Biodiversity

As managing woodland as coppice has been practised for hundreds, probably thousands of years, much of the wildlife in these woodlands has adapted to the coppice being cut on a regular rotation. The additional light reaching the ground, and the variety of ages of trees in the woodland provide a wonderful mosaic habitat for a large number of species. 

wood anenome

When an area of coppice is cut, there can be an explosion of plant life from the seed bank as the soil is warmed and the seeds are stimulated by the sunlight which is quickly shaded out by the regrowth of the trees.  Dr Patrick Roper, when talking to the Small Woodland Owners Group, (SWOG) stressed that permanent glades and wide, open rides are very important to the biodiversity of a woodland. Warm sunny areas are important for a wide variety of species. 

dragonfly

Dr Roper also talked about alternatives to managing chestnut woodland as coppice. There is a great deal of debate about whether sweet chestnut is an honorary native or an alien species - and the lack of biodiversity that chestnut supports brings this question to light. The tree supports a low number of insects species and fungi, and the high tannin content makes it less edible than others. You can access a detailed report from Natural England called: The ecological impact of sweet chestnut silviculture on former ancient, broadleaved woodland sites in South East England. Read the report here.

Hazel coppice is especially good for dormice, and when the light penetrates in coppice, the honeysuckle and bramble will provide more food. There is a little extra information on hazel and biodiversity on the Trees For Life site. 

There is not one best way of managing a woodland, each woodland needs to be assessed on its own merit as well as taking into account the owners' training, experience and hoped for outcomes for the woodland. For example, owning a coppice and managing it for timber will have a slightly different management plan to someone who owns a woodland and is managing it for food plants for birds. It is very difficult to manage a woodland for a particular species, as what is good for one, is not always beneficial for another. 

Coppice and birds

According to the RSPB (Woodland management for birds) the woodland structure that has been lost due to the lack of coppice with standards has had a detrimental effect on birds.  Neglected, overgrown coppice is degrading shrub and field layers, because of lack of light on the woodland floor, which is so important for feeding and nesting. Standards would benefit from being periodically thinned in order to increase the crown size on the trees, relieve heavy shading and encourage a range of tree ages. After thinning standards it is very important to plant and protect new growth to continue the age range of trees in the wood. Woodland edges with a variety of ages of trees is also beneficial. 

young coppice

Areas of young coppice are important for some species of birds.

robin

A woodland well managed for birds will have

  • Field layer containing mosses, lichen, fungi.
  • Shrub layer with ferns and grasses
  • Understory of young and low growing trees.
  • A canopy layer of mature trees.
  • Dead wood in each layer, mature trees with dead branches and snags. 

There is an excellent introduction to woodland structure here.

The management of woods for birds, has a positive effect on woodland butterflies too.

Creating and managing rides

Rides provide a very important habitat for birds and butterflies. The extra light getting to the ground and the increased shrub layer and age diversity of trees offer nesting sites and opportunities for food. The rides need to be wide enough to let light down to the ground (about one and half times the height of the trees) and preferably meander to minimise the wind tunnel effect. Having scallops (wider sections) and pinch points will also vary the habitat range, offer shelter, and the pinch points will allow Dormice to continue to travel freely throughout the wood. Nectar sources for the birds and insects (like honeysuckle) are important in these areas. A graduated edge will allow more light into the rest of the woodland. Julian Evans also recommends cutting alternate sides of the ride each year to allow ride side plants to flower and seed. 

The edge effect

Glades and open space

As mentioned earlier, permanent glades have a very specific part to play in the life of the woodland. Species like bramble and gorse provide valuable nesting habitat for species like lesser whitethroats and yellowhammers.  There are many plant species that are quickly shaded out by canopy closure of coppice, so permanent glades are important for the overall structure of a woodland. 

Dead and dying wood

Dead wood is a crucial habitat and very much a natural part of a woodland. Unless the trees are dangerous and hanging over paths and roads, it is preferable to leave the dead wood standing as a habitat. Dead wood high in trees provides food and nest site for woodpeckers, bats and many other birds. According to Wildlife extra, 30 % of birds nest in dead wood. As bats are a protected species it is advisable to get advice and do surveys on standards before felling them. 

 dead oak

 Dead wood on the ground also supports a large food chain,driven by fungus, and there are many invertebrates that live in this environment.

 fungi

This rotting, lying dead wood provides invertebrates for birds such as thrushes, dunnocks and nightingales.

Hedging

Hedges are wonderful for wildlife and contain hundreds of species. 

The woodland soil type will greatly influence what trees to plant in your wood. Peter Buckley, ecologist has written an excellent beginners guide to soil and vegetation types.
There is a very simple test you can do to check what type of soil you have. 

Further reading
RSPB: Woodland Management for birds, ISBN 1 901930 56 4

These two books are available to buy, or the text is free of charge on the woodlands.co.uk website.
Managing your woodland for wildlfe by David Blakesley and Peter Buckley.
Badgers, Blisters and Beeches by Julian Evans.

Comments on this article

Helen martin 13 January, 2013

What a fantastic resource! Great videos.

sam punnett 26 April, 2013

very useful helped in my A level report

The Student 6 October, 2014

Thanks help with my A2 coursework.

Joe Walshe 21 February, 2015

Delighted to find this site. Living in West of Ireland and keen to learn more

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