Growing the Forest the natural way - The Heart of England Forest

Dorothy’s Wood

As spring approaches apace and our tree planting reaches fever pitch, the Heart of England Forest is also working hard to regenerate without human help as seeds are spread far and wide with by nature herself.

Natural regeneration is the process by which the woodland is restocked by trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate near their ‘parents’. While the Heart of England Forest team and our volunteer planters use saplings nurtured in our own tree nursery at Coughton Park, the mature trees in the woodland also do their bit to grow the woodland, often with the help of the weather and the local wildlife.

Keeping it local

There are distinct advantages to natural regeneration. Seeds dropped from mature trees will already be acclimatised to their natural surroundings and soil, and stand a greater chance of strong survival as a result. There can be a downside as well, though, and as Head Forester Stephen Coffey says, “we can sometimes find species of older trees, such as oak, dropping seeds that can lead to 20 or 30 new trees growing in their immediate vicinity causing an over population in a limited space. With ash it can be as many as 100! However, if nature is telling us that, say, a proliferation of willow or alder is occurring naturally in an area, we will take care not to force other species into that space – we won’t argue with nature!”

Giving wildlife a helping hand

While the weather plays an important role in ensuring that some seeds, such as ash, are wind-blown across the woodland, the work undertaken by the Heart of England Forest team can also go some way to helping the process of natural regeneration. Allowing the woodland canopy and understory to thrive through careful management ensures birdlife and small mammals are provided with a safe haven. They in turn will help facilitate the distribution of seeds and acorns. For example, squirrels and mice often bury large winter stores of nuts and then either forget where they left them or fall prey to predators, meaning that the store is left underground to germinate. Jackdaws and magpies also follow a similar pattern, often leaving undisturbed caches of nuts and seeds buried in the woodland for nature to take its course.

See for yourself

One of the finest places to see natural regeneration in action is Dorothy’s Wood. The presence of pet dogs enjoying walks with their owners means that any deer which may cause damage to seedlings are a rarity. The presence of naturally regenerated hazel, cherry, oak and willow from mature trees, along with the blackthorn in the hedgerows is evident, while the newer trees are also reaching an age when they, too, will start dropping their own seeds.

So, now is the perfect time to take a stroll and see if you can spot the signs that nature has started its own regeneration. Eagle-eyed walkers can search for clues across the Forest and, when you find new growth among the mature trees, you can return again and again to monitor its progress. If you are unsure where to go for a walk visit our website to find a waymarked trail. And don’t forget to send us your photos. Good luck, nature detectives!

The Heart of England Forest