Bluebells and Wivenhoe Woods

As the bluebells are beginning to come into bloom I cannot fail to notice that the area just east of the picnic area, that was coppiced last year and has for many years featured a wonderful carpet of bluebells is now a wasteland of overgrown weeds and brambles which have starved the bluebells of light and space.

There was a degree of indignation at the extent of the coppicing at the time with some suggesting it resembled the by product of being a mud strewn battlefield. We were however assured by the park rangers that the bluebells would return with all their splendour which sadly has proved to be wrong.

Interestingly bluebells are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and I have no doubt that if the woods were held under private ownership CBC would prosecute the owner for the wanton destruction of a protected species, so what do our borough councillors suggest the community should do or should we accept the law does not apply to all!

It was always going to be a problem when CBC contracted an outside contractor to undertake the work for no fee but they would be permitted to keep and retain the trees cut down as payment, they immediately had vested interests in securing as much wood as they could possible get from the area and conservation would not have been top of their agenda, profit would have been though. This fact was confirmed by the contractor.

In the spirit of fairness I should declare that some of the bluebells have managed to survive around the edges but at least 90% have not survived.

As they have managed to obliterate a legally preserved plant will they now propose building on that section and further line their pockets.

it can only be logically thought that we are such a financial burden on CBC that the didn't wish to spend any monies in our community or that the don't actually give a damn about us.


  • edited April 4
    Coppicing always looks severe, and is not an exact science. Sometimes it doesn't produce exactly the desired results, often for reasons which are unclear. Sometimes the desired results are achieved but on a longer timescale than hoped for. In my view, such accusations at CBC are unfounded, and I suggest you arrange to meet the CBC Ranger and have a friendly conversation to air your concerns.

    On the question of the growth of brambles etc, I should point out that one of the usual explanations for regrowth of brambles at the expense of the desired plants is that there is too much residual shading after coppicing, ie insufficient trees were removed.

    And also you should recognise the extent of the 'legal protection'. Bluebells are legally protected by the WCA only to the extent that all other wild flowers are protected. Primarily that is they are protected against being deliberately uprooted, without the landowner's permission. There are numerous defences against this, the main one being that all it needs is landowners permission. Therefore the prosecution scenario you envisage would not and could not arise in respect of coppicing authorised by the landowner, irrespective of person undertaking it.

  • I concur Chris, in a few years we will see the resurgence of the bluebell, painful though it might be in the short term, the bluebells will recover once the trees resume their growth and cover phase.

  • edited April 6
    An extract from Woodland Habitats by Helen J. Read and Mark Frater (published by Routledge. 1999)

    "Opening up the woodland may be detrimental to some species but it can also be beneficial to a wide range of woodland ground flora. Such 'coppicing' plants include primrose, bluebells and violets. They flower in profussion after coppicing, often giving the most dramatic result in the second or third year after cutting, and survive during the years of shading.

    One problem in modern, recently cut coppices can be the tremendous growth of bramble in early years. While this will eventually decline as the shade from the coppice increases, it maybe too late for the other ground flora. Bramble can be cut but this usually needs to be done manually to avoid damage to the coppice stools. K. Kirby (1992) has suggested that bramble and other nitrogen-loving plants maybe due to the increased nutrients resulting from leaving dead branches on the ground rather than removing them and using them as would have happened in the past. However, bramble responds strongly and positively to increased light levels. Martin and Martin (1995) showed that bramble increased from under 10 per cent cover to nearly 80 per cent between years three and four after cutting coppice in Lower Wet-moor Wood (Gloucestershire). However by year eight the cover was back down to below 20 percent."

    The book also gives a list of plants that can be favoured by coppicing:
    Common dog-violet
    Early dog-violet
    Early purple orchid
    Giant bellflower
    Goldilocks buttercup
    Herb Paris
    Pendulous sedge
    Purple small-reed
    Wild daffodil
    Wood speedwell

  • Living very near the woods and walking through them often, I make the following observations.  Firstly I am not opposed to coppicing. The woods have been transformed in some areas and the extensive swathes of anemones, celandines and bluebells take my breath away they are so beautiful. The coppicing does look very barbaric initially and I agree, was particularly so last year in the area under discussion. I don't know whether that was because unsympathetic workmen were used or because it was very wet but the vehicle tyres and very harsh cutting left it looking like a clearance for a building site for quite a long time. It has all settled down but I had noted, before this discussion that the brambles and nettles have 'gone mad' and very much swamped everything so no flora is coming through. This would seem to concur with Richard's article and unless something is done, will get worse. I am sure someone on the forum is part of the Wiv woods group.  Has Richard Moulsam included this as clearance in your working plans for this year?  Is there anyway this can be published because I am sure more volunteers would be happy to go along. Otherwise maybe WTC could contact him as they no doubt liaise with him and have contact details? 

  • Thanks Roger for the ref. For anyone wondering about apparent discrepancy between my post earlier and the opinions in Roger's, remember that the peak bramble was yr 3-4 in the case cited by Roger, under a fully implemented coppicing regime, ie the relationship of bramble and light is not simply linear. The usual concern of woodsmen and conservationists about too much bramble straight after coppicing (due as I suggest to insufficient canopy removal) suggests that the light levels in this scenario are approximately the same as after 3 years in a more comprehensive coppicing.
  • Chris.  I am now very confused. In the area under discussion hardly any trees were left standing. How can the shambles  be because of too little canopy being removed. Or am I being really stupid? 
  • A few photos from the wood later afternoon today.

    Bluebells are about, but not many.

  • No not stupid at all. Perhaps I was unclear. Bramble invasion early on is usually spoken of as linked to too much shading. This can either be because too many uncut (standard) trees are left OR because the coppice block is too small, and there is therefore too much shading from the trees around. Of course the latter issue could also be linked to the other suggestion in the piece cited by Roger: leaf fall from surrounding trees, if the plot isn't large enough could lead to fertilisation of the soil, which promotes bramble as well...

    These are just a few of the complexities the wood manager has to deal with, weigh up, and add to other considerations such as aesthetics, sycamores, deer browsing etc etc. No wonder it doesn't always go exactly according to plan!
  • Given the impact of nitrogen on bramble growth and this being caused at least in part by wood being left on the ground, are the general public allowed to collect dead wood there? Many people in Wivenhoe have fires in their homes and a bit of free wood might be appreciated - or enterprising youngsters might be able to make a bit of cash!
  • As I understand it, the public are NOT allowed to collect 'dead wood', as branches & tree trunks provide shelter for a variety of woodland life, from mammals to insects & fungi, and are especially good for stag beetle larvae.  However, I'm sure the wood anemones & bluebells would benefit from their 'bramble cover' being removed, but there'd be no cash crop there...!
  • I did speak to a man who represents the woodland management about the brambles he said he would take photos to discuss it with his colleagues this was two weeks ago.
  • An interesting point about dead wood, there is still an abundance of trunks waiting to decay from the great storm of 1987, plus the up rooted trunks for other storms even to the recent storm of approximately 5 weeks ago. Add to this all the wood left from the removal of sycamores on the eastern fringes of the wood.
    I suppose we will have to wait for five years to discover the truth!
  • edited May 1
    Still plenty of bluebells in all the woods around Wivenhoe. The two displays below, photographed today (May 1st), are to be found in Cockaynes Wood and the nearby Villa Wood.  Wivenhoe Woods is also in full bloom now, and even in the recently coppiced area that this thread has touched on there are plenty of bluebells breaking through the cover of the brambles. 

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