Good Woods visits to a cluster of small ancient woodlands in West Berkshire have helped four woodland owners address the issues associated with bringing small ecologically-rich woodlands back into management.
Between July and December 2013, ten neighbouring woodlands in the Hampstead Marshall to Inkpen Biodiversity Opportunity Area in West Berkshire received Good Woods visits. These woodlands, some small, some ancient, mostly broadleaved, and one a SSSI, are owned by four different families.
This is a heavily-wooded area on the clay land beneath the high chalk downs and Walbury Hill to the south, and the wetland habitats of the River Kennet to the north. It is a patchwork landscape, characterised by a myriad of small isolated native broadleaved woodlands with farmland and hamlets between.
Many of these woodlands are ancient semi-natural woodlands and therefore designated as local wildlife sites, providing habitat for locally important species and ancient woodland indicators such as the small-leaved lime tree and herb paris. However, a large number of these woodlands have become fragmented or squeezed over the years as a result of agricultural or housing pressures, many being under-managed, resulting in increasingly small and fragmented patches of woodland amidst a sea of generally intensively managed farmland. These small woodlands can become ‘islands’ particularly for those species unable to travel far, such as small mammals, invertebrates and plants.
The Good Woods visits, organised by Meg Chambers, the Good Woods network member in this area, introduced all four owners to the woodland management planning service, myForest and the Woodland Star Rating scheme, which provides woodland owners with the necessary tools by which they can assess and plan future management work. As well as providing them with site-specific woodland management advice, the owners were made aware that neighbouring woodland owners had also received Good Woods visits and were facing many of the same management issues.
It is important that landowners are aware that their woodland, however small, is part of a wider wooded landscape, and that it pays a crucial part in the success of woodland wildlife in the area. Managing woodlands at a landscape-scale, linking them together with sensitively managed farmland, road verges and gardens can transform these isolated patches of woodland into a series of ‘stepping stones’, or refuges for wildlife, creating a network of woodland habitats allowing key woodland species such as the dormouse, brown long-eared bat and betony to move through the landscape and thrive.
Meg Chambers is a Network Member for the B&Q Good Woods Project in the North Wessex Downs AONB project area.