We have had some very welcome visitors at St George’s Farm this past week. Milo and Saul, our grandchildren, stayed for part of their half term holiday, along with Leonie, their mum, and her friend Joel. And we were all delighted to meet Duke, an English Cob working horse, and his minder John, who have been hauling timber in Lord’s Yard Coppice, a nearby woodland owned by the Guild of St George. Duke even brought Posey his friend from Shetland who Saul was thrilled to ride!
There has recently been a lot of activity in the woodland to get jobs done before the start of the bird nesting season. Alongside Duke and John, Ellie and Amy, the two forestry workers with the Wyre Community Land Trust, have been felling and preparing trees for extraction. This is all part of the long term management plan for the Guild woodlands to increase their value for wildlife at the same time as generating some economic value.
Striking the right balance between wildlife value and economic productivity is an important part of the vision for making better use of the oak woodland here. Improving the health and diversity of wildlife in the Wyre Forest has been an important objective since over 200 hectares – almost 500 acres – of it was designated as a National Nature Reserve almost 50 years ago. The reserve area has tripled since then. Its biodiversity has been enhanced by the work that has been done in recent years to create a more diverse woodland structure by selective felling of 60-80 year old oak trees and re-establishing traditional ‘coppice’ management.
Coppicing – where trees are cut down at ground level on a regular, 15-20 year cycle – was the main means of harvesting wood from much of the Wyre until the early twentieth century. As well as providing valuable habitat for ground nesting birds, such as the increasingly rare wood warbler, this practice has meant the survival of huge oak ‘stools’ – or roots – which are many centuries old. It is also the reason that most of the Wyre Forest is classified as ‘ancient woodland’, one of the UK’s most important wildlife habitats.
Horses were generally used to remove the felled timber in the Wyre Forest up to the middle of the last century. ‘Tushing ditches’, ancient trackways created by centuries of timber extraction by horses, pictured above can still be seen throughout the forest. Today, horse logging is increasingly preferred in wildlife rich woodlands over the use of giant forestry tractors which can cause a lot of ground damage and disturbance, as well as being intrusive to the eye and ear. That is why its been a such a pleasure to see Duke and John at Ruskin Land, as well as our grandchildren, and why I hope we will be seeing more of them in future.