CARNAGE IN THE COPSE
One week in December last year, Three Cornered Copse was ringing to the sound of chainsaws and chipping machines, as contractors, hired by the council, performed urgent surgery on some of the older trees that had become unsafe.
I spoke recently to Alister Peters, the arboriculturist working for the council, who commissioned the work. He knows the copse from old, and was around in 1987 when urgent work was required to render it safe after the great storm. Many trees were reduced to monoliths at this time, and some five of these, after 30 years, had rotted from the inside, and needed bringing to the floor. These decisions aren't taken lightly, since the ecological benefit of these structures is significant, for the organisms that flourish within.
Similarly, several large beech trees had shown signs of being at risk, the hollowed-out trunks and the density of the callousing give clues to the health of the tree, and seven of these were had to be cut to monoliths. (Standing deadwood is a rarer and therefore more valuable habitat than fallen deadwood. Once fallen, deadwood rots relatively quickly, and so the habitat is lost.) The large branches were seen crashing to the floor from a great height, and now lie scattered along the side of the path, forming a collection of natural forest furniture. Alister explained that the proximity of the unsafe trees to pathways, and the public that pass through means that unfortunately they have to be cut down to avoid accidents. He noted that there are a great many more users of the copse these days.
The copse is predominantly a beech and ash woodland, (with a small number of elms), which presents a problem, since the spread of the fungal disease ash dieback (Chalara) will affect a great many of the mature trees in the next few years. In Denmark, 85% of the ash population became infected within five years. Stanmer Park has an even larger population of ash to care for, and could stand to lose up to 25% of its trees.
The inspection of the council's woodland is very ad hoc these days, but Alister recommends a review every four years, to identify any risks to public safety. It will be interesting to see how the copse reacts to the reduced canopy in the areas where the cutting back has occurred as the increased light reaches the forest floor.
Have a safe walk if you venture into Three Cornered Copse this month.