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8: Limes and Wych Elm

Peterken, G.; Mountford, E. CABI PDF

8

Limes and Wych Elm

The remaining long-lived canopy trees in Lady Park

Wood are small-leaved lime, large-leaved lime and wych elm. Field maple might have been added, but its performance in the wood relegates it to a subordinate tree. Wych elm, too, ought to be relegated, but it was an important canopy tree in parts of the wood for the first 30 years of this study.

Both limes and wych elm have played fourth fiddle to oak, beech and ash as timber, so even now they are seen more often as slender subcanopy trees with smoothly arching branches than as towering trees in the canopy. Both can dominate the underwood in ancient coppices, but deer and domestic stock browse them avidly – they have been important sources of foliage fodder in the past – so they are uncommon in pasture woods and are usually restricted in the uplands to less grazed, rugged ground. Their fates diverge today: while numerous wych elms have succumbed to disease, the limes grow serenely on and even seem to be benefiting from climate change.

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15: Natural Woodland in Theory and Practice

Peterken, G.; Mountford, E. CABI PDF

15

Natural Woodland in Theory and Practice

The target in Lady Park Wood has been to recreate natural woodland, which, like most ecologists, we take to be woodland whose characteristics have not been influenced by people and have thus been determined by natural factors alone. However, natural woodland so defined has probably not existed in pure form in north-west Europe since the ice retreated and early hunters decimated the megafauna; it has certainly not existed in Britain through historical times, during which woods have been cleared, grazed and felled; and it is not recoverable, for we cannot exclude the effects of past use, nor the indirect effects of people even from strictly protected reserves.

What, then, is the point of a target that is unattainable? Several reasons were listed in the introduction, but fundamentally it is a scientific necessity. We need ‘control’ woodland, as free as possible from human influence, so that we can assess the impact of people on woodland processes and characteristics. We do not deny that people have long been part of nature – indeed, many revel in the details of how people and woodlands have interacted down the millennia – but we need a clear framework for understanding our impacts.

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9: Birch and other Short-lived Canopy Trees

Peterken, G.; Mountford, E. CABI PDF

9

Birch and other Short-lived

Canopy Trees

These are species whose survival strategy is best summed up as quick-witted opportunism. They often dominate new growth after felling, especially where the ground has been left bare by timber extraction, but they cast only light shade and cannot therefore exclude the long-lasting shade species, such as beech, wych elm and lime. Fast growing in their youth, provided they are well lit, they generally outpace the most vigorous ash, oak and beech enough to dominate the canopy, but their growth rate declines and eventually their crowns are confined by more vigorous neighbours. Individual trees rarely last long and cannot replace themselves in a mature stand until the canopy is opened up by heavy thinning or a substantial natural disturbance. Even then, they succeed only by responding quickly. In theory, they will be favoured when the rate and intensity of disturbances – natural or silvicultural – increases, but long periods without substantial disturbance should reduce them to minor stand components.

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10: Field Maple and Hazel, the other Coppice Species

Peterken, G.; Mountford, E. CABI PDF

10

Field Maple and Hazel, the other

Coppice Species

In regularly cut coppices, field maple and hazel grow every bit as vigorously as the other trees – indeed, hazel and field maple are major contributors to the underwood – but as soon as coppices are neglected, their slower height growth and their ultimately smaller stature oblige them to grow in shade and become subordinate in high forest and most forms of natural woodland. Together with ash as coppice and pedunculate oak as standards, they form the characteristic lowland coppice type on neutral-alkaline clays and loams, and jointly dominate a few coppices in Essex and Dorset, but both become less frequent on light, acid soils, especially maple. In Lady Park, maple is never more than frequent, even on the most alkaline soils, whereas hazel is abundant and still dominates parts of the young-growth stands. Both could be characterised as either large shrubs or small trees.

10.1

Field Maple

Field maples were common components of the underwood in the ancient coppices of the lowlands, south-east lowlands and borderlands of England and Wales, especially on alkaline soils. They can grow into trees, but have rarely been allowed to do so, and they never attain the size of oaks and other canopy dominants. Widespread also in mixed hedges, where they have sometimes been pollarded, they can grow into sizeable boundary trees. They compete in the scrub that colonises open ground, but not vigorously. Their lives became more difficult in the 20th century with the spread of grey squirrels, which debark them almost as enthusiastically as they debark sycamore.

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16:  Near-to-Nature Forestry

Peterken, G.; Mountford, E. CABI PDF

16

Near-to-Nature Forestry

Forestry is a broad church now, far removed from the narrow objectives of the 1970s. Then, the aim was to grow utilisable timber as economically as possible, and other considerations were deemed to be a restraint on, or a cost against, timber production. Net discounted revenue calculations were the order of the day, even when they led to poisoning well-established 35-year-old oak plantations and replacing them with Corsican pine. The target was to cover as much of Britain as possible in timber plantations, almost all of which were even-aged and coniferous. In doing so, foresters accepted no limits and barely acknowledged that there might be places where trees were unwelcome. Some saw this as a moral issue – to follow a ‘biblical’ injunction and make several million trees grow where none grew before – and it was reinforced by the liberal use of herbicides to control ‘weeds’ and

‘scrub’, as well as efficient drainage, especially of upland peats, to improve growth rates. As one forester memorably said to GFP, ‘If the site ain’t right, we’ll make it right’ – but in his case, it was ironical and said with a smile.

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