Seeing the wood for the trees: sustainable forestry at Boughton

Buccleuch continually strives to balance complex economic, community and environmental demands and objectives, and the management of Boughton’s woodlands is a wonderful example of this delicate art.

Much of the woodland area on the estate is classified as Nationally important Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW), providing one of our most diverse natural habitats and we must continually balance environmental with the need to be a successful commercial operation. To be sustainable ecologically we must be sustainable economically, running a profitable venture. Together with continued investment from the larger commercial forestry operations in Scotland, we can continue to undertake many of the environmental projects on Boughton Estate that are so key to the future of the woodlands, such as bat hibernaculum or pond restoration.

As much as possible, the team follows the Continuous Cover Forestry Policy (CCF); encouraging natural regeneration where they can or, if not possible, replanting several trees for each one felled. By keeping the woodland in such good condition, the economic benefit gained from the timber harvested is as sustainable as possible. The planting of over 50 hectares (ha) of new woodland in recent years secures this further.

One of the primary drivers of a successful woodland ecosystem is not to be found in the canopy but in the soil, especially the fungi it holds. The team take care to ensure timber harvesting is completed before the worst of the wet winter weather sets in, avoiding the use of heavy machinery and lasting damage to the soil. The best time to cease harvesting has become increasingly unpredictable over the last 5-10 years, as weather patterns change.

The countryside and woodlands are products of the subtle changes of the seasons. Wild animals, trees and insects all rely on the seasonal changes in day length and weather patterns to perform their part in a functioning ecology. At Boughton, we are fortunate that there is a thriving animal ecosystem calling our woods home. Across the estate, there are fifteen Local Wildlife Sites covering several hundred hectares and two Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) totalling 52 hectares, providing many different important habitats of both national and local importance. We are proud of the species diversity found in them; Greater Crested newts, a thriving native bee population, red kites, hares and herds of fallow deer.

Sensitive management is key to this. Each year we undertake maintenance in the harvested sites by clearing drains, fixing roads and laying fences. Careful planning and timing of operations enables their impact on the woodland to remain as low as possible. Ash Die Back, however, means we have had to act on a larger scale than we normally would, but the recovery can be surprisingly quick. The areas we replanted four years ago are now filled with trees up to 3m high, and soon we will remove the fences when the majority of the trees are out of the reach of hungry deer. One unexpected bonus of the more open aspect of the woodland has been the presence of Nightjars, a very uncommon bird; worth looking up its sound, it is a very strange noise to hear at dusk in the wood.

We have a woodland management plan stretching ten years into the future, containing harvesting works and operational details. Planning considers areas of woodland which require thinning, measures to protect the wildlife, timber stacking sites and how to safely get large lorries into the wood to load the timber. As a general rule we thin an area of woodland once every ten to fifteen years. This is often the reason people are surprised when an area that they have known as unchanging for several years is suddenly a hive of activity. The key here is the time and spatial scale; we look at things as foresters. We are doing this every year, but as much as possible for ecological reasons, we keep each year’s work as geographically separated as we can.

Managing woodlands requires patience, sensitivity, expertise and respect. It is one of the most diverse habitats on the estate and one we are incredibly proud of, striving to protect it for future generations.