Amidst the ongoing misery and upset of continuous sleet, snow and rain, I found a moment yesterday to pace out and plan my “big” woodland project for 2014. Having finally wrested control of 3Ha of the hill back from my farming tenant, I am keen to see that it is put to good conservation use.
Approximately one Hectare of the chosen area is made up of a steep-sided gully which I hope to plant up with willows and alders in due course. This gully runs perpendicular to the woodcock strip, which I am currently in the process of felling and replanting, and it runs about two hundred yards off the point of the strip at its highest point. These new trees will be of some use to the black grouse, and although I spend much of my time on this blog raving about the ridiculousness of basing a conservation policy on planting trees for a bird that won’t use them, I have put considerable thought into this idea. Not only is the location of the wood suitable for snaring and lamping, but it is also small enough to be driven to waiting guns on a wet day. There is no point whatsoever in planting trees unless you are prepared to keep the foxes out of them, and so much quality black grouse habitat has been lost to trees which were dropped on the landscape as if their very woodiness would somehow fix every problem for the birds. By planning how I will keep the wood clear of foxes before it has even been planted, I feel like I will save myself some serious time and effort further down the line.
I have also made sure that, as the trees grow, they will not provide habitat suitable for winged predators, and the height of the trees will diminish as the wood ascends the hill. The last thing I need is for tall trees to be overhanging the moor, and the plan is that as the wood runs up onto the hill, it will fizzle out into a scattering of hawthorns and willows which can be coppiced and kept short to stop predators and scavengers from getting a look in.
A good Hectare of the designated area has a very strong heather and cranberry mix, so I will let this do as it pleases, and the third Hectare is whiter and wetter. I have a plan to plough some of this to see if it invigorates the seed below, then plant the odd hardwood and scots pine to create a very loose scattering of stunted trees at extremely low density. This should not only create habitat for black grouse which will run out onto an extensive area of open ground available in all directions, but it would gradually come to be the kind of rough, quiet spot used by roe deer, woodcock and hares. I have particular interest in incorporating the kind of cover that cuckoos like, and from what I know of cuckoo habitats in the uplands, I think that this ties in very nicely with the overall concept.
Aside from anything, this project aims to demonstrate that a small area of properly managed “rough, thorny scrub” where vermin control is built-in from the beginning is a very different style of “woodland” than that espoused by the perpetual drone of conservation bodies who have a vested interest in generating timber. It is only on a very small scale, but woodland plantings on behalf of black grouse should never be extensive plantations if they hope to be sustainable, and rather than make problems for the overall management of the moor, it should add considerable conservation value. The key will be to manage the trees when they come through and snip off the inevitable sitka, but all that lies ahead of me.
First, I have to build 500m of fence.