Over the last year we have been open and honest about the planned works at Wyming Brook nature reserve in response to the Forestry Commission’s Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN); sharing articles, putting up signs and talking to visitors about this terrible fungus attacking larches on site. We are now in the process of removing the larches as set out in the SPHN. Fortunately, the SPHN doesn’t cover the whole site and larches only make up a small proportion of the overall mixed, broadleaf-conifer woodland. As such we think the integrity of the woodland overall will be maintained and due to this action, larch trees outside the SPHN area (on the reserve and beyond) may not succumb to the disease. We also expect, in time, that trees will fill the spaces created through natural regeneration creating a diverse, resilient woodland.
We’ve updated our frequently asked questions below:
What is happening?
The Forestry Commission has issued a Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN) for Wyming Brook nature reserve. This legally requires the Trust to fell specific trees as a way of controlling the spread of disease.
We have to comply with the Forestry Commission’s request to fell or kill the trees they have specified.
What trees are being felled and why?
The Forestry Commission identified that the tree disease Phytophthora ramorum is present on site. They did this by flying over the canopy to visually identify potential infection areas and then testing 6 European larch trees spread across the site. Sadly, all the trees sampled were infected with the fungus. The Forestry Commission then identified a buffer zone around each positively tested tree in an attempt to isolate the fungus and reduce further spread.
We were then issued with the SPHN, which is a letter setting out the actions we are required to take by law. This tells us to kill the larch trees – the host plants – either by felling or ring-barking, in order to contain the disease. Currently we are not aware of any other approach to managing this fungus other than sanitation felling.
Having already jumped from Japanese larch to European larch and Sweet chestnut, there is concern that the fungus will move to other host species. There are many healthy larch trees as well as other tree species at Wyming Brook, so obviously trying to prevent further infection is critical.
The Forestry Commission are the experts in the management of Phytophthora ramorum so please contact them for more information about evidence and research in relation to their current policy.
Please note that the issued SPHN does not require us to remove leaf litter. We understand that the fungus depends on living plant tissue to reproduce so when trees are felled or ring-barked the disease will die. Please refer to the Forestry Commission’s information on the approach to sanitation felling that they have set out.
In our view this operation is intrusive but ultimately we want to see a more resilient woodland restored at Wyming Brook and this will support that approach. Sadly tree diseases such as Phytophthora ramorum are becoming increasingly prevalent in part due to historic approaches to tree selection and planting (these larch trees are more at home in the Alps) as well as the warmer, wetter climate resulting from global warming.
Is this just happening at Wyming Brook?
No, Phytophthora ramorum has rapidly spread across the UK in recent years. In the immediate locality, the disease has also been identified in Yorkshire Water and Sheffield City Council woodlands. They have recently completed their felling obligations under SPHN’s served to them.
Are all the trees being removed?
No, many thousands of trees will remain at Wyming Brook. As a mixed coniferous-broadleaf woodland, Wyming Brook nature reserve has a variety of tree species – including birch, oak, rowan, beech, scots pine, austrian pine, alder and willow – which are unaffected and will remain untouched. Many healthy larch trees will also remain. We believe that 800-850 larch trees will be felled or ring-barked.
What will be the effect on the nature reserve and its wildlife?
Wyming Brook will remain a special wildlife area, a wooded ravine, supporting birds such as wood warbler, pied and spotted flycatchers, moths such as the common lutestring and northern spinach, plants including ancient woodland species and the unusual oak fern as well as a wide range of fungi and important freshwater species.
Over time, where the planted larch once grew, native broadleaf woodland, such as oak, birch, scots pine and rowan, will naturally regrow or ‘regenerate’. Opening up the canopy will allow more light to reach the woodland floor, which in turn will encourage ground flora and more of a scrub layer to develop. Together, these elements should create a more diverse wildlife habitat supporting a wider variety of species.
Where safe to do so, we are working to ensure a number of the larch trees in the SPHN area will be ‘ring-barked’ and remain in situ to create valuable standing deadwood for birds and invertebrates.
Although it is very sad that the trees are being felled and there is disruption on site, we believe that Wyming Brook nature reserve will be a more resilient wildlife site as a result, supporting more of our local wildlife and continuing to be enjoyed by the people of Sheffield.
There’s a section that has been clear-felled, why is that?
There is a section of sitka spruce and douglas fir which has been felled. This is in addition to the SPHN larch felling and was already planned as part of the adopted Management Plan for Wyming Brook. This is because this plantation is of low wildlife value, having been densely planted in 1950. The removal of these trees will allow this area to be converted to a native broadleaf woodland for nature.
What has been done to identify and protect archaeological features?
As well as being a special wildlife area, Wyming Brook has a rich history. When we took on the site management in 2001, we commissioned a comprehensive desktop and field survey, overseen by the Peak District National Park Authority’s archaeologist. This was reviewed and refreshed in 2014 with further features identified. These surveys have informed our management plans over the years to ensure archaeological interest is protected and conserved.
In preparation for the current operation, we commissioned a further archaeological field survey in the sitka spruce/douglas fir forestry block where clear felling was to take place, as this is where forestry machinery would be working. This survey identified and flagged specific archaeological features so that the machine operators could ensure they avoided them. In addition, ‘brash mats’ were used to further protect the ground in this area.
Elsewhere, larch felling has been conducted either from the Drive itself or by hand (felling to create fallen deadwood and ringbarking to create standing deadwood) with the aim of ensuring previously surveyed archaeological features are protected.
What will happen to the trees you remove?
The majority of the felled or ‘ring-barked’ larch trees will be kept on-site and allowed to decompose. This fallen and standing deadwood will create a valuable wildlife habitat.
The spruce, fir and some of the felled larch trees (about one third) will be removed from site and sold as timber. The income from the sales of this timber will not cover the overall cost of the operation.
How long will Wyming Brook be closed?
After over a year of on site engagement, notices and press engagement, the planned operation to fulfil the obligations of the SPHN in Wyming Brook started in September. This will take a number of months to complete and is dependent on weather and conditions.
The works happen over winter in order to minimise the disruption to wildlife e.g. nesting birds, as much as possible.
Please do not visit Wyming Brook at this time. A Temporary Traffic Restriction Order is in place and all paths have been closed as the site is unsafe for visitors. For nearby alternatives, why not discover some new walking paths nearby at Lodge Moor Camp Wood/Redmires Playing Fields, Fox Hagg nature reserve, around the lower Redmires reservoir or through the Rivelin Valley?
Carbon capture is important, are you doing anything to counteract the felling of trees in relation to this?
Many of the areas will regenerate naturally. This will sequester (absorb) carbon at a fast rate, quicker than an old tree.
Do you have a map of the affected area and where the works are taking place?
Will there be an increased risk of flooding downstream once the trees have been felled?
We don’t anticipate a significant increase in flood risk because of the nature of this operation. The larch trees are not being clear-felled and, whilst there may be more run-off in certain areas during the coming year, a lot of brash and the majority of the felled and ring-barked trees will still be in situ, helping to slow the flow. In the following years, emergence of ground flora and natural tree regeneration will provide further flood mitigation.
Will more soil be washed into the river?
Wyming Brook naturally carries stones, sand and sediment downstream during high water flows.
To help prevent any soil erosion, most of the works are taking place away from the river and the operation has been sensitively managed in order to limit the impact of machinery and avoid churning up the soil. The larch trees are not being clear-felled and, whilst there may be more run-off in certain areas during the coming year, a lot of brash and the majority of the felled and ring-barked trees will still be in situ, helping to retain the soil in place.
News relating to the operations around Wyming Brook:
The Star article, 9th December 2022:
“Felling of larch will let more native trees thrive” (David Bocking)
David Bocking’s ‘It’s looking a bit black over Bill’s mother’s’ Blog, 29 November 2022:
“Return of the Natives” (David Bocking)