Habitat improvement of Rodd Farm
Why fell the trees on the disused railway line of The Rodd?
a) To improve the wildlife habitat value of the line
- Our aim is to enhance the habitat value of the dis-used railway for natural indigenous wildlife populations.
- We aim to create a vibrant wildlife corridor that will connect with the farm hedgerow systems and provide a wildlife access route across the surrounding flat river meadows.
- We’ll try and encourage a lower, denser but more species rich environment that will benefit from the sunlight and warmth of the open aspect of the central grassy ride. A mix of native shrubs and trees will provide an excellent sheltered environment for invertebrates, birds, bats and mammals with an abundant food supply (plenty of berries, fruit seeds and nuts).
- In the process of clearing the line we shall keep a few of the more important standing trees such as the elm near the old level crossing at the Presteigne end and the native black poplar and white willow opposite The Rodd.
- We shall also leave deadwood on the line, lying and standing, that will feed essential invertebrate and fungal populations.
b) To attempt to correct issues to do with the existing trees on the line
- The existing trees, especially the dominant poplars, create a great deal of summer shade which discourages low growing shrubs and plants and hence allows for only a limited species mix and poor biodiversity.
- The large poplars, with a realistic life span of only 40 years, are shallow rooting and prone to wind blow at their current stage of growth.
- The poplars are a non-native hybrid, being of poor indigenous wildlife value. Native trees are essential for the local environment. They support vast numbers of invertebrates and epiphytic lichens that cannot survive on non-native species.
- The rest of the plantation trees are mostly poorly grown conifers that have been shaded by the canopy of the poplars and in many cases have died and prone to breaking in high winds.
Why clear fell the line rather than selective thinning?
- The trees on the old line are of such a size that it would not be possible to fell them without damaging the surrounding native species.
- All of the native trees and shrubs will actually benefit from the lack of shade and when coppiced they will produce a strong burst of re-growth that can be more easily managed in the coming years to create a much more diverse habitat.
- Some of the less desirable (in terms of habitat potential) species will not cope with coppicing and will not re-grow (the poplars will readily coppice and it will be important to prevent them dominating the area in the future).
- Clear felling will give a few years when there plenty of light in the area and allow the hitherto unseen under storey and woodland floor plants the chance to grow or become established.
- It will be exciting to see the variety of plants that establish in this area and to watch the natural regeneration produce a feature that supports local wildlife.
- It will give the opportunity to plant other indigenous species into the sloped sides and banks, introducing variety and hence biological stability.
How do we know that the area will recover from the felling and how long will it take?
The best answer to this question is the evidence of the plot just below the old line opposite The Rodd. This site was cleared of a dense stand of large poplar about 8 years ago and being very wet was left deeply rutted; after felling, trees tops and thinnings covered the entire area. Only a few exceptional willows and a single black poplar remained.
Over the ensuing years the hybrid poplar re-growth has been controlled and the wet areas have been carefully planted with cuttings from the surrounding willows and with black polar whips from the Black Poplar Conservation project and from the two fallen trees on the Hindwell. Near the roadside there has been a flush of ash saplings in amongst selected planted oaks. An exceptional habitat has evolved that combines wet areas with dry and that in between the developing trees hosts the wonderful King Cups, meadow sweet and fruit laden brambles. With time the non-native horse chest trees and their myriad of irrepressible suckers will be removed.
Another excellent example of natural regeneration after clear fell can be seen at the eastern end of Rodd Wood. In 1998 a stand of western hemlock and thuja were clear felled and the entire area was left to regenerate naturally. Birch and brambles soon took over but they provided cover and protection from dear grazing for the relatively shade tolerant oak and ash seedlings to establish. The interim flowering and fruiting of shrubs in the protected and warm clearing has provided food for great numbers of summer invertebrates and butterflies and of course the resident dormice.
What other measures has the Sidney Nolan Trust taken to promote the wildlife sustainability of Rodd Farm?
Since the purchase of Rodd Farm the Sidney Nolan Trust has ensured that it is managed according to organic principles, under the guidance of the Soil Association. Organic farming methods are widely acknowledged as being the most beneficial for promoting natural environmental health and sustainability. The Trustees are committed to the organic management of Rodd Farm into the future.
In addition over the last 15 years the Trust has
- Clear felled non-native species from Rodd Wood to allow the natural regeneration of birch that has given rise to a locally much more appropriate oak, hazel and ash mixture.
- Thinned the larch monoculture in the centre of the Rodd Wood to open it up to the establishment of native species and improve biodiversity.
- Coppiced compartments of the wood to the west to promote the regeneration of the hazel and shrub understorey and to increase the habitat and food production potential of the wood (more work has to be done in this area to reduce the shade of the tree canopy and promote stronger understorey growth).
- Planted over 10,000 native trees and shrubs in three areas outside the Rodd Wood. The object of this was to create wildlife bridges from Rodd Wood to the Little Roughs and from Rodd Wood to the extensive hedgerow network of the farm. The farm hedgerow system can act as an extension of the woodland edge that is so important as a fruit and nut source for woodland dwelling animals. In order for it to play this role, however, it must be accessible.
- Introduced a new trimming regime for the roadside hedgerows which now takes place in February/March as opposed to the autumn. This is well before the nesting seasons but allows maximum time for birds to take advantage of any hedgerow fruit, nuts and seeds. In addition the hedges are left successively longer so that there is always second year wood on which the plants can flower.
- Protected and pruned up hedgerow trees that will act as song perches for nesting birds and that will grow to take on the important habitat role of the ancient oak pollards.
- Ended the annual trimming of hedges within the farm and replacing this with a 7-10 year coppicing cycle. Untrimmed hedgerow shrubs have far greater environmental value than those trimmed annually. As they mature their fruit, berry and nut production increases massively, as do the numbers of associated invertebrates and epiphytes. In addition the hedges are encouraged to grow out wider offering excellent nesting for birds and cover for both wildlife and farm livestock. Coppicing a hedge opens up gaps for replanting with shrubs and hedgerow trees and hence for introducing diversity. It also reduces competition and allows for the light necessary for these young plants to establish themselves. The hedge that develops in this way is of varied height and make-up, suited to the widest range of potential bird and small mammal colonisers.
- Encouraged the establishment of flowering plants within the ancient meadows and pastures by varying the grass cutting regime to ensure that all fields have the opportunity to reach flowering in at least one year out of three (some much more). Cutting now takes place quite late in the summer to allow plants to flower and when fields are reseeded this is done with mixtures that include native flowering plants such as birds foot trefoil and the naturalised chicory.
- Left large uncut areas in silage fields to provide summer long cover for important ground nesting birds such as larks and curlews.