The winter ranger comes in from the cold, fresh faces and clad in chainsaw kit, for now is the season of hot cups of tea and tree management. There are a number of reasons to undertake work at this time of year, ranging from tree health to keeping the public safe, doing work in the quieter times of year. Here are seven tree related tasks we undertake in the colder months of the year that you may not know we do.
Checking tree safety
- What goes up must come down, and the same is the true of trees. However when they come down they can pose a serious threat to people and property. Hoping to avoid such calamity the National Trust undertakes tree surveys each year, with particular attention to those that are near paths, roads and houses. Tree safety surveys involve getting close and personal with each tree, looking for signs of rot, movement of the root plates or areas of disease or dieback. We then take appropriate action to remove the threat, from removal of a limb, pollarding or removing the tree. The safety surveyor’s most trusty tool- the stick! Using it to measure the depth of any rot or holes found in the tree. One area we surveyed was at the beautiful Beech Avenue coming out of Boscastle. Thankfully the trees here are all in good shape.
Removal of dangerous tree over path
- Removal of dangerous tree over path.Those trees however that do come down may need to be removed. Over early winter in particular, a combination of heavy rain and high winds brought down a number of trees over the footpaths around the Valency Valley, Boscastle. One in particular straddled the path presenting a problem to any walkers. The ranger team came out and within a few hours it, and three other trees had been cut and safely removed, allowing access along the path once again.
- An internationally important site for lichens this rare Atlantic woodland site is known for its stunted trees and wide views. We manage the woodlands in this area to promote the growth of these special lichens by removing an occasional tree (particularly in overcrowded areas) and taking out creeping ivy, allowing for more light to filter down from the canopy. This in turn helps the lichen to grow on the surfaces and promotes a greater biodiversity for the woodlands as it encourages the growth of wildflowers such as primroses, anenomies and campions. Wood piles left over from the work also make a great home for insects and beetles which in turn feed larger animals.
- During the winter we tend to a number apple trees across the property. The aim of pruning is to create a strong healthy tree with an even canopy. To do this we remove around 1/3 of the years new growth to a shoot that is strong and growing in a desirable direction. Any overcrowded, dead, rubbing or diseased wood is removed. Water shoots (straight upright growing shoots) are also removed as these are unproductive, particularly if they are growing into the crown. The centre of the crown is opened to prevent overcrowding and discourages disease. With good pruning the early years, apples should develop into resilient trees with a good harvest.
- The art of coppicing has been important in deciduous woodlands across Europe for centuries with trees grown for commercial use to build houses, boats and more. Coppicing takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump if cut down. It maintains trees at a juvenile stage, with the tree rejuvenating after each cut. Some coppiced trees are thought to be many centuries old. Trees are cut at the base to create a “stool”, the cut branches are then processed using a billhook through a process called “sneding” to produce straight poles and brash. The brash is then piled over the stool in order to protect new growth from grazers such as deer. The stool left will then send strong straight regrowth which makes the wood commercially valuable. Harvested sections are known as coups, creating a mosaic of different aged trees, diverse habitats and increasing biodiversity. Increased light allows wildflower growth and increases insect population including fritillary butterfly species. Brambles grow around stools which provide food and shelter of birds and small mammals. One such small mammal is the dormouse, whom inhabits the hazel woodlands we manage. As the area grows it becomes unfavourable for these species, left for too long they become “over-stood coppice”. So every year the ranger team removes a couple of these coppiced trees in order to keep the woodlands at different ages and the hazel tree forever young.
Veteran tree management
- Veteran trees and tree that are good examples of their species, that provide a good ‘high canopy’ habitat and that we manage to be many hundreds of years old. To manage them we remove growth from around the veteran tree to prevent overcrowding and shading out the understorey or ground. Some of the timber will be left in the woods providing shelter and cover for ground nesting birds and great habitat for insects and fungi. It will in time all rot down and return nutrients to the soil under the watch of our veteran trees.
- Though not so much tree management, with all that wood work above we have a lot of timber left over. Some is left for habitats, some is removed and some we use on site. Back in Valency Valley, we held a ranger day in order to put down a log walk to combat some of the more muddy sections of the paths. Trees we had previously felled where then cut by volunteers into logs suitable for the path, fitting them closely together. Smaller branches where cut into wooden ‘pegs’, that were hammered at the ends of sections in order to hold the walkways into place.
As winter draws to a close we will be (mostly) putting down the chainsaw for another year and moving into more brushcutting work, and hopefully more sun will be seen. Keep following the blog to find out what spring will bring for the North Cornwall teams.
Tamsin Page, Volunteer Ranger -Boscastle to Morwenstow