Extensive damage by squirrels is setting the agenda for the future care and maintenance of Byrom Woods, a new report has revealed.
Forestry England says the impact of the creatures is so great that many of the young trees in the woodland are ‘dying’ and will not reach full maturity.
But rather than culling the squirrels to control their numbers, Forestry England’s ‘Wigan Forests Plan’ seems to propose felling a large number of the impacted trees instead, in the hope of driving the squirrels away and leaving the woodland to ‘regenerate’ itself.
The plan, which is out for public consultation now, also says that ash dieback is present on the site, and these trees too will be removed over the next 10 years.
It proposes replacing these ash trees with evergreen conifers, which will be less at risk from squirrel damage – and will also generate an income from their timber. But this has lead to concerns about the change of character this would bring to the woodland – and the potentially negative impact on other species present.
The plan would see the ‘majority’ of young trees felled
The Wigan Forest Plan says the squirrel damage is so bad, that over the next 25 years, the “majority” of the current young trees will be felled to “allow it to regenerate”. The mature oaks on the site will be protected.
The idea of the Wigan Forests Plan is to look at the short and longer term management of woodland area across Wigan borough. It includes Byrom Wood, Viridor, Windy Bank, Colliers Wood and Barlows Farm. All these woodlands were planted in 2002 with the aim of playing an important role in providing habitats for wildlife, public access to green space as well as economic regeneration – the intention being to generate revenue through the sale of timber from the sites.
But these new proposals have caused alarm for some locals who care about the woods.
Linda Graham, from Lowton West Residents, said she felt there was no good news for Byrom Woods, and these proposals could “seriously affect” this much loved woodland.
She explained: “Byrom Woods is the smallest in area of all the woodlands, but will experience the greatest amount of clearfell (tree removal).
“Three hectares every five years doesn’t sound much, but the complete site is only 28 hectares, and the North Field isn’t in the clearfell. How will the areas felled be regenerated if no new broadleaf trees are planted and no maturing trees retained?”
In response to these concerns, Forestry England said: “The proposed size, scale and layout of felling operations at Byrom Woods has been designed to increase structural diversity, providing a wider range of habitats for wildlife.
“At the moment the woodland is all trees of the same age, which isn’t the best for ecological diversity. By felling small groups at different times, and allowing new trees to grow in their place, this means that Byrom Woods will become a patchwork of different habitats at different stages of the forest’s lifecycle with trees which are mixed in age which allows us to keep woodland cover across this popular site.
Their spokesperson added: “The trees at Byrom Woods will regenerate freely from cut stumps and fallen seed. This natural regrowth is usually more vigorous than newly planted trees so we expect to see young trees well established in these areas within five years. When felling is carried out a selection of older trees, including the veteran oaks, will be left, as will some standing deadwood where it’s safe to do so. These will form part of the next generation of trees, further diversifying habitats at the site.
Should more be done to control the squirrel population?
Linda also expressed concerns that, despite ‘squirrel damage’ being frequently cited in the report, no plans are proposed to help deal with the problem or control the squirrel population, apart from simply removing the trees that they are damaging.
She said: “Has a clearfell system been tried and proved to be effective elsewhere in reducing squirrel damage and, if so, where and when?
“Our own research so far suggests that trapping and culling is the usual method. Everyone is very cynical about the squirrel rationale put forward. There are grey squirrels on all local woodlands.”
In response the Forestry Committion told us that: “Forestry England assess wildlife management requirements at each of our sites individually and where feasible we manage pests to reduce damage to trees and other plants.
“However grey squirrel populations in small, semi-urban woods such as Byrom Woods are especially challenging as they have lots of safe refuges and food sources nearby, so our wildlife management methods aren’t a viable option.
“Research into more efficient management options is ongoing as grey squirrels cause significant damage to timber crops nationally.”
Why are trees felled?
Tree felling is a normal and healthy part of woodland management. It can help thin out trees as they grow, improving access to the woodlands and creating better habitats for plants, birds and other creatures. For most of the woods covered by The Forest Plan, felled trees will be replaced with new trees, or other species.
However, at Byrom Woods, the proposal appears to be to clear areas of damaged trees in the hope that it becomes less attractive to squirrels, and whilst their population decreases, the woodland regenerates itself.
And Linda is also sceptical about the plan to replace infected ash trees with conifer varieties. The report says this is because these types of trees are less atractive to squirrels and that the resulting timber from the conifers can be harvested and sold once the trees reach a suitable age.
She said: “If regeneration doesn’t work, and the alleged squirrel damage continues, will Byrom end up as a conifer plantation? Where will the planned 1.3 hectares of crop be planted? In one area or spread throughout the site? How many conifers, what kind?
“These conifers must be intended for income generation. Conifers at that density will also make it difficult for vegetation to grow underneath.
“There appears to be no dedicated conifer ‘crop’ on any of the other woodlands – there will be a mixture of broadleaf and conifers planted elsewhere?”
So – what do you think?
Byrom Woods is a popular place for local people to visit – whether walking, cycling, riding horses or just enjoying some time out in nature. In recent years, it’s future was in doubt because of the planned HS2 route through the borough – but just as that threat has disappeared, it seems the squirrels have become the next big problem.
Linda added: “The clearfell process proposed will be a regular and widespread disturbance to wildlife habitats, but it won’t just be squirrels affected – all wildlife and human visitors will suffer. It is hard to imagine what it will actually look like – but it won’t be pretty.”
Find out more
Feedback, objections and questions must also be submitted online before the deadline of 14 October, 2023.
You can also let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below, or emailing us: email@example.com.
Get Lowton and Golborne News like this by email:
Never miss out on news and information for Lowton and Golborne. Sign up to our weekly email, Lowton and Golborne Update.
Next time you need a trader, cake baker, hairdresser or accountant, use our Local Directory to choose to support a small, local business first. Take a look at all the businesses we have listed.