Mar 12 2021

Rings around the Woods

Whilst a lot of society is in lockdown restrictions with local walks or exercise being the only solace people can take from a laptop or home schooling, I’ve been lucky enough to be out in the woods creating habitat.

We’ve been working in Halls Cleave in what is known amongst the Fingle staff, as the mires area. A stream network fed by springs creating a very wet, almost Jurassic Park like, habitat. This area can’t be worked as part of the conventional forestry cycle as heavy machinery and extraction methods would damage soils and ground flora that consists mainly of mosses, ferns and liverworts amongst other plant species. Wood sorrel and other semi ancient natural woodland indicator species carpet the drier lighter edges of these compartments with stumps and timber littering the ground becoming like mini cathedrals a testament to previous works carried out.

A tree stump from a previous forestry operation provides some lying deadwood

The chainsaw is a tool often associated with forestry and felling (and perhaps in the minds of some, destruction and mess), but in the right hands it can also be used for sculpture and creation. In my case, I haven’t been sculpting but ring barking or girdling. The idea behind this methodology is to cut a ring around the stem of the tree removing only the bark and the cambium so that the supply of nutrients drawn up the tree is stopped and the tree dies leaving standing deadwood, a monolith of habitat.


Before                                                    and after the ring barking

Aerial deadwood or standing deadwood offers more for biodiversity than deadwood on the floor. The bigger the tree, the more habitat there is, standing there for a longer period of time. As the tree starts dying off the accessible bark becomes a refuge for detrivores such as woodlice and earwigs. Beetles and other invertebrate species whose grubs are dependant on deadwood lay their eggs deep in the heartwood. Saw wasps and ichneumons will tap antennae on the wood searching for those grubs before their ovipositor pierces through the soft wood and lays an egg on the grub before it is consumed by the emerging young! Gruesome but wonderful…

The holes in this standing deadwood are testament to the invertebrate and bird life it is supporting. This is what we are hoping to emulate by ring barking a small number of trees.

Woodpecker cavities will appear on the stems over time as their powerful bills tap in search of the rich sources of protein lying just beneath the surface. This is just a fraction of the ecosystem web that takes place as these tall giants will slowly decompose and fulfil their part of the nutrient cycle, the only reminder of my work will be the stump and root plate, playing its part in the woodland, long after I’ve left.

By Fred Hutt, Fingle Ranger

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