For wildlife conservation, it all comes down to light.
Light drives plant and tree growth, which supports all other life on our nature reserves.
We cut trees to let in light. In a way, it’s that simple; but of course, as you delve deeper it gets more complex.
Many people may well think of a ‘woodland’ as a single habitat. Trees. Maybe different types of tree, but basically trees.
But think of a woodland edge. Woodland edge has more sun and snow, more wind and rain than the heart of a wood. Also, the southern edge of a wood is warmer and lighter than the northern side. They are different habitats.
Most woods have also paths, glades and streams, open areas with widespread trees, and dense areas with trees growing close together. It is always dark under evergreen yew and holly, but much lighter under ash trees. These factors and more add to the variety of habitats found within a single wood.
Our reserve managers in places such as Dimmel’s Dale and Siccaridge Wood aim to create and maintain as much variety as possible. This is highly technical work based around different species preferences, but at its simplest it is to balance closed canopy with open areas where the light can reach the ground.
One of the prime aims is to have trees of different ages within an area. Trees of the same age are likely to be about the same size and form a solid canopy, cutting out light from the ground until they all die roughly together.
By thinning trees, we create gaps and deadwood, giving a more diverse habitat, home to many more species of wildflower, insects, birds, fungi and animals.
We fell trees to widen paths and scallop their edges, to create and maintain glades, and to open up rivers and streams. In Siccaridge Wood, felling to let light in along footpaths has led to the return of the rare large pearl bordered fritillary butterfly, a specialist of woodland glades.
There is no truly wild woodland left in Britain, due to thousands of years of interference from people, but through habitat management we can try to get as close as we can.