GreenAcres Epping Forest, is set in Roughtalley’s Wood, historically part of Hannahs Wood, which itself helped to make up a larger complex of woodlands that formed the Royal Forest of Essex. The land is on a gentle hill sloping downwards from southwest to northeast and the soil consists of older head deposits and gravels over claygate beds.
This privately owned woodland (24ha) is under lease for a 99-year period to GreenAcres; the buildings, parking and access road were completed in spring 2008. Deer fencing has been installed around the perimeter and the woodland was brought back into management following a 20-year period of neglect. A Tree Preservation Order on the woodland demands that the management plan is reviewed annually with Epping Forest District Council.
Around a third of the woodland comprises sweet chestnut coppice with standards, which ceased to be managed in the late 1980s. There are also blocks of conifers, including Scots pine as well as the non-native Corsican pine and western red cedar. There is an area of hornbeam coppice that has not been cut since around the 1930s. Some areas of the woodland suffered windblow in the 1987 hurricane, creating bracken-dominated glades with scattered trees.
The main aim is to promote a diverse native broadleaf-dominated high-forest woodland structure, establishing coppice with standards and re-introducing traditional management to create diversity of habitats and enable sustainable timber production for biofuels and other wood products. A multilayered vegetation structure will prevail, with increased herb and shrub layers in all areas. A diversity of habitats and structure will be maintained, incorporating features such as ponds, historical ditches, woodbanks, rides, paths and glades.
The extensive area of dense sweet chestnut coppice was virtually devoid of ground flora and while coppicing for biofuel will continue, the current density of coppice stools is unsustainable. A programme of coppicing and selective thinning of the sweet chestnut began in 2008, with one compartment a year being cut to a maximum of 70% and up to a third of the remaining trees felled two years later. Stump grinding is then carried out (up to 30%), to prevent full regrowth. Through this process of letting in more light, reducing the heavy leaf mulch and increasing the diversity of the woodland structure, it is expected that the species diversity of these areas will gradually improve.
The neglected area of ancient hornbeam coppice presents a problem in that the trees have been left out of a coppice cycle for so long. The heavy canopy cover is also suppressing the ground flora, with the thin spread of bluebells showing the stress caused. Some experimental gradual coppicing of the hornbeam (at varying heights) started in 2010. The results will be monitored for success before carrying out any further works.
Within the remaining compartments of the woodland, ongoing thinning of aspen, birch, pine, western red cedar and cypress is being undertaken in order to increase light levels and vary vegetation structure. Within the monocultures of the conifer and sweet chestnut plantations advance halo thinning around the large oak and chestnut standards is taking place so that they will strengthen before major thinning of these areas takes place.
The majority of the timber is used to fuel the woodchip boiler, with the brash being chipped for paths and mulching. Excess timber goes to local biofuel enterprises.
Grasslands, Rides and Glades
Approximately 3 ha of grassland has been established and is gradually being enriched with selected wild flower species through natural regeneration and via the introduction of seeds and plug plants. The area is managed by cutting different areas at variable heights and raking off the main cut (late August / early September), to help control the docks and thistles and keep the nutrient levels low. Rides are being managed by widening and scalloping, operating cutting regimes to diversify the height and type of vegetation created.
Hedgerows provide food, shelter, habitat and corridors for a range of wildlife, but due to intensive farming methods and urban development a large percentage of the UK’s hedgerows have been lost since the 1940s.
In 2008 600m of mixed-species hedge was planted at GreenAcres Epping Forest, with a further 400m planted in autumn 2012 and more hedging projects planned for other areas of the site. This will help towards achieving the Essex Biodiversity Action Plan 2020 target of creating 1km of hedgerow per year across the county (see www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk).
Wetlands and Watercourses
In 2007 a pond was created, in addition to a small seasonal pond. The larger pond, as part of the sustainable drainage system, takes the storm water run-off from the buildings and feeds into a 500-metre long swale, dammed at intervals by logs down the entrance drive. The pond is managed by removing invasive and alien plants periodically to retain areas of open water, with marginal foliage left to grow and log piles / hibernacula created to provide habitat. This is another example of GreenAcres’ policy of enhancing the habitat range at every opportunity. The network of ditches within the woodland is silted up and is being gradually cleared to enable better connectivity and water flow, to re-establish better drainage throughout the woodland.
Natural Regeneration and Tree Planting
Natural regeneration from within the woodland has improved considerably since the deer fencing was installed and the young saplings are protected from rabbit and muntjac grazing, with excess stock either relocated into other areas or placed in the onsite nursery for future transplanting. This ensures local provenance stock is used wherever possible. When planting needs to be introduced, for example for new boundary hedges, it is purchased from UK-provenance stock.
Alien & Invasive Species
Deer fencing was installed around the entire site perimeter during construction in 2007. A subsequent improvement has been observed in the regeneration of holly, as well as of all other tree species present on the site. The ground flora and fungi also appear to be benefiting. There is less damage occurring to the bark of trees and the coppicing is able to grow back effectively.
The management of bracken is by cutting, raking and removing in July / August, plus using a flail and/or brushcutter to keep regrowth down in key access areas. There is already a noticeable difference in the bracken regrowth. Bluebells, wood sage and grasses are beginning to spread in some previously bracken-dominated areas. The cut bracken is collected in one area to rot down, providing habitat for reptiles and invertebrates.
Rhododendron is being gradually eradicated from the site and the stumps winched out. Its use as an evergreen understorey habitat will be replaced by the holly and bramble now coming up in these areas.
Monitoring & Surveying
An Ecological Assessment was undertaken by EECOS in August 2005 and produced the following summary:
- The majority of the woodland is likely to be ancient, although there is little evidence of this in either the canopy or the ground flora
- Great crested newts were not found to be present
- A small number of common pipistrelles were recorded feeding under the shelter of the canopy at the edges of open areas; no bat roosts were located
- The species’ diversity and population size of breeding birds were found to be low, with no significant species recorded
A Phase One Habitat Survey of the area was carried out in April–May 2011, which included an NVC survey of the canopy and field layer communities in the woodland.
Monitoring techniques include the following:
- Bird Track surveys are undertaken approximately every six weeks
- The field layer is surveyed via fixed quadrats (established 2010) over the spring / summer
- Fixed photo points are recorded twice annually
- A full butterfly transect is being set up for 2012 to compare with existing species data from previous years
- Annual Moth Night, Bat Night and Fungi Walk events help to supply data on the species and numbers present in these groups
Rare and important species identified at the site:
- Bluebell: large colonies of this protected species
- Pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, noctule and Myosis sp. bats
- Red Data Book species: Crytophagus micaceus, Scydmaenus rufus, Velleius dilatatus
- Red list species: song thrush, cuckoo, redwing, fieldfare; lapwing and skylark on adjoining land
- Amber list species: kestrel, green woodpecker, swallow, house martin, dunnock, mistle thrush, willow warbler, goldcrest
- Small heath, cinnabar moth, silver-washed fritillary
- Slow worm, common toad, common lizard (Essex Red Data), grass snake
Dead Wood Policy
The retention of dead wood follows the Forestry Commission’s guidelines; the following is encouraged throughout each of our burial parks:
- Woody debris of each native tree species represented and at varying stages of decay
- Woody debris of varying sizes and types, including whole trees
- Woody debris in a variety of light conditions
- Snags at variable heights
- Log piles and brash piles
The policy includes the monolithing and veteranisation of dead or dying mature trees, including coronet cuts to provide the widest range of habitat conditions possible.