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We would like to thank all those who have given support to this project from the local community, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Pond Conservation Trust, Alvecote and Shuttington Parish Council, Maurice Arnold, and all the contractors and friends, family and volunteers who have worked on the site and given us advice and support.

We are developing Alvecote Wood according to our Woodland Management Plan that has been agreed with and grant-aided by the Forestry Commission under the English Woodland Grant Scheme.

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Habitats of Alvecote Wood

Bluebells at Alvecote Wood

Alvecote wood has a wide range of habitats. What we are aiming to do is preserve existing habitats, improve existing habitats particularly where they are under threat, and develop new habitats appropriate to the area and type of woodland.

Oak canopy

The oak canopy is the key, distinctive and important element of this wood. It is a vital habitat, and a mature oak tree can support up to 284 species of insect, bird, mammals, fungi and plants. There are approximately 150 mature oak trees between 100 and 200 years of age, and over 50 saplings between 1 and 20 years of age. It is vital that this canopy is given opportunity to regenerate, so that there will still be an oak canopy here in 100 years time.

Regeneration requires there to be seeds in the ground, and there is good evidence that there are acorns ready to germinate when conditions are appropriate. It also requires light. In some parts of the wood there are a large number of trees all of the same age, some growing too close together for each tree to become a mature canopy tree - growth tends to be straggly, and block out the light for future generations of tree. So some thinning will need to be carried out. We are seeking the advice of wildlife experts, the Forestry Commission and tree surgeons to ensure that any thinning produces maximum benefit for the future of the wood.

We are also seeking to manage the scrub and bramble undergrowth that has been strangling existing saplings as they try and emerge where clearings are present, and prevent predation by deer and rabbits.

New Woodland

Planting new trees in Betty's Wood

In 2010 we acquired a 9 acre field adjacent to Alvecote Wood. This has been planted with a new native hedgerow connecting Alvecote Wood to an adjacent small piece of ancient woodland. In addition we have planted 4500 new native trees consisting of both dry and wet woodland species, to create a new wood known as Betty's Wood. Trees have been planted in different patterns to create different kinds of habitat, including areas to be coppiced and areas to develop as high forest. In between these areas run woodland rides to create edge habitat, and there are three large meadow areas for wildflowers. Areas around the edge are being allowed to regenerate naturally.

We have also created 5 new ponds in this area that are being allowed to colonise naturally, and have retained a boggy area created by tractor tyres over the year - this has already become colonised with southern marsh orchids.

Other trees

Bluebells at Alvecote Wood

Alvecote Wood is home to other species of canopy tree, in particular a large stand of crab-apple, a good patch of ash and a stand of sallow by our new lower ponds. These need to be encouraged and managed as part of a balanced oak woodland. However we do need to prevent encroachment by sycamore, which grows faster than oak and can take over areas of oak woodland. A mature sycamore tree is present in the wood, and saplings were spreading along the ditch and at the southern boundary. This needed to be managed, so that sycamore did not take over the wood completely, and so sycamore saplings are being removed, while we retain the beautiful mature sycamore tree already present.

Another important tree habitat is that of standing deadwood - trees that have died for various reasons. These provide a habitat for many species of insects, birds and bats. We aim to retain the standing deadwood that we have, and increase it by ring-barking trees that might otherwise be felled for other reasons.

Scrub layer

The scrub layer in Alvecote wood is predominantly elder, with some hawthorn, and a little hazel and holly. Elder is particularly dominant, and in some places is causing shade that will prevent regeneration of oaks in clearings where at present no oak is growing.

Stephen felling willow as part of our coppice operations

We plan to reduce the elder scrub coverage in some areas to encourage oak regeneration, and also promote hazel scrub coverage to provide an additional habitat, to provide nuts for squirrels and birds in autumn, and to provide scrub that can be coppiced - this will allow a coppice habitat to be developed that is not at present available in Alvecote Wood. We also plan to coppice willow and other trees in areas where there is no under-storey or scrub layer, to allow oak to develop as a canopy and provide a good two-tier habitat.

We have started developing the traditional woodland management practice of coppicing at Alvecote Wood. This involves cutting trees to allow them to sprout again from the base. This produces a sustainable crop of poles and wood that can be used for many purposes, and also provides a very important habitat for wildlife that has developed over many thousands of years to live in the coppice habitat. We are initially going to coppice three areas in three years, and also establish some new areas of hazel coppice where we have cleared the excessive elder and bramble growth.New hedge at roadside of Alvecote Wood

Hedgerow

The hedgerow along the southern border is actually owned by the neighbouring farm, but is of relatively high quality and diversity. We are keen to extend the hedgerow provision on the site, and have planted 600 native trees along the roadside to form a new hedgerow habitat. Existing hedgerow consisted primarily of blackthorn, with a little hawthorn, hazel, field maple and holly. We have used these species (except for holly), plus spindle and dog rose to plant a new hedge. This should provide cover for nesting birds and mammals, and fruits and seeds for birds and mammals in autumn and winter. A small number of surplus trees have been planted to produce thickets of the same species inside the clearing.

Clearings

We have two types of clearing at Alvecote Wood - a large clearing at the western edge of the wood, that is virtually devoid of tree growth, largely due to waterlogging - there are large areas of standing water in winter, and the ground is boggy with wetland plants for much of the year. Then there are smaller clearings within the wood, usually where a mature tree has fallen.

In the large clearing, those areas that were not waterlogged were becoming completely choked by bramble. Large areas of the wood could not be accessed at all because of this, and as a result any saplings trying to grow were becoming choked. We have mown large areas of the clearing, cutting back the brambles to produce tracks and rides, with woodland edge habitats, whilst preserving areas or islands of bramble as cover and nest areas, as well as a supply of blackberries for creatures living on the site. We have prepared four areas of the clearing for the planting of a wildflower meadow to increase the variety of flowers on the site which in turn should benefit insects and other creatures that feed upon them.

In smaller clearings, bramble reduction is also essential - in some clearings no regeneration is occurring, and in others, saplings up to 10 years old are being choked by bramble overgrowth. This is gradually being reduced, so these new trees have a chance to grow into mature oaks.

Woodland edge

Greater stitchwort growing at Alvecote Wood

The woodland edge habitat is very important - different species of grass and wildflowers can flourish in the dappled light along the edge of wooded paths and clearings. Again, this needed to be promoted at Alvecote Wood, where elder scrub and bramble was becoming predominant. Development and regular mowing of rides and paths, together with seeding with native wildflowers in areas where soil has been excavated for pond and track creation, should improve the range of habitats and species seen at the woodland edge.

Wet habitats

New lower ponds at Alvecote Wood

The newly-profiled lower pond

When we bought it, Alvecote Wood had a single pond marked on the map, but this is in reality a patch of damp ground and has evidently not been a pond for a long time. The map did not indicate a pond created about 10 years ago lower in the wood. This was a very large pond, fed by a drainage ditch that serves the wood as well as surrounding arable areas, but over the years had become silted up. A very dense patch of sallow trees had assisted with this drying process until only a small patch of pond remained. This contained some interesting greater duckweed.

New lower ponds at Alvecote Wood

The same ponds in Summer 2009

As well as this pond that required maintenance to ensure its survival, there was a very large boggy area in the large clearing. We felt that a new range of wet habitats could be provided in this area by creating three new ponds linked by drainage ditches, without adversely affecting the remaining damp meadow area.

In late 2008 and early 2009, we were able to create three new ponds in the clearing and substantially dredge out the older pond to create three linked ponds. This involved clearing a large patch of sallow, although some trees were preserved, and others moved to surround the newly-dredged ponds.

Semi-domestic

Daffodils at Alvecote Wood

Alvecote Wood had a number of derelict buildings on site when we purchased it, including an old concrete block building that has at various times been used as a dwelling (for sheperds and pig keepers), and as a stable. There was also a derelict goat shed, and a base for an animal poly-tunnel. We also discovered, covered by light bramble and nettle overgrowth, a large concrete base that was evidently related to a large building on the site between World Wars 1 and 2 (visible on old maps but disappearing by World War 2). There was other evidence of remaining semi-domestic or agricultural habitat, including a lightly-buried gravel pathway, a very large plantation of daffodils, domestic roses, a single lime tree evidently planted on the site, and a deep well supplying water all year round.

Because woodland management requires equipment we were unable to store at our house (in town), we were granted planning permission to build a steel barn on the existing concrete base for equipment storage. This was built in 2008.

Areas of scrub had to be cleared as part of this building process (no oak trees were affected). Close to the building in one of these cleared areas we have planted a small orchard of native apple varieties, some of them rare or heritage breeds, together with plum and cob nut. This will provide food for wildlife (as well as us), blossom for bees in spring, and will shield the building from view (together with the thickets we have planted) improving the appearance of the site.

Tulips at Alvecote Wood

We plan to grow our own tree seedlings on site, and have permission for a small polytunnel to assist with this process. Use of native saplings from trees on site will ensure maximum likelihood of successful survival when planted out. We also have a small allottment patch on site to grow rabbit-resistant vegetables.

To improve the appearance of our new road entrance an access track, we have planted additional daffodils along the side of the road, together with a few crocuses and tulips. A large number of these daffodils are native wild daffodil (lent lily).