Getting to grips with woodland management

A coppiced wood.
A coppiced wood.

SCORES of coppice woods throughout Sussex could look as good as this if only the owners would get to grips with management.

With the oak standards left as future money in the bank, and the hazel coppice cut every 10 years or less, these ancient woods look an absolute picture with the flowers out in spring.

This one around my home is managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and is on lease from the West Dean Estate.

It is only 40 acres but is amazingly rich with flowers and butterflies. All because it is managed properly. Managed that is, in the way it was intended 600 years ago when it was planted.

A gang of volunteer woodmen meet twice a week in winter and carry out the cutting. They sell the produce to garden centres and others and make about £4,000 a year. Of course their labour is free. The estate have over the past 38 years cropped and sold some of the oak timber, and then replanted the standards for the future.

About 300 species of wild flowers are out now, with a great sheet of bluebells. Bunches of primroses throughout the newly coppiced areas give the whole reserve a beaming presence.

In early May this year the first of the early purple orchids were blooming that deep purple mass of flowers on their tall fleshy stalks. By late May they will be replace by the pale lilac flowers of spotted orchids especially in the grassy trackways.

I have recorded 12 species of wild orchid in this 40 acre patch, which half the Sussex list. These include fly orchid, birdsnest orchid, greater butterfly and broad-leaved heleborine.

That very rare fern the adders’ tongue keeps going every year with a dozen plants covering a couple of square metres.

I have recorded the numbers and species of breeding birds for the past 40 years and find that about 120 pairs of various birds breed covering about 45 different species. Nuthatch, marsh tit, cole tit, nightjar, hobby, cuckoo, tree pipit have all found a niche in this small reserve.

As for wild bees, wasps, flies, beetles: there are about 600 species. And the moth population is about 300 species.

All this gives a brilliant biodiverse bank account for the future. Every other year we have an open day for the public and plan one for next year so do look out for that.

Meanwhile, if you have a patch of old coppice woodland doing nothing when it ought to be at work growing crops of wildlife for future generations, do think about starting management. The firewood alone is valuable. The pleasure from seeing crops of butterflies and wild flowers growing at your command is beyond value alone.

Richard Williamson