To stack or not to stack?

Dead wood Castle Woods

Dead wood at Castle Woods by Lizzie Wilberforce

That is the question at Castle Woods…

Visitors to our Castle Woods nature reserve near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, may have noticed that over the last few months, quite a bit of tree felling has been taking place in South Lodge Woods. This section of the reserve runs between the main drive, Penlan Park and Bridge Street.

This habitat management work is funded by Glastir Woodland Management, and aims to thin out some of the more crowded tree regrowth, particularly of ash and sycamore, to favour the larger and better specimens of tree which have the potential to become our future veterans. Veteran trees in Castle Woods host a wealth of other important wildlife from breeding birds to scarce lichens.

Black and yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata Castle Woods

Black and yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata Castle Woods

Castle Woods is a SSSI and National Nature Reserve, and the woodland habitats within Dinefwr are recognised as one of its most special features. Another is the community of dead wood invertebrates which inhabits the woodland. We are fortunate that Castle Woods has a high proportion of dead wood, both standing and lying on the ground, because of the age and size of many of the trees, and its history of sympathetic management.

This, combined with the fact that this land has been covered in woodland continuously for many centuries, is one reason the reserve is so very important. Many deadwood invertebrates do not move well through the landscape, so tend to disappear when a site is deforested for any length of time. The continuous woodland cover at Castle Woods has allowed some scarce species of invertebrate to persist.

For the benefit of these tiny creatures, we like to retain as much of our felled timber on site as possible. Now here comes the conundrum; do we leave the trees almost whole as they fall, or do we stack them neatly in log piles?

The answer is that we have been leaving them whole. There are a number of arguments in favour of this, both ecological reasons, and some reasons which are much more practical.

The ecological argument is that large, and long, pieces of dead wood on the ground attract a slightly different community of creatures than pieces that are cut shorter and stacked. The humidity and physical environment inside a large piece of timber as it decays is quite different, and so it is of benefit to keep these large pieces of timber in situ.

Castle Woods Llandeilo Photo by Lizzie Wilberforce

Castle Woods Llandeilo Photo by Lizzie Wilberforce

The more practical reason relates to the slope. On such a steep gradient, the large timbers are much safer and less likely to be dislodged, either by chance or by human hands.

Sadly in the past when we have short-cut timbers on the Penlan path, visitors have rolled them down the hill, damaging our boundary fence and posing a huge threat to the safety of visitors walking the lane below. In addition, shorter sections of timber are regularly stolen from many of our sites where we undertake woodland management- perhaps a reflection of the rise of the domestic wood burning stove.

We understand that the aftermath of woodland operations can look a little brutal in the short term, and that carefully stacked woodpiles are an attractive and valuable feature-but please be reassured that the work is carefully planned for the interests of both our wild and human visitors.

With the extra light that should now be reaching the ground in the thinned areas, we hope for a really good display of spring flowers in April and May; South Lodge Woods is a fantastic place to see Dog’s Mercury and Bluebells.