“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”
Inversnaid, Gerald Manley Hopkins
Hopkins would have been in his element at the recent members visit to Lady Park Wood, where “wildness and wet” were both in plentiful supply. As well as its status as a nationally important monitoring and experimentation site, Lady Park Woods also provides wild(er)ness. It was a characteristic also recognised by Wordsworth on his visit to the lower Wye Valley 2 centuries ago. It is to the credit of many that this sense of the wild has been maintained.
Moving onto woodland management.
When George came to the 2017 AGM, he explained that the effect of 70 years’ non-intervention now meant that the site was now darker, less accessible and less welcoming and less biodiverse. On our visit, we saw that at first hand, and George used another resonant phrase, describing Lady Park now as the classic “hollow wood”, where the life is concentrated in the canopy and under the ground, but little in between. Those familiar with such sites will know they have a beauty of their own, similar to the beech hangers of the Chilterns and Cotswolds, woodlands that are thought to have inspired the medieval cathedrals, such as Gloucester.
One of the striking aspects of the visit was the more or less complete absence of bird life. When compared to managed woods we have visited this month that have been teeming with our feathered friends, it brings to life the statement George Peterken made at the end of our visit……..whilst Lady Park Wood is incredibly important as a place from which to learn about woodland development processes, “it’s not necessarily how to manage a nature reserve”. It is not however correct to view the Biodiversity of Lady Park Wood as being in a state of decline, as the fungi are doing very well and Lady Park is becoming an increasingly important site for its mycology, as this aspect is better understood. Lady Park Wood is simply moving on, as all woodlands do, whether managed or not.
One of the things that we were able to see first hand was “pit and mound” topography. Characteristic of undisturbed older growth forest, the pit is formed when a tree falls and the mound is then formed of the upturned root plate. We were able to observe relatively widespread “pit and mound” formation, we were then also able to have our agility tested in climbing under and over the fallen trees. Given that it is non-intervention, that means trees are not cleared from paths and tracks. We also saw that fallen trees in a steeply sloping site tend to have a domino affect, resulting in relatively long narrow canopy gaps, which perhaps close quite quickly, given their narrowness.
All woodland management is about making informed choices as this where sites such as Lady Park come in. Its significance goes some way beyond the site itself. It is a reference site, where the decisions made and the consequent dynamics within the Wood are now so well recorded that we are able to understand this woodland at a really intimate level. Although some aspects, such as the fungi, are clearly important in their own right, its greatest value lies in the fact that it is so well understood and the role that knowledge can play in informing the decision making processes of others. It would be very easy to write at much greater length, however, George Peterken and Ed Mountford have already done that. Their book should be on the reading lists of all those wishing to inform themselves about their woodland management.