Silvicultural solutions for sites with declining ash

Silvicultural solutions for sites with declining ash
Large areas in the South Downs National Park are currently experiencing dramatic death of ash due to dieback disease – 80 to 90% are expected to succumb over the next few years. Woodlands containing ash are extensive on the steep escarpment slopes of the South Downs Hangers, many of which are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Given the overall importance of these habitats, it is important to find ways to maintain them, enhancing tree cover by purposeful tree planting. Such planting must be based on species that support current biodiversity as far as this is possible, but that are likely to be resilient to future climates. Site assessment is a vital part of the planning process to meet these objectives.

To address these challenges Penfold’s Woodland Management (https://penfolds.org.uk/) applied for, and won a grant from the Forestry Commission ‘Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Fund’. Three woodland areas in West Sussex and Hampshire have been selected as test sites to see how much they can be underplanted with alternative species, rather than clearfelled. A J Moffat & Associates were asked by the Project Leader, Kevin Penfold, to undertake soil surveys of the sites and to make recommendations for suitable ‘climate-ready’ species using Forest Research’s Ecological Site Classification. Surveys commenced in October and are due to be completed by the end of the year, in time for planting in early 2022.