Heartwood in the Autumn 19 Oct 2018
Poets have said enough about autumn to satisfy most of us. The turn of the year, from the torpid heat in August through the languorous splendours of russet, crimson or gold and the gentle cascade that then carpets the ground. But they mainly fail, amidst talk of mists and mellow fruitfulness, to mention the tasks associated with autumn.
Many are dull but each needs doing and the volunteers at the Woodland Trust’s Heartwood Forest know them well: oiling the woodwork on the noticeboards; repairing the ropes marking the paths in the ancient woods; pruning the trees in the community orchard, hedge laying and so on. But this year we have an extra item on the agenda: digging five small pits.
The Heartwood Wildlife Monitoring Group have made this request as they want to record any changes in the numbers and diversity of earthworms. So, dig and sift.
Another task will be measuring the elms, and we have a good number of these in Heartwood, mainly in the Arboretum just south of Drovers Lane. We’ve planted English elm, small-leaved elm, wych elm and Huntingdon elms in groups with other trees associated with furniture-making, such as beech and pine. In addition, there are more elm trees half way between the car park and the Magical Wood.
Mention of the Magical Wood reminds me of how important it is to plant trees in the right conditions. Every time the volunteer teams from Disney came out for their planting days, it rained. Heavily!
Unkindly, it even rained there during the goodbye picnic for Louise Neicho, the Woodland Trust’s site manager for the 10 years from the very first tree planting to the final of the 600,000. Angels weeping as saints depart? But conditions were not so generous in the spring this year, during the planting alongside Coleman Green lane. From icy cold to extended drought and blazing sun, the little saplings, or whips as they are called, have had much to contend with.
But Heartwood isn’t just trees; we have enjoyed a surge in wildlife activity since the conversion from farming to forest. Red kites are now common place and larks, in decline elsewhere are thriving here. Our monitoring group have identified 250 species of grass and wildflowers, 70 species of fungi, 65 of lichen and 50 of mosses and liverworts. Together with badgers, foxes, rabbits, hares, voles, deer and bats, we also boast the rare yellow-necked mice. And a colony of harvest mice, kindly donated by a local resident. She bought a pair for her children and the mice multiplied, as mice do, so she released about 100 of them into the wild. Sometime I must ask if she kept a pair back, just in case.
If you haven’t visited Heartwood Forest, pop over and take in the sights and sounds of this amazing landscape and its wildlife. Explore the many trails that take you through the young forest of more than half a million trees that have been planted in the last 10 years and enjoy the beauty of the ancient woodland and new wildflower meadows.
This forest on our doorstep is fast becoming one of the Woodland Trust’s most popular destinations.
This article, by John Newton-Davies, volunteer, Woodland Trust, originally appeared in the Herts Advertiser in October 2018