A new blog post from our intrepid volunteer Libby Pool
By now, I’m sure you’ll know that I’ve been trekking around Sheffield’s nature reserves, collecting data for the National Lottery Heritage funded Data for Nature project. The third and final set of surveys I carried out involved monitoring the condition of Sheffield’s woodland reserves. Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust take care of some of the most beautiful woodlands in the area, including Wyming Brook: my favourite place to go take a breather from the stresses of university life. We are lucky to live in such a green city, and being 10.4% woodland by area, Sheffield is actually the most wooded city in Britain. We all know the benefits woodlands provide for our physical and mental health: they clean the air we breathe, give us space to exercise our bodies and reduce mental fatigue. We’re not the only ones to benefit though; woodlands are home to more wildlife than any other landscape. Take the humble oak tree – it supports birds nesting in its canopy, small mammals burrowing in its root system, bats roosting in its trunk and up to 280 different insect species living amongst its branches. We need to protect woodlands to make sure they continue to give wildlife a home. So, Data for Nature has created a monitoring protocol to assess the condition of four key woodlands in Sheffield: Blacka Moor, Moss Valley, Fox Hagg, Wyming Brook. If we know the current state of our woodlands, management can be tailored to maximise benefits to wildlife in the future.
How do we define woodland condition?
The protocol is based on national standards. Woodland condition is broken down into two elements: structural attributes of the woodland, and species composition of the trees. When we talk about woodland structure, we are thinking about things like the amount of dead wood, how many glades are present, and how many invasive species there are in the area. Species composition considers which tree species are found in the woodland, as well as their diversity and age.
The woodland condition surveys started right back in autumn 2018. The team decided to do the surveys twice round, once in the winter, and once in the summer. The winter surveys focused on the structural aspects of woodland condition. We had to wait until the summer to look at species composition – it’s incredibly hard to ID tree species with no leaves! Luckily, the team don’t expect us to be that good at species ID.
Each woodland reserve was divided up into 1-hectare grid cells, measuring 100m2. In teams of three or four, volunteers followed a pre-planned route through the grid cells, taking measurements as we went. These routes didn’t always stick to the footpaths, so we had to scramble up and down the valley edges to stick as closely to our route as possible (I only fell over once, surprisingly). The biggest challenge we faced was not getting lost in the middle of the woods! So, what were we looking for as we orientated our way between brambles and through thickets?
Evidence of browsing –
Browsing by woodland mammals can severely damage woodland biomass. We assessed how much vegetation in each survey plot was damaged by deer and squirrel browsing, to see how much it impacts the ecosystem. The deer population is currently growing at Blacka Moor Reserve – notable by the number of droppings we found across the landscape! – so it is especially important to ensure deer are not stripping away too much of the woodland. We saw a herd of deer tracking though Blacka Moor during our survey. I’ve never seen deer out in the daylight before, so this was a rare and special sighting…
Data for Nature was born in response to the Sheffield State of Nature report, which stated that gaps in the city’s ecological records should be addressed, and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund