Woodland management

To ensure the long-term future of the woodlands it is essential to encourage regeneration, both naturally and/or through planting. Trees have different needs for soil, light and climate. All these are taken into consideration when restocking.

The Woodlands of Coombe are valued as a conservation and leisure area and, therefore, a sensitive management approach is required.

During recent years some chosen areas have been selectively felled and restocked with mixed native deciduous trees which improve wildlife conservation and may eventually produce some timber.

Young trees are protected from rabbits and deer by a protective tube which helps their growth.

There is also a policy to retain a percentage of dead trees for conservation purposes and allow some trees to reach senile decay gracefully.

Coppice management has been re-introduced along the northern boundary close to the Little Wrautums area.

With a large number of visitors every year, the Woodlands need to be strong and careful zoning of activities helps to avoid a conflict of interests between recreation, conservation and management operations. For example, if felling is taking place, paths may need to be closed and rerouted to avoid any areas of danger.

Historically, the woodlands would have been more open with more of a parkland character. Trees would have been in clumps or as single specimens, possibly within pastures grazed by deer, sheep or cattle. Shrub species such as laurel and rhododendron would have been planted as cover for game birds and clumps of these evergreens can still be seen.

With ownership changes the parkland has returned to woodland and scrub. Invading species such as sycamore have been allowed to dominate in some areas and squirrel damage has led to some very deformed specimens.

With the backing of the Forestry Commission and Natural England and National Lottery support, future management proposals may see the woodland being restored to its former open character. This may need the felling of selected trees and areas of scrub, especially where views can be re-opened, providing views across the lake.

In the past there would have been dedicated woodsmen working continuously on the estate. From time to time the Park Rangers organise demonstrations of woodland crafts which would have been used by the woodsmen of previous generations. These crafts included hedge laying, hurdle making, charcoal burning, coppicing (hazel and sweet chestnut) and rustic fencing, to name but a few.

All of these crafts helped to make the woodlands busy areas of local industry and, of course, the raw material was available on 'the doorstep'. Natural England, as part of the SSSI designation, has produced a 'Site Management Statement' which gives various objectives and action plans that affect woodlands. For example, under their Habitat Management section they state:

"Manage the woodlands as high forest on long rotation (c. 120 years) and retain significant proportion of deadwood habitat, as hulks, branchwood piles etc. Control invasive and non-invasive species such as Canada Goose, Cormorant, Grey Squirrel, Rabbit, Indian Balsam, Ragwort and Rhododendron".

The woodlands are always changing and react to man's influences as well as natural ones. In a hundred years' time the character may be very different to what we see today.