Proposal for Tree Regeneration Areas
[The following presentation was made by Rhyddian Knight, Forest Ranger at Glenan Wood at the last FOGW AGM]
[Photo Credit: James Shooter, Scotland The Big Picture].
I wish to extend my gratitude for such a warm welcome & orientation to the area this year from members of the community, members of the FOGW board; and particularly to my colleague Mick Eyre. It has been a tumultuous year, but I hope in the following paragraphs to present a plan which represents huge value for money in the regeneration of the wood; a common inheritance which we all care so much about.
Glenan Wood comprises a range of habitats, including established Atlantic oak woodlands, areas of birch regeneration of various ages, bracken dominated glades, patches of remnant conifer plantation and heath uplands.
It is difficult to overemphasize the fact that our Atlantic rainforest, a declining habitat of international importance; in community ownership is an enormous privilege for us in South Cowal. Of course with that privilege comes the responsibility to support the health of the wood and ensure the opportunity for future generations to explore their relationships with the mosaic of species that make up the totality of the forest.
While the existing range of habitats grants a degree of bio-diversity to the site, various factors are in play which compromise the overall condition of the woodland; one of the most significant being the high level of herbivore impacts in most areas.
Browsing pressure has resulted in a general suppression of tree regeneration and is leading to an unbalanced age structure; almost no desirable regeneration has become established within the last couple of decades, despite the widespread occurrence of a range of native tree seedlings. What regeneration is occurring unfortunately consists of rhododendron and western hemlock, both invasive species of low habitat value that are unpalatable to herbivores.
The type and density of ground-cover is also affected by browsing pressure, with both a reduced variety of species and a restricted physical range of scrambling types such as honeysuckle and ivy, reducing the habitats and cover available for a range of invertebrates and small birds.
Given that the cost of fencing the entire woodland would be prohibitive, not to say ugly & un-neighbourly, deer management options that could be considered include:
Culling. This would have to be carried out in conjunction with neighbouring estates in order to be effective, and will rely on engaging a motivated and efficient stalker. The co-ordination of stalking efforts and public access to the woodland will preclude culling in certain areas.
Disturbance. Native tree regeneration is notably confined to areas within approximately 20m of the most utilized footpaths in the wood. The development of the path network and encouragement of public access would spread these areas of recovery.
Exclosures. Selected areas could be enclosed with light weight deer fencing, creating pockets of regeneration and diverse ground flora across the woodland. These areas would lift the bio-diversity of the woodland in their own right, and would act as a seed-bank to support wider regeneration / diversification once longer term deer control strategies have an effect. Such exclosures would be dismantled after approximately 5 years, once tree regeneration has reached sufficient maturity to be safe from browsing damage.
Exclosure method - A proposal
I don't recall whether it was Bernard Planterose or Alun Featherstone that first coined the term 'exclosure'; but it was at a Reforesting Scotland conference that I first heard this word being used to describe a fenced area designed to keep out browsers.
The following plan, developed over a series of site visits with consultant Angus Bevan; proposes a regeneration strategy to address a systemic 'age-class crises'.
This map shows a number of potential plots that have been identified across Glenan woodland, covering several different habitats. All of the plots share the features of:
Widespread seedling regeneration
Suitable existing trees for support
Even contour, to facilitate deer-proofing the lower edge of the fence.
Angus and I propose, depending on budget, the establishment of a few, reasonably accessible pilot plots, both to test the methodology of erection and maintenance, and to provide an example of the benefits of the approach to inspire further fund-raising. The following slides are from a site owned by Gordon Gray Stephens at Portalloch. The site has similar conditions (climate/aspect/browsers etc) to our woodland at Glenan.
[BEFORE: shots of lower exclosure when the fence was erected in 2016]
[AFTER: 2020 regen of oak and birch to the left is obvious, regen to the right is held back by browsing] Exclosures can be established by using sections of light weight, nylon deer netting. The netting is hung on two lines of 6mm rope and pegged along the lower edge; plots can be selected where existing trees are used as supports, reducing the need to use fence stobs.
The fencing materials are easy to transport to even fairly remote locations, and can be reused once regeneration is established.
Fixed point photography, as the above slides ably demonstrate, would provide solid evidence of the benefits of deer exclusion.
"How can I help?"
The board hopes to meet soon to discuss how we may seek to fund a pilot 'cluster' of 3 exclosures to erect in 2021. They are also looking at both funding opportunities & potential income streams to extend my position beyond March 2022. I have proposed, in the meantime, to reduce my hours to one day per week; to allow the board a realistic timescale to achieve this. In addition to new advancements in lightweight netting; i believe I represent excellent value for money too! As traditional funding streams are drying up in the face of political and biological pressures; one avenue we are exploring is a crowdfund.
We welcome any involvement from members in both designing and running a fund-rasing and crowd-funding campaign. Successful crowdfuding is not just dependent on a worthy cause such as a declining rainforest in need of restoration. To maintain momentum, a crowdfund needs content, video, audio & stories throughout the duration of the campaign.
Volunteer work parties:
I hope to press 'Play' on the 'other half' of my role; that of community engagement through working parties and public events; which has had to take a necessary pause during this difficult year. It is not just the erection of the exclosures that can utilize the hands and hearts of our members; nor the maintenance of the fence. It is the task of tending of what is contained within them will, undoubtedly, provide meaningful and rewarding work for those that participate.
One of the design elements of creating 'clusters' of three exclosures in close proximity; is that one cluster can be visited by a work party and maintained over the course of a single day. Bracken suppression, rhododendron control and the removal of other non natives will help to support successful re-growth. I feel the context and purpose will also be attractive to visiting groups as well.
A Parting Glass
I sincerely look forward to a time where we can share tea, fire and conversation safely and in good conscience underneath the canopy. In the meantime, wishing you all a cosy winter and please don't be shy if you fancy some one on one volunteer days or want a pointer in the right direction for some solo work.
The above slides are from a site owned by Gordon Gray Stephens at Portalloch. The site has similar conditions (climate/aspect/browsers etc) to our woodland at Glenan. Slide1: 2009 upper exclosure: very large beech growing out of revetted road when partially felled. Tree was casting considerable shade: no competition from ground vegetation Slide 2:
2020 upper exclosure: same view. Old stock fencing used on top of revetment to deter deer, with temporary plastic fencing on two sides, and a reinforced dyke on the fourth side. Good regeneration of birch, oak, hazel, rowan, willow and ash inside the fence. Less diverse and often browsed regeneration outside the fence. Probably 3-6 deer/100ha on average over the decade. Slide 3 & 4:
Two shots of lower exclosure when the fence was erected in March 2016 (fenced area to the left in each shot). Pre existing oak and hazel seedlings identified (c30 in the exclosure) in previous autumn. C60 year old birch stand heavily thinned, leaving “corner posts” (living trees) to carry 3 lines of thin Screwfix rope. Plastic deer fence cable tied to the rope. Plan to remove remaining mature birch in 6-8 years.
2020 insider the exclosure (note conifers same as in lower 2016 shot). Birch, oak and hazel doing well. The fence was breeched by a fallen tree in 2018, and at least one deer was inside for a short period.
2020 regen of oak and birch to the left is obvious, regen to the right is held back by browsing. Broadly the view in the first 2016 shot.