The site notification is:“A mixed deciduous/coniferous plantation containing a number of regionally and locally important habitats as well as English Bluebell. The woodland is an important site for breeding birds”. The site has no statutory designations, however Emma’s Wood is a St Helens Local Wildlife Site. Knowsley Park Site of Biological Importance (SBI) is located on the opposite side of the East Lancs Road.
History of the woodland
Emma’s Wood was set in an irregular field pattern suggesting ancient, probably medieval enclosures on a peninsula of drier land surrounded by mosses or raised bogs. Map evidence shows that most of Grace Wood post dates 1850 but that the eastern section of Emma’s Wood pre dates 1839. Protected Species and Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Habitats and Species. At Emma’s and Grace Wood there are a number of priority habitats and species as identified in the UK and North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan. These can be summarised as follows:
North Merseyside BAP: Yellowhammer, Cuckoo, Wagtail, Tot, Finch
UK BAP: Skylark, Bluebell. Water Vole Willow, Red Squirrel, Dunnock
Of particular interest is the population of Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) present within the woodland complex and is likely to be of regional significance in the Merseyside context. Bluebell is listed as a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP). The main populations are to the south and east of Emma’s Wood and a small section in the centre of Grace Wood. This plan will aim to protect all populations of Bluebell present within this woodland complex and enhance these populations by implementing appropriate management techniques including:
- Identifying sites at risk from over shading and put rotational coppice in place where possible
- Initiate a programme of conifer thinning and Rhododendron removal
- Establish a native Bluebell seed bank to be dispersed within the site following the thinning operations
Updated surveys completed by Pennine Ecological found no potential bat roost sites within the younger woodland or the mature pine plantations. Although no roost sites were observed potential roosts could exist within the avenue trees along Coach Road. Mitigation measures outlined within Pennine Ecological’s report will be followed including:
- Trees with potential roost sites will be avoided during the construction of the paths and rides
- A licensed bat ecologist will inspect trees that need managing that contain potential roost sites
- Trees containing bat roost will be left intact where possible. Full licensing procedures will be followed if this is not feasible
- The document ‘Bats and Lighting in the UK’ produced by the Bat Conservation Trust will be followed in respect of lighting proposal
We will be enhancing key habitats during the course of this plan including hedges, ponds and the creation of riparian buffer strips along Windle Brook which will provide greater foraging habitats for bats.
GreenAcres also offer ‘Living Memorials’ in the form of bird, bug and bat boxes. Placing bat boxes at key locations around the woodland will further increase opportunities for roosting bats.
The main aim of the woodland management is to provide a diverse native broadleaf high forest woodland structure, with a mosaic of wetland and grassland habitats.
The main central areas of the woodland are predominantly 19th century Oak plantation with mixed broadleaf consisting of Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore with few Hazel and Hornbeam. To the north are areas of 20th century conifer plantations of hybrid Larch, Corsican and Scots Pine with some mixed broadleaf mainly birch existing within the conifer crop. Oak and some old coppiced Alder are present along the wetter areas to the south of the site. These wetter Alder stands cannot be classified as true overall biodiversity.
As with Emma’s Wood the central sections of Grace Wood contains a mixture of 19th century broadleaf plantation and 20th century conifer. The broadleaf areas consist mainly of dense Sycamore with some Common Lime and rare Wych Elm. The conifer crop is dominated by Scots and few Black Pine. To the east and west of these plantations are areas of mixed broadleaf predominantly Oak with Ash.
A feature of both Emma’s and Grace Wood is the presence of Rhododendron that is dominating large areas. This was planted in the recent past probably to provide cover for game birds such as pheasants. However this species has now invaded into large parts of the woodland decreasing the overall biodiversity.
The thinning of the woodland will be a gradual long term process. Each compartment identified for thinning will be assessed on a single tree selection process rather than large scale harvesting. The process of thinning the woodland will also run parallel with the heating needs of the buildings, as 90% of the timber resulting from the thinning will be used as fuel. Sustainable timber production will be incorporated as part of the wider woodland management programme to ensure the needs of the biomass heating system is met. This will include replanting the thinned areas with appropriate species such as Sweet Chestnut and Hazel which will be managed on a Long Rotational Coppice. These species respond particularly well to being coppiced and produce high grade woodchip when seasoned. They are also already present within the landscape with Hazel having the added benefit of providing a food source for Red Squirrel. This will ensure there is a sustainable timber source once the wider woodland thinning programme has been completed. The majority of the thinning will be focused on the 20th century Hybrid Larch and Corsican Pine plantations in the northern sections of Emma’s Wood and the Scots Pine plantations in the central sections of Grace Wood. The aim of the thinning operation is to remove up to 30% of the canopy cover in a number of operations over 25 years, concentrating on the weaker trees, with long term retention of the mixed broadleaf species. Some conifer species will also be removed from other woodland compartments; however this will be focused on halo thinning emerging and remnant broadleaves (see section 5.1.3) and will result in the removal of single trees.
To ensure the protection of breeding birds, felling operations will be completed outside of the recognised breeding season, 1st March – 31st October.
There have been records of Red Squirrel within the locality dating back to 1997. Although these records are occasional and do not represent an expanding viable population the woodland management described within this document will include Red Squirrel conservation measures such as:
- Initial thinning operations will focus on Corsican Pine and Hybrid Larch retaining stands of Scots Pine
- Thinning will be phased to ensure the canopy layer is not fragmented
- Woodland thinning will be a gradual long term process rather than large scale harvesting
- Adopt a robust Grey Squirrel control policy
However the removal of large seed bearing species such as the 19th century Oak plantation favoured by Grey Squirrel will not be considered. A holistic management approach of restoring native Oak woodland appropriate for the soils, including planting Hazel as recommended within Neil Sanderson’s report would be more beneficial.
Dense stands of Rhododendron will be thinned and ultimately eradicated following the Forestry Commissions Practice Note ‘Managing and Controlling Invasive Rhododendron’. Within Emma’s Wood this work will begin towards the south of the site where Rhododendron is invading into areas where Bluebell is prominent. Within Grace wood Rhododendron will be removed from the pocket of woodland containing Bluebell at the east of the site. The intention is to create buffer strips around existing populations of Bluebells, reducing the shading effect and creating areas of open bare ground enabling the natural spread of Bluebells. This spread will be assisted through the dispersal of seeds collected on site.
Replanting and Restocking
Areas that have been thinned will be left to naturally regenerate, maintaining local genetic integrity. Natural regeneration will highlight differences in the soil, which may prove pertinent during any subsequent transplants. Transplanting from within the site is preferable but where introduced planting is necessary, this will be limited to plants native to the UK. Areas of open space will be identified at the restocking stage. Natural regeneration not immediately transplanted will be kept in a tree nursery. The nursery will be located within an appropriate area of the site taking advantage of optimum light levels and soil conditions. The nursery will be stock proof and will follow the Forestry Commission Technical Guide – Forest Fencing, should deer browsing be identified as an issue.
Species that are particularly beneficial to Red Squirrel such as Sweet Chestnut, Oak, Hazel and Beech will be considered as part of any planting scheme. Small seed bearing shrubs including Rowan, Hawthorn and Holly will also be included.
There is some evidence of coppicing within Emma’s Wood predominantly under the power lines that run through the site. Utilities such as way leaves and power lines provide useful wildlife corridors if managed correctly. Coppicing these features in sections provide rotational open space, which is hugely important within a woodland context. Further areas of coppice exist towards the south east of the site where some old Alder stools are evident.
Recommendations made by Pennine Ecological to retain fallen dead wood in situ will be adhered to where possible. We will also strive to adhere to the Forestry Commission’s guidelines on fallen and standing deadwood.
Grasslands, Glads and Rides
The long-term vision for the site is to create a mosaic of connected habitats, benefiting a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. The grassland areas are currently of low ecological significance, having been used as grazing and silage land. Initially, local farmers may continue to take silage cuts from two of the areas, while the remaining three will be managed in house by a biannual cut, rake and remove regime. Mowing areas under different regimes will be introduced along the road edges in order to create a variety of sward heights. Over the course of the lease period, the grassland areas will be gradually planted up with native broadleaf species to extend the woodland areas, enhancing their biodiversity potential and providing connectivity between the two existing blocks of woodland. The planting will aim to create a patchwork across the site of woodland, shrub and glade habitats, and will include some long-term woodland species such as Oak, Beech, Hazel and Hornbeam, as well as small seed-bearing species favoured by red squirrels including Rowan, Holly, Silver and Downy Birch, Willow spp. and Alder.
The hedgerows gaps will be filled and enriched using native species including Guelder Rose and Dog Rose, and then cut on a three-year rotation. Blackthorn will not be included in the species mix as advised by Pennine Ecological due to potential suckering problems in the future.
Rides within the woodland areas will be widened by scalloping, using a single tree selection process, and path-edge vegetation cut by brushcutters to retain a range of vegetation heights.
Wetlands and Watercourses
Windle Brook forms much of the southern boundary of Emma Wood until it reaches the road culvert at Blindfoot Lane. This brook is heavily shaded on both sides by dense woodland apart from approximately 100m where the shade is generated by dense bramble and shrubs. The brook is shallow and generally less than 10cm deep with a lack of emergent vegetation. Water quality appears to be moderate and is discoloured either through ochre or peat staining.
A dedicated Water Vole survey was completed in 2012 however the species was identified as absent (See Pennine Ecological (2012) Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey and Protected Species/Assessment – Land at Graces and Emma Wood, Rainford, Merseyside)
In general most ponds in the North Merseyside area are small and tend toward being nutrient rich. Many ponds were made for agricultural use with some being several hundred years old. Ponds were also created for industrial use or as a consequence of mining. The ponds within Emma and Grace’s Wood are mostly heavily shaded. To increase the ecological value of these features prolific growth of invasive species such as Rhododendron will be removed from the banks, increasing light levels enabling emergent vegetation to develop. Shading trees will be coppiced or managed appropriately to prevent the build up of nutrients within the pond through leaf fall. Tree planting will be restricted to an agreed distance from the ponds to further prevent habitat degradation.
Invasive Alien Species
There is a significant amount of Rhododendron within both Emma’s and Grace Wood. This was planted in the recent past to provide cover for a number of game species such as Pheasant and has now invaded through large sections of the woodland. Rhododendron rapidly colonises woodland shading out other species such as Bluebell, the plant also alters the pH level within the soil making the area unsuitable for the natural local species. This species has also recently been found to be one of the host plants for a very virulent disease Phytopthora ramorum. This disease also known as Sudden Oak Death, attacks some of our native trees and has been likened to Dutch Elm disease. Sudden Oak Death has caused major problems in the USA killing millions of Oak trees and has recently been found in the UK. Originally this disease was found only on Rhododendrons and Viburnam’s but it has evolved and jumped species to attack Japanese and European Larch. The National Trust has already embarked on a major project to remove Rhododendron from some of their estates to try and prevent the spread of the disease. Rhododendron provides little opportunities for wildlife in terms of a food source and the open structure of the branches means it does not support the construction of nests. This plan will look to initiate a clearance programme to remove this species from the woodland as soon as possible.
Burial Layout and Technique
The burial process is managed in order to ensure the long term health of the woods trees, fauna and flora. The layout and distribution of graves is therefore closely linked to the requirements of the woodland management plan. Burial plots are radially arranged so that they extend outwards in the general direction of the rooting system. To ensure that the main structural roots remain undamaged, the circles of burial plots are arranged at 5.5m, 6.5m or 7.5m from the tree, according to the species and maturity of the chosen tree. This zone ensures the protection of the main rooting system while placing the graves in the finer feeding root zone of the tree. Ash interments require only a small hole to be dug so can be randomly arranged around the chosen tree within the root protection zone, adjusting the location to avoid the main roots. The wellbeing of the tree is further assured by a management policy that ensures both ‘at need’ and ‘pre need’ burial plots are randomly distributed throughout the woodland. This policy ensures that no more than five burial plots are sold around a particular tree within a five year period, limiting the amount of root loss and allow the tree to restore any deficiency in its rooting system. The burial plots are approximately 2 x 1m in size and are excavated to a depth of 2m below ground level.Before the ground is excavated, permanent ground staff remove the topsoil layer preserving any important ground flora and tree regeneration. The topsoil is stored separately from the substrate. Once the interment has taken place and the grave backfilled, the substrate is left to settle and then the topsoil returned around a year later, when no further earth needs to be added to the grave.
A seed bank will be established to ensure the long term viability of the sites ground flora and to mitigate against any potential disturbance. Work undertaken at our Chiltern Park has proved that seeds collected from within the woodland can be stored and broadcast with a high establishment rate.
Environmental Considerations and Construction – Tree Protection
Paths and Rides will be constructed in a way as to cause minimum disturbance to trees. The existing woodland will determine the locations of paths and rides, with routes following gaps in the canopy and areas of least resistance. Tree protection within the woodland area where paths are to be constructed will include appropriate fencing and cordoning. Locally where there are specimen and veteran trees a more robust fence solution will be implemented and construction within the root zone avoided where possible.
Construction of Woodland Paths
Woodland paths and rides will be constructed using principles that require minimum excavations, without edge restraints and a compacted loose gravel finish. This method preserves the underlying soil structure by only removing the leaf litter from the most recent fall and the semi decomposed leaf litter, leaving the woodland soils in tact.
Survey and Monitoring
Biological surveys will be conducted using existing staff and outside experts, to assess the composition, populations and locations of key flora and fauna and to monitor change over time. The survey results will guide the management of the woodland, with management strategies revised as necessary. Data resulting from surveys will be submitted to the Local Biological Records Centre and CountyRecorders.
European Protected Species legislation will be followed and surveys of key species such as bats will be carried out before any habitat management work is conducted. Trees with potential roost sites will be avoided during the construction phase. If trees with potential roost sites are encountered that require felling of pruning then inspection by a licensed bat ecologist will be undertaken. If roosts are encountered these trees will be left intact where possible, if this is not feasible then full licensing procedures will be followed. Local experts such as the Northern Red Squirrel Group and Lancashire Wildlife Trust will be encouraged to become involved in the site and assist in developing the management plan.
Once developed, the woodland burial park located within Emma’s and Grace Wood will be open to public access 365 day a year, in line with the company’s commitment to provide a well managed open green space for the local community. In addition to the surfaced paths and rides, informal temporary woodchip paths will be laid. Material will be sourced on site making use of the brash produced through the woodland management operations. These paths will be used to lead families to burial trees but also guide traffic away from the most sensitive areas of the woodland. Woodchip paths can be moved as situations change and also provide a unique habitat with some rare fungi found on decaying woodchip. Site furniture such as signs, waymarking and benches will be strategically located around the site. Interpretation boards will also be installed informing visitors about key habitats and species, educating visitors about woodland management, biodiversity and the wider natural environment.
Community Involvement and Educational Resource
GreenAcres aims to have key role locally as a recreational and educational community resource, with objectives including the following:
- Encouraging awareness of the natural history, recreational opportunities and historic interest of the area
- Involving the community in practical tasks concerning the care and management of the woodland where appropriate through volunteer events
- Informing and educating visitors about the woodland and its management
- Providing opportunities for work experience placements and apprenticeships
- Offering a safe, fully staffed site for recreation and a varied events programme
- Engaging schools and other interested groups in outreach projects