RIDE WIDENING PROJECTS IN LITTLEHEATH WOODS

The work is following the woodland management plan produced by the Friends of Littleheath together with The London Borough of Croydon, and supported by the Forestry Commission.The work is not funded by Croydon Council so is unaffected by their current financial situation. The work commenced Monday 8th February 2021.

What is a Ride?

Rides are open, sunny corridors through the woodland, where taller trees have been removed to allow more light in, helping a wider variety of wildlife to flourish. At the edge of the path grow short, small plants such as grasses, herbs and flowers, which butterflies will thrive on. This short vegetation gives way to the shrubby growth like bramble, and then further from the path edge there are small trees that graduate into full woodland with taller, more mature trees and a shadier understory. They often form a link between open areas or glades thus creating a wildlife corridor. According to the Forestry Commission, the greatest benefit is gained when the width of the ride is equal to or greater than the height of the adjacent canopy trees. It is unlikely that the rides in Littleheath Woods will attain that width, especially Fields Path, as only one side will be cleared but nevertheless there will still be great benefits.

Where are the Rides?

The Council’s Forestry Advisor proposed that two Rides be created in Littleheath Woods. One along Fields Path which links Clears Croft to Fallen Oak Field and the other on a section of the Vanguard Way running from the bottom of Fields Path towards the Croham Valley entrance. Contractors have taken down a selection of  canopy trees along the eastern edge of Fields Path with a few good specimens left to provide a wind breaks or “buffers”. Sadly, many of the large trees here were not in good health – there are some very old Silver Birches, which are not particularly long lived trees, a few unhealthy oaks and some ash which suffered from Ash Die Back. The second Ride Project ( Vanguard Way towards Croham Valley entrance) will be a separate, future, project.

Why are Rides Important?

Establishing woodland edge habitats, which are sunnier and warmer than the woodland proper, creates a high level of species diversity. The Forestry Commission estimates that a greater number of species inhabit the first 10 metres of any woodland edge or ride edge than inhabit the remainder of the woodland. Although Littleheath Woods contains two fields and therefore, it would seem, plenty of “woodland edge”, mostly the tall, canopy trees grow around the boundaries, thus negating the benefit of the edge habitat. Edge habitats benefit many species, particularly rare and declining woodland butterflies such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary and the white admiral. The latter, a classic woodland species in the UK has recently suffered a decline in numbers. These big butterflies can be seen from late June until early August, flying up and down ride edges under the dappled light. The Butterfly Conservation Society also lists skippers, black hairstreaks, fritillaries and purple emperors as particular beneficiaries of rides. The herb layer supports a larger invertebrate population generally with subsequent benefit to birds and small mammals.

What Maintenance is Required?

The Friends have concluded a tidy up, along Fields Path, of the felled small branches and brash, creating habitat piles where appropriate. The felled trees have been uplifted to a stack and will be taken offsite for recycling in due course.

No one can fail to notice the extensive bramble ground cover in Littleheath Woods and, whilst bramble does have great benefits in terms of shelter, nesting sites and food supply to a variety of species, it is possible to have too much of a good thing! Bramble does tend to be invasive and smothering, so in order to maintain a good “herb” layer at the Ride edge, the bramble will be cut once a year. The Friends group will regularly remove anything of any size that emerges in the herb layer as well as coppicing the hazel on a rotational basis.

Additional Contractor Work

CCF (Continuous Cover Forestry) is a process whereby groups of very old, failing and/or diseased trees are removed to open up the canopy and allow light in for new saplings to be planted and grow up as replacements. The section of the Vanguard Way which goes uphill from Fallen Oak Field to Foxearth Path is surrounded mainly by very old sweet chestnut trees. The plan over future years is to remove a number of these in sections replant with a sessile oak, scots pine, hornbeam and rowan. Whilst on site, the contractors made a start on this process by opening up two sites which will be planted up next year.