I’ve met a lot of people this week, and been travelling around quite a bit.
We are helping to plan the Millenium Fair for Buckfast Abbey. The aim is to have Arb Academy staff and apprentices showing off their skills to the public. Hopefully there will be some celebrities on the ground, and maybe even in the trees with us!
All in all it looks like it will be a lot of fun.
I also met with employers in Somerset, looks like we will be starting a Bristol cohort shortly.
Then off to Coventry for a meeting with City and Guilds concerning the apprenticeship ‘end point assessment’.
Once an apprentice has completed their work with us, they will be put in for an external test. We are currently deciding what form that test will take.
Still more recruits to talk to and employers who want apprentices, so busy, busy, busy….
FOCUS on………. Layers, light, life and leaves
The whole, is complex interaction of above and below ground players. All of what goes on in woodlands is primarily driven by sunlight. In fact apart from some communities living deep under the sea, it is the primary energy source for just about all life on Earth. Woodlands and Forests are like batteries, they store the suns energy in leaves and wood. They harness this energy throughout their lives, and when they are eaten or die they release this energy back for others to use. It’s the basis of everything, without plants, the ‘Primary Producers’ of this planet, we would not have the complex webs of life that cover the face of the world.
Because all the members of the woodland community depend on light to some degree or another, there are different ways in which they access it. Woodlands are divided up (by people!) into vertical layers, to distinguish the different types of plants that live here.
The Ground Layer consists of common woodland plants such as dog’s mercury, primroses, bilberry, bluebells and daffodils. Apart from some hardy souls such as bilberry, in a deciduous woodland, the ground layer plants are mostly active in the spring before the leaves come onto the trees. Their life cycles can be quite short in some cases, with a race to grow and set seed whilst they still have access to light.
In other cases like bluebells, they create a storage organ, called a bulb, underground, where they store the energy created by the leaves, before they die off. They then stay in this state until the following spring, and the cycle begins again.
The field, or herb, layer consists of various short shrubs and taller plants, who are either growing in small light openings in the canopy, or can tolerate lower levels of light. In the case above, there is heather and some small amounts of gorse. The understorey has plants such as holly, yew and hazel. All are tolerant of shade, but hazel will bide its time until its head is in the sun before it flowers and produces nuts. This usually happens when a tree dies or falls down creating a light area.
The canopy layer in this case is predominantly sessile oak, and this creates quite a dense shady woodland, and the plants below need to be pretty good at surviving the summer months in the shade.
The trees were planted around 40 years ago. You will notice straight away, the complete lack of pretty much anything growing beneath the trees. There is basically canopy, all the other layers appear to be missing.
There are several reasons for this.
Firstly it takes centuries for woodlands to establish, and to reach a balance between the inhabitants. Secondly, these trees have been planted in a place where, 50 years ago, it would have looked much like the first picture, this would have been sessile oak woodland. The original woodland has been cut down, and most of the original trees and shrubs would have either been cut up for logs or timber, or piled up and burnt. You can see in the foreground, the remnants of the ground layer, and some adventurous sweet chestnuts and hollies that have worked their way in.
Thirdly, these trees are planted very closely together and have a very dense canopy that excludes a lot more light than the oaks, and our native understorey plants aren’t particularly well adapted to such low light levels. In their native habitats, old growth conifer forests do have communities growing beneath them, they are just different species to the ones we have here.
The striking differences between these two scenarios is simply because they are entirely different types of woodland. The sessile oak woodland has grown through self- seeding, and complex interactions of time, weather and geology over about 8000 years.
The conifer plantation, is a man-made monoculture, that generally has a turn over time of around 50 years.
A lot of people would look at the photos above and think that, we should have more oak woodlands, and that we should get rid of the nasty conifers. Isn’t it obvious?
The first thing to remember is that we all use wood in one form or another. That wood has to come from somewhere. If we don’t grow it, then it has to grow itself.
It all takes time.
For us to ensure that we always have wood to use, we need to take trees out at the same rate as we put them back. If we want forests to expand we have to plant more than we take out.
I think everyone knows that on a global scale this isn’t happening.
Our demand for timber is growing by the day, and our natural resources are being used faster than we can replace them, even when we try. When we plant trees, it takes decades before we can harvest them, so unless we plan our woodland management now for the next generations, there will be even more pressure on what is left of the forests of the world.
We only have plantation trees to harvest now, because someone 50- 100 years ago and more, had the foresight to plant them.
Different species of trees grow at different rates. Oak can be quite slow compared to a conifer like the Douglas firs and Sitka spruces above, so what do we want? Slow ‘native’ woodlands, or fast growing ‘crop’ trees that we can then use instead of felling more oaks?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but I suspect the answer lies in striking a balance.
Forest clearance is nothing new for humans we have been doing this for a very long time.
It’s just the scale of it now is so much greater.
If you go back to the first photograph, that is of a Dartmoor oak woodland.
About 8000 years ago a lot of Dartmoor would have looked like this, with scattered clearings and some areas of bog.
It doesn’t look like that anymore, most of Dartmoor is now open peat moorland and bog.
Believe it or not, it was created by us.
Once people started to settle here, and to farm, they started to clear the trees to make fields. Armed only with stone and bronze tools, they created the treeless landscape of the moor within 2000 years. It may seem a long time but that is a blink of an eye in historical or tree lifetime terms. Areas bigger than Dartmoor are being cleared monthly by people armed with chainsaws and bulldozers.
It doesn’t take long to destroy 1000’s of years of tree growth
The Bronze Age farmers didn’t realise that resources weren’t infinite, or that their actions would have repercussions. Once the trees were removed, the soil became exposed to higher rainfall as the climate deteriorated. The nutrients washed out, and their crops wouldn’t grow.
After destroying the forests, they found that they could no longer farm the upper moor and abandoned it. The soil was now in no condition to support trees, so the forests could not re grow.
The people either starved or moved elsewhere.
Sadly we can’t abandon this planet if we run out of resources, and if we do the same to it, as the Bronze Age people did to Dartmoor, we have nowhere to go.
This is why we have to think about how we use wood, to plan for the future and ensure that we can create a sustainable future.