Feedback from concerned members of the public has forced a rethink by the body who manage one of our local woodlands.
The Forestry Commission asked for views on their plan for the future of Byrom Hall Woods back in October.
In it, they outlined that damage to trees caused by squirrels was so bad at the site that the “majority” of young trees would need to be felled over the next 25 years.
It also proposed replacing diseased ash trees with conifer trees, which are less susceptible to damage from squirrels.
The proposals – part of Forestry England’s Wigan Forests Plan – caused concern amongst local users of the woods, who felt that it would have a detrimental impact on the woods – changing its character and making it a less attractive place to walk. Many asked questions about why squirrel numbers couldn’t be controlled instead.
The consultation closed on 14 October 2023, and it seems that Forestry England have listened to the voices of local people and changed their proposals as a result.
They explained that they would no longer be planting conifers in the field north of the woodland, and that felling of damaged trees would now be phased in over a 50 year period, rather than 25. They also said that removal of trees would be carried out in a “low impact” way, using only small machinery and as part of volunteer-led activities.
Importantly, they confirmed that complementary planting will be undertaken following any felling, to help introduce a wider variety of tree species to the wood, making it more resistant to the impacts of climate change, pests and diseases in future.
The change of direction was broadly welcomed by Linda Graham, from Lowton West Residents Group, who was vocal with her concerns back in October.
Linda said: “We raised a comprehensive range of issues in our Lowton West Residents response to the consultation with most concerning the impact of the severe felling / coppicing proposed across the entire wooded area within a time frame of just 27 years (2024 to 2051), which we felt would be adversely impactful on both wildlife and visitors alike. We also raised the lack of any replacement tree planting at Byrom Hall Wood, and the ambiguity within the Plan about whether all trees would be included in the felling cycle, or just those with squirrel damage.
“Local residents were supported by our elected representatives both local (Cllrs Klieve, Merrett and Gambles) and national (James Grundy MP) in responding to the consultation and expressing their concerns about the drastic felling plan originally put forward.”
The Lowton West Residents Group also joined forces with other Lowton groups including LENDF and Lane Head South Residents group, Leigh Ornithological Society to make sure local people were aware of the consultation and had their say on the proposals.
In recent weeks, local MP James Grundy arranged a site visit with DEFRA Minister Trudy Harrison and officers from Forestry England, at which the concerns were once again raised.
Linda said: “During the site visit we were able to walk round the woodland together, to raise our concerns in person and to press home the value of the woodland within our Lowton community.
“In respect of the squirrel damage issue, the Minister explained that she will be introducing a Squirrel Policy in the new year, and Forestry England have also recently appointed a Squirrel Officer for the North West area. We were all in agreement that we shared the common goal of improving the health of the woodland.”
Following the site visit came the welcome news that the feedback received, both from the consultation, and the site visit, had inspired a revision of the plans from Forestry England.
Linda said: “The significant extension of the felling schedule from 27 years to 50 years has been very well received, as was the assurance that this will be carried out by small scale machinery and include volunteer led activities.
“We also welcome the addition of complementary planting within the felled areas, as well as the assurance that, within those areas, ‘a selection of older trees will be left in place, as will some standing deadwood where it is safe to do so’.
She thanked everyone who took part in the consulation process, saying it was “truly a community effort.” She said the group now looked forward to seeing the finer details of the final plan.
The Wigan Forests plan will be available at www.forestryengland.uk/forest-planning following approval.
In the meantime, Lowton West Residents say they will continue to work with Forestry England at Byrom Hall Wood – and that new volunteers are always needed. Anyone interested to know more should email email@example.com.
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