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Breathtaking bluebells

Posted: Tuesday 5th April 2016 by Rachel

Dole Wood nature reserveDole Wood nature reserve

As spring gets into its stride, one of our most breath-taking natural spectacles is unfolding. Plants that have lain dormant for months have sprouted leaves and are now sending flowers that colour woodland floors.

Carpets of bluebells with swathes of celandines, wood anemones and wild garlic are the epitome of springtime. Amongst them are less well known flowers such as the evocatively named yellow archangel and the strange herb-Paris with its small flower set above a symmetrical whorl of four large leaves. The flowers are exploiting the brief moment in time when sunlight drenches the woodland floor before the trees have fully unfurled their leaves and cast their shade. The woodlands were these flowers can be seen at their best are ancient woodlands: woodlands where their history of being woodland can be traced back to 1600. And if a wood was a wood in 1600, it was probably a wood before then as well.

It is also likely that people have used or managed the wood for hundreds perhaps thousands of years. Our woodlands aren’t impenetrable dark forests that you need a machete to explore; they are the result of centuries of sustainable timber production. Cut a hazel, birch or oak at its base and the following spring it will send up new shoots. These shoots can be left to grow and harvested for firewood or making baskets, fencing or furniture. This is called coppicing and it creates woodlands that are open and light: perfect for the spring flowers that we enjoy.

Visiting Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust woodland nature reserves, coppiced trees can be seen forming the understory beneath the larger oaks and ash trees. Coppicing isn’t the only way in which woods are managed. Trees are also felled to thin them out; just like a gardener might do with seedlings. Trees will grow tall and spindly if they haven’t got enough room. For an oak tree to mature to its full size and develop a magnificent crown it needs a lot of space. Even where oaks are a hundred years old, if they are too close together, we will thin them out. This allows the strongest tree enough room to spread and grow for another four hundred years for more to reach true veteran status.

Other trees are felled because they are non-native. These are species that have been introduced to the UK by people; they tend to support less wildlife that native tree species. These include sycamore, which was introduced to the British Isles about 1500, and Corsican pine, was first introduced in 1759. Snipe Dales Country Park near Spilsby is a former plantation of Corsican pines. Managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council, the long-term plan was to transform the pine plantation into broadleaved woodland, this plan was brought into action sooner and happened at a quicker pace because many of the Corsican pines became infested with a disease called red band needle blight.

Without the competition and shade created by the pines, young native broadleaved trees have thrived and are growing well. The population of woodland flowers has been supplemented with the help of local school children. They have gathered seeds, grown the plants in pots and then planted them out in the woodland of Snipe Dales. All helping to create a woodland that is filled with springtime flowers.

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