As you may have noticed from the photos posted on Wednesday, one of my favourite places to visit is the pine woods that stretch from Formby to Ainsdale, along the Sefton coast. The woods and sand dunes combined support a number of endangered species including the Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita), Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) and, most famously, the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). They are also the home to many other species including birds and rabbits.
Recently when I’ve gone past the woods I’ve noticed huge piles of timber next to the pathways. It wasn’t until I ventured into the woods that I noticed the damage. Huge chunks of trees have been chopped down leaving open spaces and lots of debris on the floor. The floor itself had been churned up by the wheels of heavy vehicles such as tractors or JCB’s. I was reminded of this photo which I saw on Facebook last week.
It got me thinking about whether it could be for any good reason that the trees were being cut down. I thought about the pros and cons and then decided to do some research into tree felling in general and the management of the pine woods.
One of my main worries was that the biodiversity would be affected due to a reduced number of trees causing a loss of habitat or loss of food. I also worried that by churning up the woodland floor with heavy machinery (as can be seen below), the habitats of invertebrates and small shrubs and plants would be destroyed.
Surprisingly all conifer woodland in Britain was planted rather than growing naturally. They therefore support a much smaller number of species than broadleaved woodlands (such as oak) as British fauna did not evolve to eat the pine cones from these mostly American trees. The biodiversity of the Ainsdale Pine Woods is therefore relatively low to begin with.
Although the majority of trees in the woods are pine (Corsican, Austrian and Scot) there are also small numbers of oak and beech trees present. These need to be kept to a minimum as not only are they invasive themselves, they support invasive animals such as the Grey Squirrel which can outcompete the Red Squirrel. Although this does decrease the biodiversity of the woods it also protects the habitat of the endangered Red Squirrel which is ultimately the goal.
Large empty spaces in the woods can be detrimental to invertebrates that feed on dead wood and fungi species. A lack of naturally fallen trees is also bad for these species. However in this case it is not something worth worrying about as pine trees support a very small number of invertebrates anyway. In addition to this, many bird species prefer open ground and the increased sunlight means that woodland flowers and shrubs can flourish.
A huge threat to the pine woods is the disease Dothistroma pini. One way to decrease the likelihood of any trees becoming infected is to keep the density of trees low so there is increased airflow through the woods which stops any damp. It is also best to use a variety of different species of tree in the forest so that species specific diseases do not develop.
After trees are removed from the woods the law says that new trees must be planted. As you walk through Ainsdale pine woods you find young trees at various levels of growth. The species of tree chosen for this purpose always depends on what is best for the animals living in the woods. Red Squirrels favour pines and larches so these are always chosen first.
A problem that I have not found an answer to is that tree felling does not allow the woodland to naturally come to its own structure and composition. As many of the trees are introduced species though, it may be better if the woodland is controlled so that native and invasive species cannot take over.
In conclusion I cannot think of the tree felling as a negative process but one that needs to be done. It does look miserable when you see large piles of timber next to the woods and large empty spaces inside but it seems it is the best thing for both the trees and the animals that live in the habitat. The only thing I am left wondering about is whether the churning up of the forest floor has any negative impacts. It seems to me that any plants that are just starting to grow will be uprooted and any invertebrates or small animals disturbed.
What do you think? Is tree felling a necessary process or should woodlands be left to evolve and develop in their own way?
If you’d like to visit the pine woods along the Sefton coast, they can be easily reached from Formby, Freshfield or Ainsdale train stations. For more information on the woods please have a look at their website.