canopy which allows little light to reach the nearly bare ground. Few flowers grow, and nesting places are available high up in the trees which suit some birds but not in scrub which suits others. If the trees have started far enough apart, magnificent specimens can develop, but where self-sown seedlings have crowded together they remain short and thin.
Starting with rough grass, scrub seeds itself in. In the countryside this is often hawthorn, and the National Trust puts considerable effort into providing sheep or cattle to graze off the seedlings, thus preserving the turf and the wild flowers coming through it. In Holland Park grass gets overtaken by ivy, nettles and brambles which together form an impervious layer. How many readers recognised the view on our front cover? This appeared previously on the cover of the 1997 spring issue and had been photographed in 1996 or a few years earlier from the North Lawn looking into the East Arboretum. We also have a photo looking in the opposite direction taken from the path along the north edge coming from Lord Holland's statue. Both show a grassy meadow with plentiful daffodils and orchard trees in bloom and this is what we are trying to re-create. Today you can see the old clumps of daffodil leaves springing up just where the photo shows them but where they have been invisible for many years cloaked by brambles.
We have had some great red, white and blue shows of campions, cow parsley and bluebells but recently these were declining due to encroachment by coarser weeds. Now park staff are hoping to sow a mix of grass seed specifically chosen to encourage insects which will in turn provide food for birds. For instance, green woodpeckers which love turf undisturbed by people might well change from the occasional visitor to breeding residents. The wild flowers will again spring up, mowing taking place in late summer. Less common trees such as the fern-leaved beech, the handkerchief tree, and the Keaki with its close relative, the witch's broom of the Caucasian Elm, will have space to develop.
In future years, there will be scrub clearances and coppicing in other enclosures but the objectives will be more focused on producing high quality woodland. There are now sizeable patches where the only trees are self-sown sycamores or robinia. With these cleared, we can plant specimen trees which have a chance to provide the giants of the future. Scrub around them can be cut back about every five years thus giving some periods when herbs can flower and trees have less competition. A good proportion of cut logs will be stacked to make homes for invertebrates. At any one time, 80% of the woodland will have scrub not cut that year and able to provide privacy and nesting sites for birds like long-tailed tits and chiffchaffs.
We would urge you to consider this programme not as creeping municipalisation but as an informed effort at woodland management. [Spring 2009]