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Why topple a tree?

Posted: Tuesday 13th December 2016 by sarah.m

Trainee Anna Jennings reports on her experiences of woodland work as a trainee for The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country.

Do you think Birmingham and the Black Country could be the best place to find urban nature in the country? We do. That’s what our Nature Improvement Area (NIA) project is all about. We’re working with over 60 partners and hundreds of volunteers to create quality, connected habitats to let wildlife, nature and people thrive together.

A major part of the NIA involves improving woodlands to make them more inviting to wildlife and to let a wider variety of species grow. You may be surprised to hear that this involves cutting down trees. The belief that felling trees is a bad thing has been ingrained in our minds for decades. Dramatic images of toppling trees being engulfed by flames in the rainforest to make way for monotonous plantations are used powerfully by wildlife conservation charities worldwide; and for good reason too.

The first time I cut a tree down was in the first week of my traineeship with The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country. A mixture of feelings went through my mind – regret, relief, awe, sadness and satisfaction all at once. Now in the tenth month of my traineeship, I still feel a tinge of sadness whenever I cut down a tree. But I now realise that felling trees is an integral part of wildlife conservation, which benefits our wild flora and fauna in numerous ways. Here are a few:

• Selectively cutting down trees, or ‘thinning’ creates glades, which allow more light to reach the woodland floor. This light helps flowering species, such as primroses and bluebells, to grow. This in turn creates a food source for insects, which will be fed on by birds, bats and other mammals.


• In dense woodlands, taking out some trees allows those left to reach their full potential and spread out their canopy. By retaining the rarer species, and those which provide the best homes for wildlife, we can maximise the benefits for nature.

• Trees in plantation woodlands are often all of the same age and species. By cutting some of them down and planting a mixture of saplings, we can create a varied age and height structure. This results in a more diverse habitat, and thus caters for a much wider range of species.

• Coppicing (cutting back a tree to ground level periodically to encourage new growth) actually extends the overall life of a tree. The habitat created when coppiced stumps sprout new shoots is a favourite of butterflies. The cut poles can be used in hedge-laying and artwork, to make fences and stabilise path edges. Trees have been coppiced by people since the Middle Ages, and so practicing this art helps keep ancient skills alive.

• When trees are cut down, the wood is usually used to make dead hedges or habitat piles. These provide the ideal nesting habitat for birds such as wrens. As the wood rots down, it also supplies food for insects and fungi.



Whenever we fell a tree, we think about it carefully, and make sure that we are doing it for the right reasons and at the right time. I hope you agree, and maybe even want to join us in our ambition to make Birmingham and the Black Country the best place for urban nature in the country.

Anna Jennings
Trainee at The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country
 

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