Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Boosting biodiversity: Three Hagges Jubilee Wood

Viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare,  June 2014,
much favoured by bumble bees
(12 spp. recorded this season).
Image: L. Hawthorne
BSBI member Lin Hawthorne exhibited at the recent Exhibition Meeting and there was a great deal of interest in the work she is engaged in, so I'm delighted that Lin has offered us this guest  post: 

"The BSBI AEM was a much-appreciated opportunity to bring the work of Hagge Woods Trust at Three Hagges Jubilee Wood to the attention of the botanical community.

"Three Hagges Jubilee Wood had its origins in the campaign in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee by planting 6 million trees. The simple mass planting of trees may well produce a fine forestry stand, but is unlikely to create the priceless diversity so valued in ancient woodland. Function and motivations are entirely different. At the outset of the project, our particular motivations included concerns about the losses of floral diversity during the last century in our own predominantly agricultural landscape, and it became clear that we must develop radical strategies to address those concerns. 

Every child should have an opportunity like this.
Surveying Hagge Woods meadow at close quarters.
Image: Tango Fawcett
"Our first decision was that if we were to create something more complex than a plantation, it must, at least, include the vital ground flora - so frequently overlooked in new woodland planting. Our ultimate decision to create a wood-meadow ecosystem distilled the essence of all our concerns regarding the losses of meadow, hedgerow and ancient woodland since the Second World War.

"The decision was reached in discussion with a multi-disciplinary team of expert ecologists, botanists and conservationists, including Prof. David Gowing, of the OU Floodplain Meadows Partnership, and Prof. George Peterken, OBE, Forest Ecologist, who has generously agreed to become a Patron of Hagge Woods Trust.

Some 22 environmental scientists joined us
 in May 2014 to contribute to our developing plans
 for the wood-meadow.
Centre, our Patron, Prof. George Peterken.
Image: Tango Fawcett
"The creation of a woodland ecosystem on former arable is not a simple undertaking, however, and there is no adequate literature to help achieve it. Hagge Woods Trust  was set up to research, develop and communicate best practice in the creation and development of such new ecosystems. The long-term ambition of the Trust is to formulate methodologies and publish our findings on the creation of new wood-meadow ecosystems. 

"We have sought strategies that, if applied in tapestry across the landscape, would create corridors of diversity to link fragmented habitats, without significant depletion in area of productive land. They should have potential for building a cohesive network of high-value habitats, especially in rural/arable areas, and should ensure that implementation is achievable by farmers and other land managers. The principles in microcosm could be replicable on a national scale, providing opportunities to create an interwoven mosaic of small-scale, biodiverse woodlands on farms, in communities and schools.

The meadow in June 2014, a year from
sowing in May 2013.
Image: L. Hawthorne
"In planting Three Hagges Jubilee Wood as wood-meadow, the Trust has created a prototype and research base that combines permanent grassland and coppice woodland, with meadow margins that transition through a graduated woodland edge of flowering and fruiting shrubs and small trees, to a high canopy of forest trees. Although wood-meadows are now rare in the UK, those extant now provide some of the most biodiverse of wooded habitats. Their importance is more widely recognized in continental Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, and in Eastern Europe. They include some of the most diverse plant communities anywhere: 70 plant species per m2. These are our models and target. 

"Early analyses of costs suggest that simple implementation is possible within existing grant frameworks. The Trust has in place long-term management plans, unusual continuity of personnel and security of tenure and a commitment to monitoring changes in diversity over a minimum of ten years. The essential work of this research, data collection and information management, however, depends on fund raising activities by the Trust. 

"The 10ha site is now home to 10,000 woody natives, set in traditionally managed meadow based on NVC MG4 (wet) and MG5 (dry) lowland meadows, currently with over 50 perennial and 12 grass species. The range of flora will benefit diverse fauna; it does not have a single-species conservation focus. The target is to achieve 150+ meadow species, by further introductions from wild-collected seed.

Three Hagges Jubilee Wood, a bare, recently-
harvested barley field in late September 2012.
Image: L. Hawthorne
"The primary ecosystem service we wish to provide is an increase in biodiversity on formerly arable land. All selected flora have known virtues as invertebrate hosts. Together, trees and grassland form the botanically diverse base of a food web that will serve a huge variety of birds, mammals and insect life including, critically, our threatened pollinators".

Many thanks to Lin, who is Project Designer and Manager at Hagge Woods Trust, for telling us more about the project. Do check out their website - Lin's blog is superbly written and posts like this one give you a real insight into what she is trying to achieve. No wonder Prof George Peterken agreed to become a Patron of Hagge Woods Trust!  

If you are in the area, why not drop in and see for yourself? Send us some pix if you do! And here is the pdf of Lin's poster at the AEM.