Cumbria Woodlands' main aim is to improve and increase sustainable woodland management. A secondary aim is to increase the amount of new woodland in targeted locations.
Our role in encouraging woodland management
For 21 years Cumbria Woodlands has been advising woodland owners on managing their woodlands. Just recently we have been delivering a £450,000 project funded by Rural Development Programme England (RDPE) which has encouraged anyone with an acre or more of woodland in Cumbria to have a free advisory visit and get a report written detailing the management work needed and the grants that are available to achieve this. We have visited 430 woodlands which represents 4500 ha of woodland. The tally of grant aided projects achieved so far exceeds £670,000. Some of the clients are featured in our case studies.
Benefits of managed woodland in brief
- Woodlands are an important wildlife habitat
- They are landscape features providing a setting for recreation
- They absorb dust, noise, pollution and the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide
- They provide shelter for livestock, buildings, land and people
- They screen buildings and eyesores
- They release oxygen and contribute to our sense of well-being
- Woodlands can provide sustainable livelihoods
- They provide sustainable timber production
- Woodland management and planting provides business opportunities and creates jobs
- They provide income from sporting interests
- They enhance property values
Why manage your woods?
There is a commonly held conception that woods are wild places that can look after themselves. In nature woods are the climax vegetation, a term that means that they find equilibrium where renewal and death are in a perfect balance. Natural catastrophe such as storm or fire creates gaps in the canopy allowing light in so that seeds can germinate and the woods renewed.
This type of woodland described does still exist but not in Cumbria or Britain or even arguably Europe. It needs to be on a vast scale to be truly independent of humans, and even then we will have exploited it on some level.
Following the ice age people got busy and started clearing woodland for agriculture and using wood for building and heat. The ‘wildwood’ soon became tamed and many of our woodland plants and animals adapted to a much more actively managed woodland landscape.
Edward Wilson, Director of Silvilculture Research International has put together a very interesting lecture titled 'Enhancing woodland resilience in a changing climate', which is well worth a read and can be viewed on our Tree Health page.
Woods in management
The proportion of woods in active management is hard to define. We can assume that the public estate is actively managed and this is certainly true of the conifer element as it is in an ongoing programme of harvest and renewal.
There has been a tendency to leave broadleaved woods as ‘non – intervention’ partly because they were seen as non-economic to manage as a timber supply.
In the private sector there is also a high proportion of under-managed conifer plantation as trees were established but not managed to achieve their highest potential. Economic barriers have meant that thinning regimes have not been maintained and the overall value of the timber decreases.
Environmental objectives have led to ASNW and other broadleaved woodlands being managed for the benefit for wildlife but usually with the support of public funding or volunteer time.
Active management of woodlands can be seen to have three broad benefits – social, economic and environmental.
Social benefits of woodland management
This can be seen especially at the two extreme ends of the woodland spectrum. From the huge conifer plantations like Grizedale and Whinlatter, where intensive management and good interpretation makes the forest accessible and non-threatening, to parks and gardens where equally nature is tamed and peoples enjoyment enhanced by management. There have been many studies on the benefits of getting people out into nature and the basis of social forestry policy has been based on this for the past 30 years.
Economic benefits of woodland management
Timber is a commodity and it has a monetary value. This can range from high value for rare figured timber trees for veneer to low value chip and pulp to feed the fibre and fuel markets. There is of course a massive range in between, not least the firewood market which has been experiencing a boom in recent years, as fossil fuels have increased in cost and incentives brought in to encourage conversion to renewable fuel. There are new aspects to the economics of forestry as ‘carbon capture’ or sequestration becomes a commodity that can be bought and sold.
Environmental benefits of woodland management
Many woodland plants are adapted to the managed environment. This provides:
Woodland plants, including trees, shrubs and ground flora, require sufficient light entering the woodland periodically for germination, establishment, flowering and seed production. These plants are also the food source for many woodland insects and animals and birds. So sufficient light in a woodland is essential to healthy ecosystems. Dense canopy woodlands do have their role in providing shade loving species like ferns and mosses and some fungi to thrive.
Woodlands where the trees are of a uniform age and structure do not provide a range of habitats. The canopy is closed and all other light requiring species below are shaded out. A healthy woodland has a range of ages and heights of trees within it with canopy gaps and rides and edges providing a range of habitats for woodland species to colonise.
Monocultures have their benefits but these are mostly economic as uniformity of product and ease of harvesting enhance the financial viability of a tree crop. This has to be weighed against the dis-benefits of increased vulnerability to tree pathogens and environmental stresses such as we are increasingly seeing with climate change. Healthy woods will have a good mix of tree species and new woodlands designed with tolerance to higher mean temperatures in mind.
Deer – we all love to see deer in the wild but they are devastating our woodlands. Numbers have increased steadily over the decades to a level now where there is very little natural regeneration in our woodlands. Domestic animals are also a problem as they too do love young tree shoots to eat. Woods that are used for shelter do not have a future unless stock is excluded for a limited period to allow young trees to grow.