Update on Gwent Wildlife Trust's Ash Dieback works

Our Woodland Conservation Officer Doug Lloyd gives an update on our management of diseased Ash on our nature reserves.

Gwent Wildlife Trust reserves staff and contractors have been incredibly busy over the autumn and winter, making safe Ash trees highlighted as dangerous, due to being infected with Ash Dieback.

Most of this work is at Ash dominated reserves including Dan-y-graig, Croes Robert, Piercefield Woods and Prisk Wood .

Having to cut down so many of these Ash trees over such a short period of time, and down to ground level, isn’t what we would have planned for from a wildlife conservation perspective. However, our reserves staff have attempted to balance the danger (from branches and trees falling onto visitors, vehicles and buildings) with conservation by leaving as many as possible as standing pieces of deadwood, which are safer for visitors and great for wildlife.

Planning the works

The climbing of larger and more mature Ash trees to create standing deadwood is only possible where they are still structurally sound. Many of the Ash trees are already so affected by Dieback that they are not safe to climb. This limits which trees can be climbed and can have limbs and tops cut off, known as monolithing or pollarding if they had been previously cut, (shown in the photo below).

Many of these monoliths and pollards can be found at Prisk Wood with some at sites such as Piercefield Woods and Strawberry Cottage Wood as well.

An Ash tree cut into a monolith

Doug Lloyd

Halo-thinning

The cutting of Ash has meant we have been able to “halo thin” Ash around ancient pollards like this Lime (pictured below) letting more light in and then enabling us to re-pollard them. In this case, it will keep this tree alive for much longer. I imagine this tree would have collapsed in the next 5 years or so without this work.

A Lime tree after Ash tree halo-thinning around it

Anthony Collings of Archenfield Tree Services

A re-pollarded ancient Lime tree at Prisk Wood nature reserve, benefitting from Ash tree halo-thinning - which was carried out for safety reasons due to Ash dieback.

 

 

Work is vital for the future of nature reserves

The felling of many Ash trees does seem damaging but without the felling and monolithing of these Ash, many of the sites would simply have to be closed to all visitors where possible. Of course public footpaths cannot be closed, so our legal responsibility is to make the sites as safe as possible to all who visit.

Outside our nature reserves, this type of Ash felling is taking place widely, with many large and mature trees simply being felled to ground level as climbing these Ash is more dangerous and costly than felling them. We believe that we have struck the best balance possible between keeping our nature reserves safe and open, and wildlife conservation -  which is of course our first priority.

Important habitat management

It is also worth mentioning that the last large scale pieces of woodland management across the nation were in WWII. Whilst the felling of large amounts of timber at that time would also have looked destructive, it is this opening of woodlands that arguably led to better habitat for many woodland invertebrates, Dormice, woodland flowers and butterflies. So in the long-term Ash felling now, is likely to have a conservation benefit as long as larger and more mature Ash can be retained where possible.

These diamond shaped lesions are signs of Ash dieback

The Tree Council and Partners

An Ash tree showings signs of Ash Dieback 

Ash Dieback in the canopy of Piercefield Woods nature reserve

Doug Lloyd

Ash Dieback in the canopy of Piercefield Woods nature reserve