Let the woods be wild woods

by Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA, RFS, EcoFor

Time and again this call is heard from misguided and misinformed self-styled experts on the environment and other individuals when woodland management programs are instigated.

wildwood1They will state that the woods should be left wild and that woodlands do not need to be managed which is, obviously, entirely wrong as there are no wild woods, where Nature “manages” the affairs anywhere in Britain and most of Europe. All our woods have been managed before at some time and thus, in order to thrive, require continuous careful management to benefit wildlife, the community and also the local economy.

The woods in Britain have been managed for thousands of years and until just after World War Two we did manage them well on a proper basis. However, ever since that time the management of our woods, small and large, has gone into serious decline and the woods have seriously suffered from this neglect in management.

If left to its own devices a woodland will become useless, not only on an economical term but also and especially on an environmental term. Brambles and bracken will take over, cut out all light to the woodland floor and thus there will be, in the end, no diversity. All that will be left is a tangle of brambles and other such plants and bracken.

Trees growing too close together will damage each other, create a dark forest floor with no life and, in the end, will destroy each other and die.

For trees to grow properly and thus being beneficial to all they need to be thinned out and good growth encouraged. This is a laborious task but one that benefits the woods and can also be of benefit to the local economy as the wood that has to be removed can be used by a variety of woodland- and wood workers.

Trees, and this is something that many of people also do not wish to understand, who all the time protest against the cutting of any trees, have a limited lifespan and some trees one that is shorter than that of others.

When a tree goes over the peak and begins the slow march towards death it stops becoming a carbon sequester and actually becomes a net producer of carbon dioxide. In addition to that the process of decay that also starts at about this time, rotting the heart wood, which the tree no longer requires, also releases methane; the latter being a greenhouse gas forty times more dangerous to the environment than carbon dioxide, and thus itself contributes to climate change.

Well managed and maintained woods, on the other hand, where there trees that need to are “culled”, if we may call it thus, are beneficial on all levels, and especially in regard to biodiversity.

Allowing, for instance, the once coppiced woods of Britain to return to “Nature”, as it is often demanded, will result, in a very short time, in the coppice stools breaking apart, for lack of management, and the woods turning into a wilderness that has is of no benefit, not even to wildlife.

That is why woods are managed, lending Nature a helping hand. Not by fighting Nature but by working with Her, and thus keeping and even creating a healthy balance to benefit all.

For thousands of years we have managed the woods in Britain (and in other parts of Europe) and we have managed them well. Only in the last half to three-quarters of a century have they been allowed to fall into serious neglect and disrepair and we must manage them once again, including those of our parks and open spaces, as our forefathers did if we do not want to lose them and the habitat that they provide.

The very biodiversity of the British woodlands is a result not of Nature alone but of people working with Nature to maintain a healthy balance to benefit all; wildlife and the community. Left alone those woods will become an impenetrable wilderness that even animals will shy away from.

When there still were wild boar and other animals now no longer in the British woods in our woods and forests brambles and bracken, and other such invasive vegetation, was kept in check. Today this is no longer the case and any woods, as can be seen so very often, allowed to return to “wilderness” turns into nothing but a wilderness devoid of almost anything bar those species.

A wood the trees of which form a closed canopy also does not allow for natural regeneration as the young saplings, if the seeds at all germinate, do not get enough light to thrive and without it they will simply die. In most cases the seeds do not even germinate for lack of sunlight and thus the floor will be devoid of anything, almost.

Only a well managed wood is a productive wood in all senses of the word and that is the reason that our woods everywhere must come back into proper management, a management that woks with Nature and not against Her and a good forester ensure just that.

For the good of the environment and the community all our woods need to managed again and managed well.

© 2013