As you walk around the Nature Reserve at Rutland Water this winter, you may have heard the dulcet tones of a chainsaw and seen plumes of smoke rising. A lot of our habitat management through the winter months is, as the habitat volunteers call it, dragging and burning! This could be anything from willow coppicing on the bunds to thinning within our woodlands to various kinds of hedgerow management. A lot of the material that comes out of this work can be used within other forms of habitat management or to generate an income for the Wildlife Trust.
Many logs are stacked into habitat piles. These will rot down in the damp dark conditions within the log pile, providing perfect conditions for invertebrates which are necessary for the pollination of plants and are also a vital food source for other wildlife to include small and large mammals as well as birds. We also spend many of the summer months collecting in timber, sawing it into manageable rounds and splitting into firewood. This in then bagged up and sold at the birdwatching visitor centre as sustainably produced, local firewood, generating money for the Trust that will go back into funding management on the Reserve.
The brash generated from the woodland management work is also used to form habitat piles and dead hedges. These create a valuable habitat for invertebrates and mammals as well as a good nesting habitat for migrant birds such as Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. The resident Robin and Wren will also benefit. Smaller branches that are too small for a log pile or firewood but too thick for a brash pile or dead hedge, are also gathered in and used to make charcoal. We run charcoal burning courses through the summer months which, again generates an income from material that is sustainably produced form the work we carry out.
Any straight poles of mainly Ash or Hazel, with roughly an inch diameter are bundled up and used as stakes to stabilize a newly laid hedge as will long, thin binding material, in particular Willow and Hazel. We run at least three hedge laying courses through the winter months and is an important skill to be taught within the countryside, enabling a hedge to be managed in a way that creates a good breeding habitat for small birds and mammals, ensuring there is winter fodder for wildlife whilst maintaining a stock proof (and person proof) field edge. Any thicker, straight poles can be used to stabilize dead hedges and brash piles. Material that cannot be used to create habitat is burnt so that it does not have a detrimental impact on the regeneration of thorn, willow and hazel.
Fran Payne, Assistant Reserve Officer