Odiham Common and Broad Oak Common update from the Hart Countryside Manager 2023-24
It’s been a busy year of work managing the Common.
During the Spring, 3 test pits were dug around Central woods, arranged by the Newt Conservation Trust. Pit 3 has been highlighted for pond creation in the upcoming year, and pit 2 possibly later. Clearance around pit 3 has started and will continue this winter season.
Scrub works across the common were also undertaken in October, as stated in the CS management plan. Through this, Butcher’s Broom was identified, which is an ancient woodland indicator. The works have opened the understorey in dense areas and should allow more of a varied structure within the woodland.
As part of the CS plan, we have an annual rotation of veteran tree management. This year 25 trees were highlighted for works, including the Frenchman’s Oak. Some trees just needed strimming around, or some light scrub removal. Many had some larger clearance around the specimens to allow them to spread and thrive without competing for light as much. These trees will be monitored in the spring to see what understorey plants emerge.
Hay cuts across the common were altered due to the rapid spread of Hemlock Water Dropwort. The plant is highly toxic, so cannot be used in hay creation. The middle and underpass field were aggressively mown this spring/summer, with some sparser areas being hand pulled to completely remove them. Arisings from the main grass cuts have been lost into hidden pockets of the woodland.
Several overgrown ditches were cleared this September and are showing a good flow to them again. Ditches shall be monitored for health.
This winter started with the 1st year of inhouse removal of scrub in the wayleave with volunteers. It is hoped that by full removal of the scrub overtime, that the wayleave will be more diverse, and without the trees, there’s less chance of national grid getting in contractors to bulldoze the whole stretch.
Working with the National Trust, the large fallen Oak was removed from Wilke’s water.
Volunteers have also started on coppicing this year’s area of Hazel. Dormouse boxes have been monitored throughout the site, and it’s hoped this work will benefit any population found on the Common.
A further 50 reptile mats were added to the common with HIWARG, along with replacing those mown up during national grid works.
Rapid habitat assessments were undertaken on site. This aims to give us a snapshot across the site of what plant species we have occurring and is done during the same time annually.
Continued removal of Hemlock Water Dropwort throughout the hay fields. I foresee this being an ongoing rotational battle. There will be a mix of manual removal of smaller areas, and possible species-specific spot spraying of larger areas. We will concentrate on a couple of fields annually.
We will continue the rotational veteran tree works next winter as per the management plan, along with rotational Hazel coppicing.
We will also do the annual ride cuts, with alternating scalloped edges.
We will continue to liaise with the Newt Conservation Trust in creating extra newt ponds, working in conjunction with HIWARG to monitor and survey the site for Great Crested Newts.
We hope to undertake more floral surveys to highlight the health of the woodland, and the indicator species we have.
We will also be meeting with lab technicians from Windsor parks regarding veteran tree propagation, in the hopes that we can prolong the Frenchman’s Oak through a cutting and grafting.
Broad Oak Common
Cutting of common for haymaking took place in late summer, allowing wildflowers to bloom and settle their seeds, which benefits butterflies, moths and bees, along with many other invertebrate species. Additionally, the Rangers have contributed to scrub control of physical removal of injured weeds such as ragwort and dock, to improve sward for haymaking, balancing the needs of wildlife in the area with the needs of people.
Within the woodland area the team has cleared the 2nd canopy story of dense holly This was for three reasons, to ensure we meet the CS canopy and shrub cover targets, to allow more additional light to hit the woodland floor; to support woodland flora growth and finally to veteran tree halo to reduce competition.
The Holly that was cut was then repurposed to create sustainable tree guards to support the establishment of natural regeneration saplings such as oak, ash, hazel and hawthorn. The intention was to reduce grazing damage of deer and other mammals, giving them a leg up in becoming new trees within the second and primary woodland canopy for the future. The remaining holly was stacked into log piles to provide a new habitat for fungi and invertebrates that are critical in recycling dead mass into healthy soil for woodland floors.
The meadow will be cut again for hay in July to August and we will continue to concentrate on the removal of invasive plants such as ragwort and docks.