Winter 2001


Article by Paul Nolan, Director, The Mersey Forest Team

The Sefton Coast Forest Plan has been submitted to the Forestry Commission for approval. Once accepted, management work on the woodlands is anticipated to start in Spring 2002. The Mersey Forest Team has been co-ordinating the development of the plan and organising a series of public meetings that have been held recently in Sefton. Paul Nolan explains the background to the plan and outlines for local people what will happen to the woodlands in the future.

There are over 400 hectares of pine woodlands on the Formby coast. This woodland, which was initially planted over 100 years ago, provides a magnificent backdrop to the coast dune habitats and is visited by thousands of people every year. Crucially, it is also one of the few remaining habitats for one of the UK's rarest mammals - the Red Squirrel.

Sefton Coast woodland aerial photograph
Sefton Coast's woodland at Formby.
© John Mills Photography
Local people have a great affinity to the pine woods and see them as part of the heritage of the area and also as an integral part of the attractive landscape. As with all natural resources, the long term survival of the woods depends on appropriate management to ensure that they regenerate and continue to provide landscape benefits and sustain the red squirrels.

The woodlands have been managed over the last 20-30 years but not specifically for red squirrel conservation. It became clear that something needed to be done urgently.

Historically, one of the challenges of managing the woodlands is the fact that they belong to a wide range of people. There are over 30 individual landowners with an interest in them.

In developing any sustainable management plan, it was clear that as many of these owners as possible needed to be involved, and The Mersey Forest Team was asked to co-ordinate this joint approach to ensuring the pinewoods' future.

The first task for the Sefton pinewoods was to contact owners, get them interested about the idea of a joint management plan, and then visit every part of the woodlands to assess what management was needed. Fortunately, almost every owner was keen to be involved in this process. The owners' objectives for their woodland area ranged widely from access and recreation to army training. This diversity and variety of objectives had to be built into the overall plan.

Red Squirrel Photo
Red Squirrel, Scirius vulgaris.
©Copyright Paul Wisse
As well as contacting the landowners the local community were also contacted and involved in this process. But . that's not the end. Having initiated this large-scale community involvement in the Forest Plan the aim is to continue to keep people involved by holding regular update meetings so that local people can see how the plan is being implemented.

In many ways the production of the Forest Plan is not the end of a process, but the start of a healthy future for the pinewoods, their wildlife and the people who visit and enjoy them. It forms the hub of a long-term programme to ensure that the woodlands continue to provide benefits for future generations.