Creating a wilder space for nature
Working with Natural England, The Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission to make a space for nature.
Creating a more natural landscape of wood pasture where a mixture of scrub, woodland and pasture will flourish.
Managing grazing and browsing pressure to create a kaleidoscope of habitats – ideal homes for birds, bees, butterflies and insects.
Ponds and Water meadows
Water used to be a common feature of the landscape.
The drainage system which was designed to remove water from the land as quickly as possible is now being repurposed to create water meadows.
Water is now retained on site for longer which is important for wildlife and helps improve downstream water quality and reduce flooding.
The old field drainage system is being used to fill new Ponds which are being created all over the estate.
As well as providing an important habitat for wildlife, the ponds will also provide drinking water to cattle when then are introduced.
Land drains are identified from old maps. Trail holes are dug along the length of the land drain to identify a suitable soil type. In the photo above, the lighter clay subsoil is perfect for holding water.
Parts of the estate sit on thin, nutrient poor, chalk soils which are ideal candidates for wildflower meadow restoration.
Wildflower seeds, collected from local nature reserves, have been planted on the estate in areas with matching soil types.
These areas will be intensively managed in the first 3-5 years with a cut-and-remove and targeted grazing regime to reduce nutrient levels and improve establishment.
Once the wildflower meadows become more resilient, interventions will be reduced and natural processes allowed to take over.
The new native wildflower meadows, as well as being great for biodiversity in their own right, will also serve seed donor sites for the rest of the project.
Many of trees in the historic park at Julians were cut down after the war to make way for more farmland.
New trees are now being planted in the locations of lost trees identified from old OS maps to recreate a landscape that has not been seen in a generation.
This Ordnance Survey map from 1877 was used to help identify where veteran trees have been lost. The park will be recreated by planting saplings in these locations.
The original structure of the woods on the farm was that of veteran oak trees surrounded by hornbeam coppice which was traditionally used for charcoal, firewood and in construction.
The hornbeam have not been coppiced for many years and are now so large that they take light away from the veteran oaks, damaging them.
We’ve agreed a 5 year woodland improvement plan with the Forestry Commission.
Some of the non native trees such as Norway Spruce and Poplar will cut down and removed from the woodland to make way for native broad-leaved species.
We’ll also be undertaking halo thinning – cutting back some of the hornbeam to allow more direct sunlight to reach the veteran Oaks.
The interventions will save the veteran oaks and allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor where an understory of new trees will create more habitats for wildlife.
One of the veteran Oaks surrounded by hornbeam. This Oak has horizontal lower branches below the current canopy of the wood which tell us that this tree grew up in a more open environment. Some of the surrounding hornbeam will be coppiced to allow more sunlight to reach the Oak.
Establishing New Trees
Landscapes are created through the opposing natural processes of vegetation growth on the one side and grazing and browsing on the other.
High grazing pressure will result in a landscape dominated by grass pasture whilst low grazing pressure will eventually result in closed canopy woodland.
In the modern landscape the dynamics of browsing and grazing have been disrupted resulting in an unnatural landscape where young trees and scrub are absent.
When grazing is managed to mimic more natural processes a new understory of young trees and scrub can develop which supports many more habitats for wildlife.
Browsing pressure needs to be controlled to create an environment in which trees and scrub can recolonise the fields coming out of arable production.
We are protecting most of the project with Deer Fencing to allow the initial flush of woody vegetation to establish and seeding with light demanding scrub species such as blackthorn, rowan, wild pear, dog rose, hazel, hawthorn, cherry and crab apple.
This will help the bird population recover by providing food, nest sites and protection from predation.
Why are you Deer Fencing?
When researching this project we were lucky enough to visit many amazing places where management of grazing and browsing pressure is changing the landscape. One of the most dramatic transformations we saw was on the Glenfeshie Estate in Scotland. This photo shows the Glenfeshie Estate in the late 1990s. It’s a typical view we would associate with the highland of Scotland: a valley of veteran trees surrounded by pasture and bare hill sides. Unfortunately, this type of landscape supports limited wildlife: high deer numbers have suppressed vegetation regrowth and as a result there are no young trees.
This photo of the same view was taken in 2019 on a fact finding trip to Glenfeshie. After 15 years of deer management a new cohort of trees and scrub have started to colonise the river valley where there were none before. For the first time in more than 100 years the veteran trees of the Caledonian forest have been joined by an understory of young trees. Freed from browsing pressure, natural regeneration has created a mosaic of new habitats and has helped the bird population recover by providing food, nest sites and protection from predation.
The aim of the wildlife project, agreed with Natural England, is to create wood pasture: by year 5, there should be tree species present at irregular spacings and varying densities, with an overall canopy of between 5% and 10% representing a range of age classes and allowing open growth crowns to develop. In order to achieve this aim, the right conditions are needed to allow young trees to colonise the fields. High deer numbers can prevent young trees from colonising a landscape – as is clearly seen in the Glenfeshie example above.
Today herds of Fallow numbering 80 are a common sight in Sandon and it’s not uncommon to see herds of 300 on the former heathland surrounding Therfield. Would these high deer numbers prevent young trees from colonising the Sandon Estate landscape? The links below allow access to reports on the impact of Deer on the two largest woodlands on the estate: Roewood and Philpotts. Both woods show high deer damage: very little natural regeneration is present and any works in the wood would require protection.
The Deer Initiative visited the site in March 2020 and subsequently wrote a discussion paper which stated: The most important time when establishing new woodlands is reducing impacts during the first few years of establishment, and where deer browsing, even at moderate levels, there is significant risk of loosing delicate flora, seedling regeneration and the fauna that may live on this flora and regeneration. Woodland thinning will be occurring and with the local deer population present significant losses are likely from heavy browsing, grassland being established, and scrub cover being required will also likely be affected.
Based on this evidence we have decided to take a precautionary approach by deer fencing the majority of the project to increase the likelihood of successful natural regeneration and successful seeding with light demanding scrub species such as blackthorn, rowan, wild pear, dog rose, hazel, hawthorn, cherry and crab apple. We’ve left a few fields outside of the deer fence and these will serve as a useful baseline moving forward as to the impact of deer inside and outside the fence.
In the future, once the trees become larger and more resilient we may allow more deer browsing and disruption in order to create more open areas in the wood pasture. The important thing to note is that grazing and browsing pressure is a powerful process which can strip landscapes of young trees. In the distant past this dynamic process would have been moderated by predation, nowadays the only moderators are human.