Sunday, 25 June 2017

To chop or not to chop - management on the small scale.

I have always taken a fairly hands-off approach to managing the small patch of wet woodland and meadow I look after. I've always believed in letting nature take its course and giving the plants and animals the opportunity to what they do best.

There are volumes and volumes available on habitat management and ways to improve the habitats but nature itself is capable of finding its own balance. Modern nature conservation requires habitat scale management in order to maintain species because quite often human impact has altered the balance of nature so much that more human intervention is needed to help them survived.

What we have ended up with is a range of heavily managed nature reserves that appear natural on the surface but in fact, the amount of work put into them illustrate that they are at least partially artificial. Do not get me wrong I am not knocking reserves by any means, they serve a very important purpose but in my situation, my small patch is not going to be a species specific site of intervention. 

The ethos of my patch is let it be free and do what it needs to. At first, I had attempted to control the spread of nettles on the site but soon found that once I had stopped that in wetter areas forget me not and willowherb out-competed them and elsewhere tall grasses and reeds have done the same. 

I must confess to some management. In the early days, I planted 20 trees of which today only 2 survive. I put up upwards of 10 bird boxes but these were nearly all predated by Woodpeckers or not used at all. There are more than enough natural tree holes for the bird species.

In the summer I also do some invasives management. The site is home to large quantities of Himalayan Balsam which spreads fast with its explosive seed pods it can cover riverbanks and crowd out native species. The problem I have with the presence balsam is how much the bees and hover flies like the nectar in the pitcher like pink flowers. Bees are in real trouble and so my approach is to cut the flower heads off after flowering and before the seed pods ripen. These seems to be controlling the balsam. Its is still present on the site but is not spreading.



Lastly, is pruning. By necessity, I have to get about the site and often I have to cut back the trees to keep the small paths clear. Yesterday I had to do this a willow that had split in a storm several years ago. Over time one of the branches has slumped causing an obstacle. Most pruning I do is just that, a quick trim, taking out the odd reaching branch but this one required the removal of a much larger branch. It took me awhile with my trusty hand saw but once it was done the path was clear. In line with standard practice, I have moved the fallen branches to one side where they can rot down and provide vital dead wood habitats. 

I guess what I am driving at here is that management needs to support wildlife, sometimes this means intensive direct action and in others little or no action. Ecosystems exist in a dynamic equilibrium and sometimes they need to be left to their own devices and sometimes we need to guide or support it. It is up to all managers to line up their management with their goals and find what works best for them, Sadly in the UK there is so little 'wilderness' or natural habitat that in most cases human intervention is needed to subvert the human impacts elsewhere.