BSG Ecology was commissioned by Monmouthshire County Council to produce a Green Infrastructure Management Plan. A key element of the plan was delivering benefits to the hazel dormouse population of St Diall’s Wood, as funding for the enhancement and subsequent future management of the woodland had been obtained through a Section 106 agreement in relation to a nearby hotel development. Measures were put in place to ensure impacts on dormouse were avoided during implementation of the plan, with the outcome being the creation of optimal woodland habitat for the species.
The woodland habitat within the management area was dominated by even-aged plantation woodland that cast dense shade on a sparse understorey. The aim of woodland management therefore needed to be the creation of a diverse range of multi-aged coppice coupes and, in turn, improved habitat quality for dormouse. Conservation works within woodland can result in short term loss of dormouse habitat (through coppicing and scrub clearance) and, in the absence of mitigation, risk of disturbance, death or injury to dormouse. Therefore, a European Protected Species (EPS) Conservation Licence for dormouse was required to permit implementation of any works proposed to the woodland under the Green Infrastructure Management Plan. It followed that the management regime set out within the licence method statement required careful consideration to minimise short term impacts and deliver maximum long-term benefits to dormouse.
The work commenced with coppice of the first coupe in February 2018, and was supervised a licenced ecologist. A toolbox talk was delivered to the contractors prior to work commencing, and the ecologist undertook a thorough finger-tip search around tree bases for evidence of hibernation nests. Initial work included: felling of cherry to leave 2 m height stumps as standing deadwood for invertebrates; coppicing of mature hazel and ‘pleaching’1 where appropriate to encourage growth of new stools; and removal of new sycamore saplings to prevent future over-shading of the understorey. The management of the woodland is to include rotational coppicing on a 15 year cycle, during which, coppicing will take place in one of five allocated coupes once every three years.
Fifty dormouse boxes were installed throughout the management area prior to coppicing of the first coupe in 2018.
The work has allowed light to penetrate the canopy and allow development of an understorey whilst maintaining habitat connectivity through the woodland. Direct supervision of the work ensured that impacts on dormouse were minimised.
The dormouse boxes will be subject to long term monitoring under the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) scheme, and results reported to determine the efficacy of management.
Work on the second woodland coupe is due to be undertaken in winter 2021.
1Pleaching is a process in which a suitable branch is partially cut to retain a portion of live cambium and bark, and then pinned to the ground (whilst still attached to the host tree) to take root.