May’s Wood. Despite the fact that Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, Dr Brian May’s Save Me Trust believe woodland is vitally important and a key feature in the British landscape. It provides valuable habitat for wildlife and a wide range of benefits to society, including contributing to the economy, education, recreation, health and well-being.
Overview of the 2013/14 Year. May’s Wood is a long term project to return the former agricultural land to native woodland that will provide for the people and wildlife of Bere Regis in Dorset. Over 72,000 trees and shrubs have been planted to date in an area of approximately 45 hectares.
Preparing the Ground. Every journey starts with a single step and creating woodland is no different. Good preparation of the soil is vital to the success of the project. The former intensive agriculture fields were ‘manipulated’ to improve drainage and to break up pans (compacted areas of soil) that form from many years of tractor movements over the site. After this, a powered harrow was used to prepare the soil for seeding with a mix of native grasses and wildflowers. We also began grass cutting of rough grassland areas at regular intervals to provide a sward height of approximately 2.5cm.
Grassland Creation. Grassland refers to an area which is open and either not growing crops or is covered in trees or shrubs. All newly prepared areas were seeded with traditional mix of grasses associated with meadows, such as, Brown bent, Crested dogs tail, Fine bent Red fescue, Downy oat grass, Sheep’s fescue, Meadow barley, Quaking grass, Meadow foxtail and Sweet vernal-grass that will provide a natural long-term medium for the woodland to establish whilst reducing competition from vigorous herbaceous plants. The grassland mix also included a proportion of clover which acts as a great nitrogen fixer and will help to ameliorate soil conditions.
Wildflower Meadow Creation. Meadows are among the most diverse habitats in the British Isles. Very few habitats can boast such a rich tapestry of flora and fauna. Sadly, the swathes of wildflowers, home to numerous species of butterfly, grasshopper, invertebrate and bird are becoming a rare sight due to modern farming practices. Since the 1960's we have lost over 95 per cent of our flower-rich meadows in the UK and those that are left are under threat. Creating new meadows is vital if we are to maintain and develop biodiversity. This is something we will be encouraging people across the UK to do in their gardens very soon. The new meadow in May's Wood covers a large area of open ground. In addition to the biodiversity and wildlife benefits, it will provide it will also create a transition, that when viewed from the village will give the eye a graduated change in structure and create stunning views.
New Planting . The core of the woodland planting comprises predominantly of oak interspersed with shrubs. We are using species such as cherry and field maple along the margins of the planting area and rides to help create a more graded woodland edge. Rides are tracks or corridors of open space between the woodland edges. They provide access to the woodland on foot or with vehicles and are extremely valuable 'highways' for wildlife.
In May’s Wood, the rides include areas of scalloped edges to maximise the “edge effect” and create areas of open ground. Creating a series of bays or scallops along a ride will have the effect of disrupting wind flow and providing shelter Scallops will increase the length of the ride edge, increasing the foliage available to insects, and hence the insect biomass for foraging birds and bats. Scallops also enhance habitat diversity by increasing the area of tall herbs and providing more extensive areas of scrub along the woodland edge -and the cycle of life continues ever onwards. By introducing scallops into the woodland, we are enhancing habitat diversity, increasing the area of tall herbs and providing more extensive areas of scrub along the woodland edge, particularly bramble and blackthorn thickets.
We have also created a box junction or intersection that is known as a glade. Our glade has been created as the main ride intersection. It has opened the area up and allow light into the woodland. This is vital for the biodiversity benefit and will add to the public enjoyment. Glades provide excellent habitat for wildlife. They provide more open ground than rides so are ideal for species such as voles and rabbits and allow many additional species of plant to establish. Some woodland specialists such as bluebells and wood anemones flower early before the tree leaf canopy develops. They depend upon light and the glade that the glade provides. Because glades are non-linear, permanently open areas, with few or no trees they allow larger patches to provide a mixed range of habitats including more substantial areas of scrub along the woodland edge. Our glade in May's Wood has been incorporated into the ride network at the intersection of the rides. This enables wildlife to easily travel throughout May's Wood on seasonal forage or under natural cover for safety.
The first phase of planting of Areas 1 and 2, which Brian and Anne started at the Community Planting day in 2013, have both now been completed using saplings in 1.2m tree tubes. The planting area in Area 3 includes the meadow and that is also now completed. On the woodland edge, we have planted trees in clumps to replicate, as near as possible, the surrounding local landscape of Bere Regis. In Area 4 we have included a nectar and pollen rich area of planting specifically for bees. Bees are in decline in the UK for a number of reasons, but much is due to our intensive farming methods. Without Bees, many plants will not be pollinated. To encourage the bees, we are planting blossom bearing trees such as medlar, cherry and crab apple as well as nectar and pollen bearing shrubs and flowers. This will provide bees with a pollen source for most of the year.
Our thanks to Linda Lamon for the pictures used in this article