Renaturing vs rewilding

For several years rewilding has been one of the influences on how I manage Century Wood. It’s never been an entirely comfortable fit though, since “wild” is quite an extreme goal. I’ve contented myself with encouraging elements of wildness but now I think it would be more productive for me to talk about “renaturing”, and I imagine a spectrum with wildwood at one end and very controlled plantation forests at the other.

Rewilding started to enter the public consciousness in Britain about the time I bought Century Wood in 2008, and in 2013 George Monbiot’s book “Feral” gave it a lot of publicity and provided a popular manifesto. I was already thinking about ways to encourage large scale reforestation, and Monbiot’s book crystallized the way in which British uplands are kept bare by sheep, deer, and EU Common Agricultural Policy basic payments.

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Beavers in the city of Lyon

Last year I went to Lyon in central France and although I didn’t see the beavers that now live there I did see the trees felled and their distinctive tooth marks. The signs of beaver activity were in a park by the River Rhone about 3km from the very centre of Lyon. Beavers were hunted for their fur throughout Europe and became extinct in most of France. However in the lower reaches of the Rhone south of the Lyon they survived and have been recolonising the river northwards.

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Pine martens and Glen Affric

I’ve already written about visiting Glen Strathfarrar in the spring. and the next day I went 10 miles south to Glen Affric, one of the main areas where Trees for Life has been working to preserve and extend the kind of Caledonian forest which once covered most of the Scottish Highlands. Unlike Glen Strathfarrar, Glen Affric is mostly owned by the Forestry Commission so access is straightforward with car parks, maps, and marked trails. In one area I saw evidence of pine martens, although not the creatures themselves.

Some of the pictures at the end of this post were taken from the side of the road, but they are mostly on the walking trails which start at the Forestry Commission car park near Dog Falls. My route was mainly to walk up the hillside to the south of the car park and then down to Coire Loch which is surrounded by the forest.

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Glen Strathfarrar

At the start of the year I blogged about natural regeneration of woodland, and the land’s ability to regrow trees and resurrect forests from seeds waiting in the soil if deer, sheep, and humans allow it. One of the examples I used was a dramatic photo from Alan Watson Featherstone’s blog which he took in Glen Strathfarrar. It shows the effect of deer fence in allowing trees to come by themselves if left ungrazed. In April I visited the valley myself.

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Natural regeneration: Nature’s grassroots rebellion

There’s a rebellion going on in Britain. All around us. The resistance wins some battles and loses others. It has fought us since we first began to clear woodlands and create fields thousands of years ago. Its aim is reforestation with native trees, its method is natural regeneration, and in more and more places it is winning – increasingly with our help.

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Lynx, Wolves, and Boar at La Garenne

 

I had the opportunity to visit La Garenne in the Jura mountains of Switzerland earlier this year. The zoo takes in and treats hundreds of injured wild animals, with most released back into the Swiss countryside. It also participates in breeding and reintroduction programmes. The focus is on animals which are native to the region, and this includes lynx, wolves, and boar which were once native to Britain too. In the Jura mountains, all three are now present in the wild to varying degrees, either by deliberate reintroduction or after recolonising the region from refuges elsewhere.

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Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest

After a morning spent at Allan Bank by Grasmere, I spent an afternoon at the Forestry Commission’s Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest Park sites either side of Bassenthwaite Lake. Again I was mainly looking for red squirrels, but didn’t have as much success as at Allan Bank.

Dodd Wood is a smaller site and is notable for having osprey viewing platforms manned by volunteers in the summer. It’s possible to see down to the osprey nest and watch the adults swooping down to pluck fish from the lake. Red squirrel feeders are also visible from the viewing station, but I didn’t see any signs of feed when I visited.

dodd-squirrel

However I did get some blurry pictures of squirrels scampering around. Like at Allan Bank, they seemed to be spending as much time on the ground as up trees. Even when aware of me and heading off, they didn’t take the opportunity to climb the nearest tree and then move around in the canopy.

One of the proposed reasons why red squirrels are helped by the presence of pine martens, is that grey squirrels spend more time on the ground than reds and so get preferentially eaten by pine martens, letting the reds recolonise the area. Perhaps the scent of pine martens prompts reds to keep off the ground more? Nuts tend to fall to the ground so if it is safe to come down from the trees then it might be worth having both behaviour patterns in their repertoire.

Whinlatter Forest Park is much larger and billed as England’s only true Mountain Forest. The staff in the visitors’ centre were up front about the low chance of seeing reds as the site was quite busy. I headed off on the Seat How Summit Trail, and didn’t see any other walkers all afternoon – just a few mountain bikers. This trail gets up to 520m where the trees give out to heather and includes Seat How, a rocky outcrop with astonishing views across the forest and over to the mountains and Derwentwater. It feels like an island in a sea of trees. These two photos give you a hint of all that.

As a working forest some areas were entirely closed off for felling. You can see evidence of clear felling in the left hand picture above. Some of the other forest roads had warning signs – particularly about the danger of climbing stacks of logs. Quite a sobering thought.

Despite the lack of red squirrels, I did manage to see deer, and toadstools, and a sycamore beside a roadway at about 300m.

 

 

Red squirrels at Allan Bank

Allan Bank above Grasmere in the Lake District is an unusual National Trust house: unfurnished and deliberately informal in a way that puts some NT properties to shame. You won’t find volunteers telling you off for getting a smartphone out to look something up (“No phones here young man!”) or even worse a camera (viral marketing by happy visitors passes them by…) No, at Allan Bank you can pull up a chair, get one of the board games out, try the paints, help yourself to coffee. When you arrive they really do tell you to make yourself at home. Which is nice, because it’s in area with active red squirrel conservation and the animals are easy to see at the feeders on the lawn and in the surrounding woods.

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