I took a walk in my local woods this week with the dogs.
The woodland floor had been snow covered for about a week however a warm day and spell of rain put pay to the snow and revealed that the bluebells are making an appearance.
You can only see their leaf tips emerging at present but they are on their way. (This image is what we are all now waiting for!)
Woodland ground flora is at its most impressive in the spring. I like to walk in woodlands in spring to make the most of the wild flowers, and it is much easier to identify wild flowers when they are in bloom. More importantly much of the woodland flora does not persist into summer. This is significant to me as an arborist when I undertake woodland surveys.
Anyone who gardens will know that their garden appearance, and range of plants and flowers, differs widely from season to season. There is usually at least one plant that pops up in our garden each year that I had completely forgotten existed until it makes an appearance. It is much the same for woodland, every season is different.
Although I have undertaken some woodland management for silvicultural purposes my involvement has been mainly centred on managing woodland for trees and wildlife; taking a holistic approach to maintain the system.
Woodland exists as a ecosystem. Each component of that system is dependant on the other components. Wild flowers and woodland ground flora are successful in woodlands as a result of the presence and density of the other flora and fauna, therefore any changes you make as part of woodland management can have a big impact on the success of the ground flora, and other woodland components.
Ideally I like to be able to monitor a woodland through spring and summer prior to developing a management plan and making any recommendations for work however at the least I strive to survey a woodland in Spring and note what ground flora is present, and how successful it is.
This information can be used to inform on where work is needed, and the extent and timing of the work that you do, to minimise its impact. The tree layers of the woodland are always present, and many shrubs are visible all year round.
Removing too many trees or shrubs can increase the light levels to the woodland floor. Woodland ground flora is use to a semi-shaded environment, happy with dappled sunlight. Increasing light levels can therefore be detrimental to its success.
Dense vegetation that blocks any light from a woodland floor can also be detrimental to the development of ground flora as the environment becomes too dark.
Brambles, or natures barbed wire as I like to call it, can dominate an area quickly. Although bramble is a valuable plant that provides food and shelter, for many birds and small mammals, it can completely out-compete other ground flora. (It should be noted that anyone considering the removal of dense areas of bramble must consider the bird nesting season, there are many ground nesting birds in this country and bramble provides excellent shelter for them. When cutting back bramble you may expose a nest that once discovered cannot easily be re-protected and any disturbance may have an effect on the survival chances of the young.)
Maintaining appropriate light levels to the woodland floor also promotes natural regeneration of the tree species present in the woodland via seedlings that develop from fallen fruit.
Woodland management requires a sensitive and considered approach. If successful you may preserve the system and promote its self perpetuation.
The next time you walk in woods, hopefully this spring, have a look at the ground flora and see what is growing. You can then look at the other layers of vegetation such as shrubs, small trees (under-storey) and the canopy layer and see how they affect the light levels that reach the woodland floor.