Friday, 17 July 2009

Hainault Forest and the Woodland Trust

This has also been Birdforum'd, so I'm looking for opinions.

Came across this while dossing about working hard today, which was slightly disturbing reading. Hainault Forest isn't exactly on the doorstep but it counts as local and probably contains one of the few bits of nearby heathland we have in Essex. By the sounds of it, there has been a pretty sharp decline in species in the last few years, and the article lays the blame squarely on poor land management. I'm not an expert but I find his case convincing, though I am bearing in mind that he focuses enturely on the negative aspects of the Woodland Trust's management - there may be positives of which I'm not aware.

The current Woodlad Trust management plan is so out of date as to be completely useless, but I'll run through a few highlights:

We start with, "don't blame us, it was like that when we got here".

It appears that traditionally trees were repollarded at Hainault every 18-25 years. Except for pollarding trials by the previous managers there has been little or no woodcutting or grazing since the turn of the century. The Forest is now in a dark and overgrown state, and the plains have mostly been colonised with trees or taken over as amenity ground.

But generally, what's in the introduction of the plan is similar to the article. The forest is in bad shape following quite a lot of neglect and needs a lot of work to put it right. Despite this, there's still a fair bit of bird activity.

158 bird species have been recorded at HFCP. Many of these are associated with the lake and grassland with 63 species associated with the ancient woodland. The Forest is regionally important for the following breeding birds - marsh tit, bullfinch, tree sparrow, nightingale, firecrest, linnet and turtle dove. Notably it is one of the key sites in the London area for hawfinch. It is of county importance for wood warbler, spotted flycatcher, tree pipit, redpoll, woodcock, and three species of woodpecker.

So plenty of reason, as far as I'm concerned at least, to keep it in good nick. I may be biased.

It's the long term intentions where things start to get contradictory.

Hainault Forest Country Park will be managed to enhance biodiversity and perpetuate old growth characteristics whilst ensuring recreational and amenity use is encouraged.

Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords.

Old Growth
1. Retention of existing pollarded/veteran trees to as old an age as is practically possible.
2. Increase in the number of pollarded trees, especially in areas with few existing pollards.
3. Sustained monitoring programme of pollarded trees to assess effectiveness and response to the work.

So how exactly does cutting down 150 year old Oaks and Mature Ash trees come under "Retention of existing pollarded/veteran trees"? I've no problem with a pollarding programme if it's done properly, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

1. Diversification in amenity grassland structure to improve the ecological benefits whilst balancing the needs for recreation and amenity.
2. Creation and management of glades and restoration of the wood pasture system of management across as much of the woodland as is reasonably practical.
3. Restoration of the heathland community on the west of the site.

From what I read in this article, "diversification of the amenity grassland structure" seems to involve letting anything you like grow on it at the expense of traditional species, and far from "improving the ecological benefits", it seems to be driving away species e.g. butterflies that fed and relied on those wildflower meadows. I don't see that a field full of thistles "[balances] the needs for recreation and amenity". And I don't see that cutting a bloody great strip through the heathland and building a fence in it plays any part in "[Restoring] the heathland community" either (square brackets all mine).

It's a pretty poor show, and I'm hoping it's an aberration, because the Woodland Trust are a big name in ecological circles and it would be a huge breach of trust if this is the kind of standard they set for all their works.

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