“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit”.
~ Essays of Travel; Robert Louis Stevenson
What is the difference between woodland and a forest?
~The terms woodland and forest are commonly used interchangeably, and if there is any differentiation, most people see a forest as a remote, dark, forbidding place with a closed, dense canopy, while a woodland is smaller and more open.
(Ecology of Woodland and Forests; Cambridge University Press)
In my last newsletter, I mentioned that a woodland thinning operation was taking place adjacent to the 18th fairway at The Carrick. People may sometimes think that woods are better left untouched, and a wood left to nature becomes a haven for wildlife. This is not necessarily the case, as before the intervention of mankind, forests covered much of the land, entertaining a mosaic of habitats within them. By comparison, the small fragmented woodlands that survive today are not big enough to develop this range of habitats naturally. Sensitive management, therefore, is the key to maintaining the diversity of habitats, and this means human involvement.
In many woods, the trees are growing so closely together that very little light gets to the woodland floor. In some types of wood this is good for the species living there, but in many others it means that few herbs and shrubs can survive and the wood looks dark and uninviting. The trees are all competing with each other for light and they often become tall and spindly. Thinning removes the less than healthy or less desirable trees and gives the remaining trees more space to develop. It also allows light to the woodland floor, encouraging an understorey of small plants, shrubs and trees to grow. The challenge in thinning is to change the light levels to the benefit of the understorey and ground flora, to allow the remaining trees to develop better crowns without letting in too much wind which may cause damage.
One of the major problems when clearing open space for woodland improvements is invasion by unwanted vegetation such as bramble. Bramble is shade-tolerant and thrives at the woodland edge as well as in open conditions; it is also an extremely effective competitor with grasses, herbs and young trees, taking up water and nutrients and reducing overall plant diversity, not to mention very good at latching on to any unprotected bare skin! Bramble plants were dramatically cut back in certain areas to allow access to the trees; however, this scale of pruning will also improve the opportunities for germination of other plants and flowers next spring.
There were two main aims of this thinning project; the first was to enhance the open space and sunlight on the woodland floor, and the second was to improve the aesthetics of the location for golfers and Lodge guests alike. Dead wood, log piles and dying trees are very useful as homes for a large range of wildlife such as bats, fungi, lichens and mosses, therefore these were left where possible. Around a third of woodland bird species nest in holes in trees; birds such as woodpeckers feed by seeking out insects under bark; standing dead trees provide a different kind of habitat from dead wood lying on the woodland floor, and as trees reach old-age, rot-holes, hollow trunks and dead branches all start to make these trees more interesting as habitats for wildlife. Another feature of woods that people try to control is ivy on trees. Contrary to popular belief, ivy does not strangle or damage trees, and should be left on the trees to provide nest sites, winter shelter and food for birds and insects.
Lichens are tiny organisms that are a combination of fungus and algae. The fungus is the main component, but the algae are essential for the lichens to photosynthesise and therefore obtain food from the atmosphere. Lichens only grow in clean air, so their presence is a good indicator of air quality!
And finally, I wouldn’t have been able to complete this challenging project in such an amazing short space of time (3 weeks from beginning to end) without the support of the Lodge maintenance team. Acknowledgements and thanks should go out to Craig Reich, Ryan Barrett, Brian Corr, Iain Horner and Liam Anson. I hope you will all agree that it has been a worthwhile project, and hopefully the photographs speak for themselves.