Wednesday 17 December 2014

Award Winning Woodlands

Last week Gatwick Airport was awarded the Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark Award in recognition of the protection and enhancement of the airport’s landholdings for wildlife. Providing such services to Gatwick’s landholdings, some 72 acres, is no small task and a great deal of the hard graft has come from volunteers giving up their free time to come out and help. 

As the temperature has steadily dropped over the last few months, bizarrely, the numbers of volunteers have steadily increased and Gatwick’s woodlands in particular have reaped the benefits of this conservation drive.

Upper Picketts Wood, located in the land to the east of the railway line, is a typical low weald woodland. Oak and Ash form the canopy (with a few rogue conifers thrown in for good measure) above an understory made up of Hazel, Hawthorn and Holly. In spring, the woodland floor is a carpet of Bluebells, Dog’s Mercury, and Wood Anemone.

Upper Pickets spring carpet of Bluebells.

The abundance of multi-stemmed Hazel in the understory suggests coppicing has been practiced here for some time. This traditional technique of cutting Hazel and allowing it to re-grow produces a healthy crop of straight, strong and flexible poles, and diversifies the woodland structure to support a variety of wildlife - an all-round good practice.

With this in mind we recently set to work on a neglected coppice compartment within Upper Pickets. Over a three-week period from late October, various teams from GAL’s Business Development Department helped us to develop a healthy woodland habitat by coppicing Hazel stools, grading and sorting the useable poles (into hedging stakes and binders), and creating habitat piles from the left-over brash.

 In keeping with the theme of traditional techniques we set up a “riving” brake and used drawknives to remove bark from the cut stakes to prevent them rotting once in the ground. 

A pile of peeled and pointed poles ready to use.

Over in the North West Zone, Brockley Wood was the scene for more development when the Programme Management Office team cut a ride through this isolated woodland. Traditionally, rides were track-ways for extracting timber but these corridors are also used by butterflies, bats and birds, with the increased light also helping to diversify the woodland flora.

Natterer's Bats roosting in a box this year in Brockley Wood

Finally, the retail field engineers began tackling an area densely covered with Sycamore in Lower Picketts Wood. Though Sycamore is naturalised in Great Britain, it is very fast growing, highly adaptable, and produces a large volume of seed. Sycamore can quickly dominate small woods like Lower Picketts, altering the species composition and reducing biodiversity. To stop this from happening the retail team used mattocks to dig out the roots of larger trees and pulled up saplings to stop them from regenerating.

Gatwick's Retail Field Engineers

The Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark Award is a great way to round-off the year. It shows just how important the input from GAL’s Business Development Department has been, as well as everyone else who has helped out over the last year. We’re all looking forward to building on Gatwick's conservation credentials as we head into 2015.

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