Cruel to be Kind - Conservation in Action

Wildlife may be beautiful or delicate but creating the best conditions for it to flourish can be a brutal-looking business

Woodland management 

Woodlands with a variety of trees and of different ages support more wildlife. Left unmanaged, woodlands can become very dark to the detriment of nesting birds, insects and wildflowers. We won’t cut all the trees down, as Amanda Kent explains:

Amanda Kent

Photo by Pete Johnstone

“We choose the time of year for least disruption to wildlife in the winter. We think about where we work and how to connect habitats. We aim to have a broad age range of trees because some species like older ones and even dead wood, while others favour new growth. It is hard physical work, and sometimes noisy. Chainsaws and muscle are our tools of choice. It’s good exercise and good fun, which is why work parties of volunteers are so keen to be involved.

"For large areas we get the big machinery in: harvesters and forwarders. Brampton Wood is protected for its ancient woodland, so we are clearfelling the conifers to restore broadleaf woodland (oak, hazel, field maple, hawthorn etc). This allows more light into the area for natural succession towards woodland with a varied structure.”

Scrub clearance 

Scrub can easily take over grassland, so we often have to get in and remove it or at least cut it down a bit, as Esther Clarke describes:

Esther Clarke

"On our chalk grassland reserves, such as Blow's Downs, we spend every autumn and winter in a battle against invasive scrub. Bushes such as blackthorn and dogwood, as well as bramble and clematis, if left unchecked, would quickly spread to shade out the sun-loving grasses and flowers that are key to the diversity of insect life on these sites. It is hard graft lopping and sawing on cold winter days but gathering round the bonfire with a mug of tea at the end of the day with all the volunteers is great. It is very rewarding to clear an area and then to come back the following summer to see it full of flowers and teeming with butterflies and bees."

Wader islands 

Wading birds need water and mud, all of which will rapidly disappear, by succession, into plant growth. To create a new scrape or island for safe nesting is a major operation, as Ian Hilbert admits.

Ian HIlbert

“Making wader islands needs careful planning for the wetland wildlife and so that people can see the results. Inevitably we will get comments on it by people who happen to be looking for birds just as we are in the midst of our work. At this scale, we have to use earth-moving equipment – it looks like a building site but just because we use the same kit as road or housebuilders doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same. Every year, we have to take out the taller plants because many of the nesting birds, such as common terns and redshanks, like to be able to see what’s coming – and visitors like to see the birds.”

River banks

Lush river banks and lake sides are home to all sorts of wildlife, from endangered water voles to kingfishers and irises. But if too much vegetation grows over unique habitat, such as gravel where fish spawn, it may need removing, as Lewis Dickinson explains:

Lewis Dickinson

“When clearing the bankside of trees and shrubs on one side only or for short stretches, the wildlife still has other habitat as a refuge. After we clear an area, we may leave a short-term mess of tangled branches and leaves, and that's a valuable wildlife habitat in its own right. The farm equipment we use makes a good job of it, but it’s not a tidy process – we even got the digger stuck at Harrold Odell! Luckily the immediate aftermath usually heals quickly, but this summer’s drought hasn’t helped.”

This feature was originally published in the winter 2018 issue of Local WIldlife, our members' magazine. 

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