This winter, Landmarc was tasked under the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Countryside Stewardship Fund (CSF) programme to open up tree cover across a five hectare area of the Roman River Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Friday Woods Training Area, near Colchester in Essex, in order to restore the original wood pasture structure and improve the condition of the SSSI

The site is a complex mosaic of woodland, scrub, heath, grassland and fen, which supports a diverse breeding bird population and over a thousand species of moths and butterflies. The woodland is ancient, mainly high forest, with the remains of a ‘coppice-with-standards’ structure. ‘Coppice-with-standards’ is a term given to a managed woodland consisting of coppiced shrubs or trees, with scattered trees that are allowed to reach full height.

The project, delivered by our rural maintenance team in East, will deliver a number of benefits, as Maintenance Manager, Ross Guyton, explains.

“Our objective was to open up the tree cover to restore the original wood pasture structure, which meant that we had to push back some 40 – 50 years of successional tree growth. The result is an increase in the grassland area, which will help to maintain and enhance the character of the SSSI. It will also encourage more heathland vegetation and gorse patches for bird species like Linnet in the more open areas.

“The local Essex landscape is also characterised by veteran and ancient trees, with many impressive examples of lapsed ancient boundary pollards nearby. A second objective was therefore to create more veteran tree characteristics by implementing early veteranisation techniques to young trees, which included the experimental pollarding of some of the younger oaks to help create some ancient pollards for the future. Pollarding is a pruning technique that involves the removal of the upper branches of a tree in order to encourage a denser head of foliage and branches. We also installed a number of saproxylic ‘nest boxes’ for invertebrates that are dependent on dead or decaying wood as well as other artificial cavities for bats and birds, which will help to initiate decay to replicate ancient tree characteristics.

“The overall operation was to heavily thin and also remove entire areas of naturally re-generated trees, removing all non-native species and leaving the retained trees in intimate groups. The majority of the trees were felled by an excavator-based tree shear for both speed and safety, and then the trees were processed by chainsaw to produce 400 tons of two fuel wood products – fire wood logs and wood chips.

“One of the challenges we faced is that the most southerly section of woodland is intersected by a High Voltage Powerline. We therefore had to liaise closely with UK Power Network (UKPN) to arrange a two-day total line shut down, and work with a UKPN arboricultural gang to facilitate safe tree felling operations. Fortunately, as this project started immediately at the end of the bird nesting season and we were blessed with the dry summer and early autumn weather, the SSSI grass feature disturbance was kept to an absolute minimum, despite the large machinery and the high number of movements required.

“All that remains to complete the objective is to grind / mulch down the resultant tree stumps, which will funded by next year’s CSF programme. The removal of the stumps will facilitate ease of livestock grazing or mechanical grass maintenance by the tenant farmer which will ensure that successional tree growth will be kept at bay long term.

“Since this project was such a success, there is a plan to conduct further CSF-funded wood pasture restoration works for continued SSSI improvement in the area this coming financial year.”

Please contact Maintenance Manager, Ross Guyton, if you’re interested in finding out more about this fantastic project and help us to share best practice across the training estate.