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Forest Diary

The Forest Diary: the transition to autumn

by Forestry Commission Beat Manager for Ringwood, Mike Abraham

(enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

We might have been experiencing a brief taste of an Indian summer, but if you head out into the forest, there’s no doubt that Autumn is in the air. The morning dew is glistening on the leaves and a sense of calm has settled over our locFamily enjoying a forest walk and playing in the autumn leavesal woodlands.

It’s a magical time in the forest, but it’s a busy one too, with lots to do to ready the woodland for the colder months ahead, and ensure that it remains healthy and strong, for visitors to enjoy and wildlife to flourish.

You might have noticed that a lot of the tracks and rides have become quite overgrown with long grasses during the summer months. We’ve purposefully left these areas undisturbed because they’re a haven for nesting butterflies and vertebrates, but now autumn is settling in, the time is right to start an extensive mowing and cutting programme so that we can maintain easy access to the forest for everyone.

As Ringwood Beat Manager, I’m responsible for the management of 3,500 hectares across Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, so whichever woodland you’re visiting, look out for me, or one of my team – we’re always happy to stop for a chat and explain what we’re doing.

The trees themselves need a lot of care and maintenance at this time of year to clear vegetation such as bracken and brambles from around them. This is particularly important where we’ve planted new trees, which could be threatened by excessive vegetation growth.

The process of clearing and the loss of leaf triggered by autumn also give us an opportunity to inspect the trees. The continued fight to protect our trees against pests, diseases and climate change is something that is very much front of mind, whatever the time of year, and we’re always looking for opportunities to trial different types and species of trees, to test their resilience.

There are a number of sites throughout Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire that make up what we call the ‘rotational’ part of the woodland. This is where trees are grown and then felled and re-planted. You might well spot the team out felling trees in the autumn - for many people, it’s a surprising aspect of the Forestry Commission’s work but it’s absolutely vital, not just to our local economy but to the health of the woodland and the wildlife that lives in it.

Trees that are grown in Britain offer a really sustainable way of providing timber for things as diverse as building projects, furniture, and even heat for our homes. None of the tree is wasted – even the bark is used for mulch at garden centres.

By maintaining a cycle of clearing and replanting, we support amazing wildlife such as the nightjar, a nocturnal bird that really loves the habitat provided by younger, smaller trees. Replanting also provides the opportunity to grow a real mixture of species – not just conifers, but broadleaves too, so that we can test and review resistance to climate change.

All of this work over the transition period from summer to autumn means that come October we can all enjoy the magnificent display of colour as the leaves change from green to striking yellows, oranges and reds. I love this time of year and am lucky enough to experience it in a variety of different woodlands across the area. My top tips for spots for where autumn’s at its best? Try Vernditch Chase, where the colours of the beech trees are truly beautiful, the breathtaking glow of the oak and beech at Bolderwood, or Stonedown Wood where the forest is bathed in gold.

We want your top tips for where to see autumn colours at their best. E-mail us at tipsforautumn@gmail.com