Work saves woodland veterans

Wednesday 10th February 2016

Piper's Hill and Dodderhill Commons (c) Wendy CarterPiper's Hill and Dodderhill Commons (c) Wendy Carter

Work to improve a regionally-important nature reserve is to start in late February.

Piper’s Hill and Dodderhill Commons nature reserve, known locally as Hanbury Woods, is important because of its large number of veteran trees. Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, who own the reserve, will be clearing some of the denser areas of bramble to ensure it doesn’t smother the trunks of the older trees and to maintain the open areas that characterise this ancient wood pasture.

Piper's Hill and Dodderhill Commons (c) Wendy CarterJames Hitchock, conservation officer responsible for the reserve, explained “These glorious veteran trees – mainly oak and sweet chestnut– are an important feature of our landscape. Not only does Piper’s Hill and Dodderhill Commons contain some of the oldest trees in Worcestershire but it also has one of the highest concentrations of them in the West Midlands.

“We’ve already done quite a lot of work removing young trees from around the veterans; creating space to give them increased access to sunlight and nutrients in the soils.

“This work is ongoing. To maintain what has already been done, we need to manage the open areas we have created, which is why we will also be cutting some of the larger patches of bramble.

“Traditionally this bramble would have been cleared by grazing stock or the commoners that held rights to cut or collect timber on the common. There are currently no commoners’ rights held for the common and we could not graze the site without installing fences so we will have to employ the use of machinery.

“By removing some of the brambles we also hope to create a few more grassy glades, which will benefit a range of wildlife.

“Brambles are really important for wildlife – from providing pollen to insects to berries for birds and small mammals – so we won’t be removing it completely.

“We’ll actually be leaving a lot of the cut material in situ as both this and dead wood make great habitats for wildlife.”

Wood pasture

Piper's Hill veteran tree (c) Becky LashleyThe age at which a tree becomes a veteran depends on the species of tree; some of the trees at Piper’s Hill and Dodderhill Commons are around 400 years old. This makes them vital for the lifecycles of insects and fungi as well as important homes for birds and bats.

The veteran trees at Piper’s Hill and Dodderhill Commons grew up in a wood pasture environment with plenty of open space in which to grow. This is demonstrated by the wide spreading branches seen in many of the trees that show a history of growing up with lots of space, rather than the tightly upward growing branches seen in woodland trees.

Wood pasture is often associated with old commons, where young saplings were often unable to survive the grazing by commoners’ animals, giving rise to old, widely spaced trees with a grassy woodland floor.

Trees were often pollarded on a ten to fifteen year cycle to provide timber for fuel and minor building works, although others would have been left to form large timber trees for bigger works.

James continued “We’ll also be carrying out some work around a large oak tree in the car park to protect its extensive root system. As well as moving the bollards further away from the base of the tree we’ll also be mulching the root system in order to increase the organic matter and help alleviate compaction.”

Once work begins, contractors will be on site for one week; the Trust is asking all visitors to adhere to on-site safety signs.

Any reader who wishes to get involved with ongoing management on the nature reserve can join the monthly Sunday volunteer work party (fourth Sunday of the month). Anyone who is interested in finding out more should email Helen Dorey, volunteer co-ordinator, or call her on 01905 754919.  

Tagged with: Piper's Hill and Dodderhill Commons, Veteran trees