the improving ecology of hollywood: Ireland’s smallest continuous cover forest

Faith with Holly and Amber in our small clearing

Faith with her dog Amber and Holly in our small clearing, near young Oak tree. For those of you interested in plant identification, Faith uses an iphone app on her iPad – ‘British Flora’ by Clive Stace. It contains over 8500 unique colour slides and info on plant identification, distribution and rarity.

We were very fortunate in the summer to have a visit to Hollywood by a professional ecologist. I have got to know Faith Wilson as she is on the ProSilva Ireland committee with me. She too is very interested in the growing uptake in Ireland toward non clearfell, permanent forestry. To date, much emphasis on this new type of forestry management has concentrated on economic values so its fantastic to see ecologists teaching us why this type of forestry has possibly even more important ecological values for the long term. One of the most interesting observations Faith made was how Ireland still lags behind the UK in its knowledge of its own ecological heritage. When I contacted Faith I found she was in the area doing bat surveys so she was delighted to come and visit Hollywood. I created a slideshow of what we found.

We spent a few hours looking at Hollywood from an ecologist’s point of view. While Hollywood is still predominantly a conifer plantation, the two thinnings in 2008 and in 2013 that have let more light into the forest, have encouraged more species diversity. Much of this is occurring from plants spreading by seeds from our mature hedgerows, others are being brought in by our five resident magpies and  two sets of pigeons (we don’t have a lot of bigger birds as our forest is only 30 years old!). We’ve also done some ‘enrichment planting’, deliberately bringing in species to  increase the ecological and economic values of the forest. More economically valuable trees are important as they help cover the costs in time for future thinnings.

One thing I have been interested in is more formally logging the changes in the forest. This particularly since Hollywood is part of the Irish COFORD research project on conifer plantations being transformed to permanent forestry methods and also to value the scientific method in general, as I’ve discussed previously. Faith talked about ‘fixed point photography’ versus setting up quadrants (permanent squared areas that you revisit to note changes). Initially I thought our forest being so small that fixed photos from points every season would be a good idea but we have found ourselves setting up three 10x10m quadrants (I’ll show you this in future posts) in different areas. Somehow, putting an artificial ‘square’ around an area means one can instantly focus on total activity in one area – to me more information can be captured than by a single image.

Faith also talked about creating ‘ecological chimneys’. Areas in the forest to create biological diversity and she stressed favouring ‘trees for the future’ in this respect. It was great to hear too that our Bird Cherry trees that are doing so well on our wet site are an important species to foster, as they are rare now across Ireland due to change in land use. Faith suggested we introduce hazel as an ‘understory’ and I know this grows well here as its growing in hedgerows down the lane. 

I have some chores to do too; high prune the conifers in winter near young oaks, to protect there young growing shoots from the sharp Sitka needle branches and do a management plan for the forest too.

It was a beautiful summers day. I remarked to Faith about the small birds that move in flocks around our forest. Faith said these were coal tits and wrens that in summer fly together for ‘family outings’ – to teach young birds how to fly. Ecology is Gorgeous!

PS the next ProSilva Ireland open forest day will be concentrating on the ecological benefits of Close-to-nature continuous cover forestry. See the ProSilva Ireland website http://www.prosilvaireland.org for details.

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