The Mildenhall Forest Plan covers 592 hectares of the public forest estate in Suffolk, part of the wider Thetford forest. The wood is bordered by Mildenhall Town to the west and farmland or heathland elsewhere, with the southern part of the wood dipping southwards towards the river Lark. The woodland covered by the plan is owned freehold by the public forest estate and has been dedicated as open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
Mildenhall contains more mixed woodland than many parts of Thetford Forest. Planted conifers currently account for around 60% of the total area, with the remainder being broadleaved trees and open space. Most of the forest has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Woodlark and Nightjar. These birds nest on open ground and the clearfell tree harvesting system generates suitable nesting habitat.
There are also 35 hectares of heathland re-creation in the south-east corner of the wood, managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Mildenhall Woods contains the Rex Graham Reserve Special Area of Conservation (SAC), notified for its rare plants, while Warren Hill and High Lodge Mildenhall are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for their geological value.
There is a Scheduled Monument at Mildenhall Warren Lodge as well as a number of unscheduled heritage features - these range from Mesolithic archaeology to first world war training trenches.
The issues that the plan should address fall under the three broad headings of sustainable land management. The objectives here are:
- Smooth production from crops in cyclic clearfell while meeting market commitments.
- Restock to maximise production but also increase species and
- Choose restock species taking soil type and the threat posed by Dothistroma Needle Blight into account.
- Maintain a pleasant woodland environment for use by local dog walkers and horse riders.
- Address the safety issue of mature trees affecting military aircraft
while minimising disruption around the new play and bike skills areas.
- Reduce the size and shape of felling coupes to fit into the landscape.
- Provide a more even distribution of felled area for
Woodlark/Nightjar habitat under the SPA.
- Link open spaces and widen conservation rides.
- Encourage people away from the heathland area at sensitive times.
- Protect and maintain sensitive archaeology sites within the wood.
There will be a reduction in Corsican pine over time due to infection by Dothistroma Needle Blight and the need to widen the range of tree species, including broadleaves, across the plan area. The future management of mixed conifers and most broadleaved areas is likely to be by continuous cover systems rather than clearfelling. Groups of mature trees have also been retained to maintain structural diversity in the landscape.
The current plan outlines management proposals including felling and restocking over several decades, with felling licence approval for operations up until 2021.
The planned areas of clearfelling and restocking during the ten years to 2021 are summarised in the table below. Permanent open space creation will be informed by the Thetford Open Habitat strategy, but none is planned at this time.
In addition to these defined operations, ongoing thinning and selective felling of both conifers and broadleaves will be carried out in the plan area at five to ten year intervals.
The proportions of conifer and broadleaved woodland and open space at the beginning of the plan period and those planned are shown in the bar chart. A gradual reduction of conifer cover overall, replacement of pine with other species, and an increase in broadleaves is expected over time.