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When staff like myself are out and about in the forest, it’s common for people to ask us about the wood and branches that are often left behind after the Forestry Commission completes our operations. Forestry by its nature is a messy business, no matter how hard we try there is some ‘mess’ that is simply nature and actually left there to do a job.
The wood left behind after certain tasks is known as brash, or ‘lop and top’. Brash is used as a natural manure for the forest and is no different to the compost you would put in your garden to encourage vegetables to grow. In its slow but inevitable decay, the brash is important to the forest system and for many species.
Brash offers a home to and food for many woodland dwellers. The minute wren is often one of the first to take advantage of the new habitat brash provides; its beautiful call reason enough to retain brash. Fungi can benefit from the dying wood, while mice and birds can find homes, build nests and source food in between the twigs and branches.
The brash also acts as a ladder to the climbing plants growing in the forest, allowing them to gain valuable height. This higher level of cover is attractive to many birds and the blackbird and even song thrush are often found nesting in this entanglement. Forest predators like the stoat and weasel use this new found area as an extra hunting place and tawny owls will feed on the increase of new neighbours to its territory.
When spring comes, I often see butterflies and moths seeking shelter from blustery winds between the drifts of brash, also finding shelter within it on wet and overcast days. I’ve come across toads in the damper woods in brash heaps and have even seen many newly emerged spring adders using the heat absorbing cascades of pine needles to warm up and shelter on. So brash isn’t just a mess on the forest floor, it’s there to carry out a very important job for a range of species and while not all woodlands can be national nature reserves, you can be proud that the New Forest is a working woodland that offers many crucial habitats to a vast variety of wildlife.
For more information about the Forestry Commission, visit www.forestry.gov.uk
Colin Elford, Wildlife Ranger