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20-20 Vision. Planning a 20 year vision for the Sefton Coast WoodlandsArticle by Paul Nolan, director, the Mersey Forest
A number of owners of woodland along the Sefton Coast have recently agreed to look at producing a long term management plan for the coastal pinewoods, mixed woodlands and scrub that are such a key feature of the Sefton landscape.
The issues surrounding woodland management and the relationship between the woodlands and the open dunes along the coast have been the subject of much local debate in recent years. The production of a management plan will assist in crystallising these debates and focus on finding agreement on the best way forward to ensure that the benefits of the woodlands are maintained.
What is not in dispute is that the woodlands need to be managed effectively in order to ensure that the benefits that the woods provide for people, wildlife and the local economy are sustained into the future. Management will involve thinning and group felling of woodland, as well as regeneration and new plaiting of trees.
The Mersey Forest Team has been asked to co-ordinate this plan, liasing with owners and consulting with local people to attempt to find consensus on the type, extent and timing of management activity in the woods.
The pinewoods of the Sefton Coast are today a landmark in the area, something that local people and visitors recognise as being part of the character of the coast. However, the woods are relatively recent in the landscape. It has only been in the last 120 years that pine woodlands have been planted on the coast. In 1887 Charles Weld Blundell started experimental planting, noting the success of the Maritime Pine woodlands planted at Les Landes on the west coast of France. Initially many of the trees died, but further planting of Corsican and Austrian Pine along with some Scots Pine later obviously proved more successful.
There was extensive, but sporadic woodland planting up to around 1930. Much of this woodland was felled during the Second World War and whilst much of the northern woodlands were replanted most of the southern woods were not.
The key issue facing the coast woodlands now is the fact that the woodlands are all getting old together! There are few areas of young or middle aged trees. Like any community, woodlands function best when all age groups are represented. A range of age categories provides stability for the woodland, younger trees replace older ones as they either fall over or are harvested.
Mature trees provide the cones of pine seeds that are an important source of food for Red Squirrels. Some over-mature trees are also an important component providing a habitat for bats, and a range of insects amid fungi.
This is an ideal situation and one that is rarely found in English woodlands. Management aims need to be long term in order to try to improve the age structure of the woodlands. We cannot and should not try to solve the problem overnight.
The proposed management plan for the Sefton woodlands is for 20 years and in reality this is just the start of the process of trying to introduce age variation into the woodlands. Woodlands and trees have longer time horizons than impatient Homo sapiens and we need to respect this if we are to change the outlook for the future of the woodland and scrub areas on the coast.
On the coast trees are not the only issue, the coast has numerous conservation designations due to the important open dune habitats and non-woodland species found on the coast.
The coast is also important in the local economy with hundreds of thousands of people visiting the woodlands each year from all over the country.
When producing the management plan the issues of balance between the trees, people and other habitats will be an important area for consultation and may be the most controversial of all the issues that are encountered.
An application has been submitted to The Forestry Commission to obtain some funding to assist in the process of producing the management plan. If this bid is successful work will begin in earnest on the management plan in November 2000. The work will have 3 components
The management plan needs to be finalised by October 2001; it will then be assessed by the Forestry Commission and hopefully, approved. The plan can then start to be implemented, safeguarding the woodlands for nature and people not just for the next 20 years, but for a long time into the future.
Paul Nolan, Director, The Mersey Forest