Cutting Blackthorn in the Meadow

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A great big thank you to the volunteers of the South Downs National Park seen here on Saturday cutting back the strip of blackthorn on the eastern border of Pheasant Field. We were lucky enough to have a visit from Butterfly Conservation’s Neil Hulme who helped us to devise a four-year rotational plan for blackthorn management in Pheasant Field particularly for the rare Brown Hairstreak butterfly (see our posts of 26th September 2016 and 8th January 2015 below). Pheasant Field is a great opportunity to form habitats for Brown Hairstreaks and we look forward to seeing more of them in the coming years.

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This Year’s Coppicing

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This year’s coppicing is a 0.25ha site at the North West tip of the wood near Misty Bridge. This very distinctive coupe is dominated by nearly forty oaks, many of them in the region of 150 years old. There is a small central section where tall ash coppice has reached the canopy but in all other respects this is the part of Lag Wood that most resembles high oak forest. While it has many majestic trees, the variety of tree and plant species is the lowest in Lag Wood with oak making up over 80% of the volume. There is quite a lot of hazel, some crab apple and birch in the understorey and, in the ground layer, there is a scatter of wood anemone in spring and a thin carpet of enchanters’ nightshade in summer. Other flowers, such as sweet violet, honeysuckle and primrose are rare here. Species common elsewhere in Lag Wood such as bluebell, campion or bugle are absent.

The dense oak canopy is a problem for the oaks themselves. The youngest of them are around 40 or so years old and these are suffering from the lack of light below the canopy. Two have died in recent years and a third is showing signs of stress. Age diversity becomes a problem in many neglected woodlands and improving it is a key aim for us in Lag Wood. To achieve it we are coppicing ash and hazel but we will also be taking out at least two of the larger oaks at the north end of the coupe. This should provide the light and space required for oak to regenerate. Oak seedlings have started to grow in the coppice coupe we completed last year (see pic) and this is something we want to encourage as far as is realistically possible. To help protect these youngsters, and the re-growing coppices, we will be erecting a temporary deer fence at the end of the coppicing season.