The Lees Court Estate has approximately 550 acres of woodland, and this year has embarked on a five-year project working closely with the Forestry Commission which places a high priority on the restoration and maintenance of woodlands on the North Downs.
The Estate woodlands are richly diverse, in terms of wildlife and conservation. The physical programme within the Estate’s woodland management plan over the next five years, including coppicing; removal of conifers; thinning; and encouraging natural regeneration, will focus on enhancing habitat and biodiversity.
In 2011, the Estate, with assistance from the Forestry Commission, applied for the English Woodland Grant Scheme (eWGS) to assist funding woodland operations. The enhanced grant aid is applicable to woodland located in the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Scheme has been approved, and work commenced in 2012, and will run until 2017.
The Scheme is to undertake areas of coppicing, felling and thinning whilst leaving maiden and other native broad-leaved trees. This work will provide a patchwork of different aged trees throughout the woodland and will provide improved habitat diversity for flora and fauna. Long-term coppicing will also create a varied and improved shoot because of the range of growth stages and the warmer ground conditions for birds.
Much of the conifer woodland will be removed in selected area, which will allow the natural regeneration back to the native broad-leaved trees and improving wildlife habitat.
All felling works have been authorised under the Scheme and all felling permissions granted.
Resistant Elm Trials
Dutch Elm Disease has transformed the face of rural England, and there are no signs it will abate in the foreseeable future. The only way forward is to plant elms which are naturally resistant to it. Breeding programmes in the USA, Italy, France, Holland and Spain have worked for decades to create new varieties of elm, scientifically proven to be disease tolerant, through hybridisation with inherently resilient Asain elm species or by selection of elite surviving clones wihin native elm populations. Until the beginning of this century, little had been done in Britain to obtain these trees and evalulate their potential use in landscape restoration here.
In 2015, the Estate established three trials involving some of the most promising new cultivars. One is an adaption trial for the purpose of comparing growth, form and health of six clones from Italy and the USA. The plan is to add some of the Spanish selections of resistant elms when they are internationally released. Two further experimental plots are mid-term timber trials, featuring two relatively fast growing and upright elm clones which may prove to have a use in various niche crafts, for instance traditional boat-building. All three trials are believed to be the first of their type to take place in the United Kingdom.
In accordance with current legislation governing the importation of elms from continental Europe, the Estate proactively arranged for an on-site phytosanitary inspection of the trees by APHA (the Animal and Plant Health Agency), and was commended for best practice.
The designer and curator of the trials is Dr David Herling of www.resistantelms.co.uk.
As part of the application for the eWGS, a song bird survey was undertaken. The results identified a typical collection of bird species associated with mixed woodland habitats. It was apparent from site visits that bird numbers and diversity were lower in the woodland areas with a uniform age and structure, closed canopy and limited undergrowth. Those areas with more structural and age diversity supported a greater variety of birds.
Five species from the Birds of Conservation Concern 'Red List' were recorded in the woodland; the turtle dove, fieldfare, song thrush, lesser redpoll and marsh tits. The turtle dove and marsh tits both of which showed signs of breeding, indicating that there is a stable breeding population on the Estate.
A further five species from the Birds of Conservation Concern 'Amber List' were also recorded; kestral, green woodpecker, dunnock, mistle thursh and bullfinch.
The Forestry Commission in England is recognised and respected as an international leader in sustainable forestry.