Saturday, 20 December 2014

Can't see the wood for the holly

While trying to decide where to thin some Scots Pine on the north-west side of OC2 we saw that we would first have to remove a great deal of dense dark holly in order to see what we were doing.  

Holly has value in woodland. The berries are a valuable foodstuff for birds. It's a food plant for the Holly Blue butterfly. A holly understory is thought to help create a more stable micro climate for roosting bats. This can be very important as they risk frost damage to delicate wing, tail, and ear membranes. Dense groves of holly are characteristic of the woodland type we have at Old Copse: lowland acid beech and oak woods (NVC W15 /16).

But holly can form an underwood almost as effective as rhododendron in eliminating ground vegetation, so clearing it from around mature beech and oak will be necessary  if oak and beech are to regenerate. At present continuous belts of holly are obscuring large and small oaks, beech and rowan. The aim is to establish instead, holly stands with oak and beech between them. When the job is done the deciduous trees will have more light and space, and we will be able to see more clearly which Scots Pine needs to be removed and which can be left to grow on.

A dense holly wall blocks light and access

After a bit of clearance it's possible to see what lies beyond the holly

Veteran beech hiding in the holly
As in all aspects of woodland management, some sort of balance is needed. What comes first, protecting healthy deciduous trees and encouraging  natural regeneration, or making sure that birds have plenty to eat, and bats keep their ears warm? How do we make sure we  protect all woodland interests? Well, I think the bats' ears will be ok, it doesn't get that cold in the parts of the wood  with the densest holly, and enough will be left for them to keep their roosts warm. The same with the birds, not all the holly will be removed, so there should still be plenty of food for them. And for the fallow deer too.

Holly is a tough wood, especially when cutting with a bow saw;  a chainsaw is potentially dangerous in a holly removal situation as it's difficult to see what's what in the midst of the tangle of prickly springiness. Also, the worst of the holly is growing  in the steepest part of the wood, so for obvious reasons, handtools are best for the job. Cut trunks and branches are easy to haul about into bonfire piles, and results are gratifyingly speedy.

Happy Christmas 2014