Written by: Andrew Smith
Duncombe Wood is a plantation on an ancient woodland site, and occupies the same footprint as shown on maps from the 1770’s. Although covered with densely-planted pines planted in the 1960’s, the wood still has many of marker species indicative of ancient woodland. The wood is close to the Kings Wood (SSSI) and linked by hedgerows to it.
This project was designed to help bring back a part of the woodland to its former state, increasing its biodiversity and creating a more inviting habitat for wildlife.
The project involved thinning the pine crop trees and creating new glades and rides within the designated 10 acre area. This work was carried out by forestry contractors during the autumn and winter period. The timber was extracted and sold for use in construction. Thereafter, planting was undertaken in the cleared glades and thinned areas.
A mixture of native broadleaved trees were planted, including beech, birch, cherry, crab apple, hazel, oak and rowan. The planting was assisted by local volunteers from the village and made a community project. As all saplings were bare-rooted, planting was undertaken in January and February while the plants were dormant. They were all guarded against deer damage and given fungal rooting powder to promote successful growth. By early April 2022, already a very high proportion are starting to show green shoots.
The transformation of the woods over the last 12 months has been quite remarkable. Originally a dark, monoculture of plantation pines, the areas thinned are already considerably more bio-diverse. Above all, the wood is much more accessible, light and inviting. What goes for humans, presumably goes for all other creatures too, and we look forward to seeing how the woods change over the coming months and years. We are extremely grateful to the GCLP for assisting with this project. The funding has been the catalyst for action, and it has further stimulated action beyond the original remit of the project.
Benefits to People
A public footpath runs through the middle of Duncombe Wood, and is used extensively by ramblers, dog-walkers and cyclists. It was very important to communicate the project to these visitors, as often people fear the worst when heavy machinery moves into an area. As such an interpretation board was set up at the entrance to the wood nearest where the thinning was starting, explaining what we were looking to achieve through the project. My contact details were given and I was very pleasantly surprised at the number of positive messages were received.
This also meant that when we opened up the option for volunteers to help for planting, there was a very good response from locals.
During the planting phase in early 2022, we had a great number of people give up their Saturday to help with the planting of bare-root trees into the ground.
Having advertised the planting on the village Whatsapp group, we were so pleased to see so many villagers come and help. In the process, a lot of good will and community spirit was generated.
Many said that it was nice to be able to carry out a group project like this, having been through the lonely and isolating times that the pandemic has brought.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
As the land owner, this project has catalyzed my action into the proper management of the woods. Previously I had not done much by way of woodland management, but this project has enabled me to make contact with a number of professionals and contractors. This has given me the knowledge to take on future woodland management with confidence.
The Greensands Country Landscape Partnership has also been very supportive throughout the project and a highlight was the celebratory presentation of project progress in 2021. Also I am grateful for the Deer Management course run by the Greensands Trust in Nov 2021, which has helped a lot in the way we tackle the damage created by deer to the young trees. All in all, the woodland with its dense crop of 1960’s pine was in great need for management; this is now happening well and Duncombe Wood is on course to become a much better place for wildlife and the local community.
Prior to this project, the woodland was a very dark, lifeless place. It was close to impenetrable in places and few ventured in. Now the woods are much lighter and the new glades and rides have already brought more life. A case in point is the unexpected presence of bluebells sprouting up through much of the thinned area. Although bluebells are present around the lighter edges of the woods, previously none had been seen in the dense pines. However the presence of more light on the forest floor has encouraged bulbs that must have been previously dormant to sprout.
We look forward to the newly-planted trees bringing much life to the area.
Without a doubt Duncombe Wood is in much better condition than before. The creation of new glades and planting on a large variety of trees has massively benefited the area. Furthermore we have widened rides and created one new ride to allow access to more of the wood than ever before.
With the increased light levels, biodiversity will soon come. While the new saplings represent some of this, the bulk will come with the natural migration of animal and plant life towards the light and warmth that these areas now provide. The emergence of the bluebells throughout the area (see above), is already a wonderful indication of how life responds to this new opportunity that we have helped create.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
The biggest challenge was probably the weather. In order to meet project deadlines, we initially wanted to carry out felling and timber extract during January 2021. We tried this, but the ground was simply too wet for the machines to operate without creating massive, deep ruts. As such we postponed felling until March when conditions were drier.
We were also affected by a late autumn / warm winter. This meant that bare-root saplings were not available in their dormant state until mid January. As such, we could not start planting until late January / early February.
Both of these meant that the project could not meet the original project plan. However the GCLP staff were accommodating to allow a variation on timescales, meaning that the best outcome was achieved for the woodland.
We are hopeful that there will be good rainfall during the spring and summer as this will really help the new trees establish well.
Overall I was very happy with the way things progressed with the work. One of the biggest unexpected benefits was the knowledge that I personally gained throughout, which in turn brought confidence. Armed with this knowledge now, I feel confident to undertake similar projects and probably more rapidly.
My advice to any others would be to keep an open mind, be prepared to learn, to make contact with experts in the field, but not feel intimidated by your initial lack of knowledge. Finally, make sure you communicate well with your community and any else who may be affected by your work.