Self-doubt is an inevitable consequence of owning a wood. You are trying to do your best, for the future of the woodland and its wildlife, but you always wonder if you have made the right decisions. There are many places where you need to balance one need with another, and the mental trade-offs cause me sleepless hours.
We obviously discuss any major decisions with people who know: The Forestry Commission, the Wildlife Trust, other local wildlife specialists and specialist wildlife organisations like the Pond Conservation Trust and the Bat Conservation Trust. But you quickly get to realise that for every organisation or individual you consult you get a different set of advice, which leads to more soul-searching as you decide which bits of which advice to take.
For example, some people think we should get rid of all the sycamore in the wood, while others point out that sycamore is a valuable habitat in its own right and maybe we should keep the mature trees and simply remove the saplings to prevent it becoming invasive. Some people like elder (pictured above) for its flowers and berries, others think we have too much of it and should encourage a more diverse scrub layer.
So ultimately the decisions are down to us. But how do we know if in broad terms we have made the right decisions and done the right things? We hold open days, to which the local public are invited, as well as friends, family and people with an interest in the site and the wildlife that it holds. The feedback from the many people who have visited has been unanimously positive, and that certainly makes us feel good. We also invite community groups to use the site, and the feedback from this process has been positive too.
Today we had an un-announced visit from the Warwickshire County Council Forestry Officer. It was in connection with the planning application we have put in. Because the trees are protected, anything we do, such as coppicing, tree-pruning, thinning – in short any normal forest management operation – has to be subject to a planning process. It had been a while since he visited. We were a bit nervous about what he would think of our efforts.
Well, I’m pleased to report that he was very positive indeed. We have transformed a neglected site into a managed site, and started to make a difference to the wildlife there. That was what we wanted to do, and that was what he wanted us to do.
At the end of the visit his comment was “really excellent, carry on the good work!”. On balance, therefore, it appears that our decisions have been good ones, and that is what it is all about. And his comments have made us feel really excellent, too!