State of UK butterflies

Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Tim Melling
Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Tim Melling

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the launch of the latest ‘State of the UK’s Butterflies report‘ – an excellent report authored by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.  This is the fourth in a series of reports which charts the status of our butterflies every few years.

More species are declining than increasing but some are increasing because of the impacts of a warming climate (although there are signs that this boost to these species may be waning as some climate impacts turn overall negative in effect).

Chris Packham, Butterfly Conservation’s Vice-President, was at the launch and described the decline in butterfly species as ‘shameful’.

There are some very good examples of conservation success – we can make a difference if we do the right things. The successes tend to be the well-studied, fairly localised species where habitat management has been adjusted over a reasonably large scale. I noticed from the presentations that a part of one of my regular journeys through Northants on the A43, between Towcester and Brackley, bisects woods where Wood Whites have soared in numbers thanks to tweaks in woodland management. And they were tweaks, no-one could claim that the whole shape of the British economy, or even the economy of Britain’s woodlands, or even the economy of Northamptonshire’s woodlands, needs to be wrecked to allow a recovery in our Wood White populations. As I check my speed for the speed cameras on this stretch of road I will, from now on, picture the conservation success story that has played out in the woods on either side of the dual carriageway.

But overall, and in the wider countryside as a whole, butterfly populations are in decline and that’s for a range of reasons.  When did you last see a Wall Brown butterfly? As a child I saw them in our garden in north Somerset, nowadays I rarely see them at all.  That’s a common experience, or loss of experience. I miss Wall Browns. The current generation of children don’t have many memories of Wall Browns. If they are to be delighted by their recovery in future years we had better invest in our butterflies now.

Defra was invited to the launch of the report but did not attend.

The standard of the report is very high – the message it sends is quite gloomy – the response to its message is absent.


See here for media coverage:

BBC online








29 Replies to “State of UK butterflies”

  1. Mark, I’m not criticising what you’ve written here at all – I’m in complete agreement, but I suspect your comment about “the current generation of children don’t have many memories of Wall Browns” is wildly inaccurate. I rather fear they don’t have many memories of butterflies at all, or can name one if they see it. Perhaps an occasional ‘cabbage white’; or maybe ‘peacock’, but there is some evidence that children now can’t identify (and/or have never seen) a red admiral, tortoiseshell, or other relatively common butterflies. This reflects the sad state of affairs with butterfly populations, but, perhaps even worse, the state of the relationship today’s children have (or rather, don’t) with the natural world.

    But ’tis the season to be jolly, they tell me, so… I for one have made a new year resolution already: I will do my bit to put more effort into helping improve the children and nature situation. As a parent, grandparent, and former teacher, I thought I was done with the under 18’s, but I think anyone dedicated to the environment can afford to be any more.

  2. And of course, the 60 or so butterflies we get in the UK are just a small fraction of the lepidoptera that occur here. There are over 2000 moth species which are ecologically every bit as important as butterflies and many of them will be suffering similar declines to those observed in the butterflies (indeed State of the UK’s Moths reports show exactly this depressing situation with many species declining precipitously.

    1. During the war not a chink of light was allowed to escape from the window without the call ‘shut that light off! ‘. In those wonderful post war summers we could leave the windows and curtains open and the light on, lying in bed waiting for the moth snowstorm (thanks, Mike McCarthy for the memories and for signing my copy of your lovely book). Within half an hour or so the ceiling would be thick with moths and other insects, large and small, some dull and many brightly coloured, how I wish now that I knew what they all were! By the morning they were all gone except for a few lacewings. Now, even in this village with no street lights, leaving the light on attracts virtually nothing.

  3. We have it in our power to completely reverse the fortunes of our woodland butterflies. Far from costing money, in many woods we can now make a profit, benefit butterflies (and birds, and bluebells) and fuel one of the most successful parts of the green economy, wood for fuel. Butterfly Conservation, brilliantly led by Martin warren, has been the one conservation charity that has never lost sight of the need to bring more woods into management and some of the results have been fantastic: saving the Heath Fritillary in the Blean for example, alongside a great partnership of woodland managers including RSPB and the Forestry Commission. 10 years ago harvesting small broadleaved trees made £3/tonne standing at best, very hard to make a profit, now it makes £30, opening the door to really turning the tide for once common, now rare butterflies. So what’s the problem ? Woodland, I think, suffers from being too common with many species not meeting our rather artificial ‘rareity’ thresholds (though sadly the decline in many species is changing this) and too complex, half a dozen NVC types and as many choices as an Ikea kitchen !Within the 500,000 ha of neglected woodland, much is in ‘conservation’ management, unmanaged due lack of the necessary (and, to be fair, complex) management skills needed to bring them back into management, and too proud to admit it.

    1. In March 2008, in response to yet another oft repeated claim by Butterfly Conservation that the lack of woodland management has led to “rapid declines in specialist woodland wildlife” I pointed out that it was incapable of seeing the woods from the trees in this situation. Perhaps the lack of management of these woods has instead given rise to an increase in other woodland specialists such as the flowers, lower plants and invertebrates that favour the shade, moisture and lack of disturbance? Thus in that sense, the lack of management has been a positive rather than a negative, and does not warrant their consistent use of the pejorative term “neglect”.
      Help save vanishing creatures, Salisbury Journal, 20 March 2008

      I also commented on the Blean:
      “Last December, Kent Wildlife Trust pocketed £2.3m of Heritage Lottery Funds to support a four-year promotional and management program in the renowned woodland area of Blean near Canterbury (1). The trust has plenty of prior form for interventionism, as it has been coppicing away on some areas of the 2,600 acres that it manages since 1987. A project officer has been appointed to the Blean Conservation Complex project, and the intent of what the trust hope to achieve is signified by the fact that Mike Enfield is a butterfly specialist. Would it have been too much to hope that a woodland specialist would have been appointed for what is a large area of woodland, because trees aren’t really wildlife to a butterfly specialist, and will as usual end up being disposable.

      There is often a convenient lack of intellectual rigor apparent in many of these conservation programs, relying as they do on simplistic, unimaginative approaches that win approval because they fit the current orthodoxy and are supposedly cost effective. There are many butterfly species associated with woody scrub plants – thus there are 296 butterflies and moths, and 124 true bugs that feed on willow and similar numbers on birch – but you have to ask yourself how it is that the lives of these butterflies now seem dependent on our intervention? Where would their natural habitat be? It certainly isn’t the manufactured artifice of a coppice, the often inappropriate harshness of which is never questioned and which does present difficulties for other woodland creatures”

      Now we have the situation, repeated in many places, where a “Ratcliffe” ancient woodland is systematically being trashed, allegedly to increase biodiversity but at the expense of its ancient woodland indicator plants and its small mammal population, so the National Trust can sell woodfuel, and this persecution is funded by a Woodland Grant Scheme!

      1. Only saw your comment after after completing my own, thank you for speaking along the same lines and doing it so more eloquently. This is a really disturbing development, conservation being sidelined fir exploitation under the guise of being ‘green’.

    2. Keystone species such as beaver and boar would do a far better job of ‘managing’ our woods creating micro habitats, natural coppice, turned over soil and vitally important dead wood which about 20% of the species in our woodland are directly dependent upon. Wood for fuel is hardly going to help the latter especially. A lot of our local woods which desperately need more dead wood are losing what little they have due to the demand for ‘sustainable’ fuel for oh so green, natty wood stoves. Wood ‘going to waste’ because it’s not part of a living tree is up for grabs, and the dead wood specialists which are in very serious trouble indeed, but aren’t as pretty as butterflies get ignored as does the over all ecological health of woods and ultimately all wildlife (butterflies included) which depends upon the natural recycling process. The idea that extracting wood from local sites will make a valid cut in our CO2 emissions is laughable, but it looks and sounds the part I suppose. The only real difference it will make is to the conservation value of our woods and not in a good way. We need to repair or at least replicate the ecological processes lost, part of that could be coppicing, but in addition leaving as much of the dead wood behind as possible, so under storey regeneration and a new home for hundreds upon hundreds of species of fungi, beetles, some moth species, mosses, bacteria etc that call dead wood home as well. The idea that material extraction for consumption is part of that just isn’t true, no more a natural process than making plastic from oil – seriously, think about it. And yes I know that there is probably some policy that bits of wood get left for the creepy crawlies, but it’s not the same and hardly an explicit message that a key element of woodland ecology, the creation and recycling of dead wood has been seriously compromised by human activity for millennia. One of the key reasons beaver are so good for conservation is the amount of dead wood they create in various forms – not if it gets carted off for fuel though. At present vast areas of forest in the Southern United States are being chipped for import to Britain as biomass, isn’t that conceptually linked to the idea of using woods here to fuel our homes, and that’s hardly going to involve just a log or two here and there. Want to feed the stove, suggest people start looking for and hacking up all those old pallets going to landfill by the thousand.

      1. A number of points come to mind in response to your comment, Les. I agree absolutely that saproxylic invertebrates are a vital element of woodland communities and a seriously threatened one and consequently the maintenance of dead wood within woodlands is vitally important. It does not necessarily follow from this though that management, including the removal of timber for fuel or other purposes, is a bad thing. Past woodland management practices did (inadvertently) maintain a supply of dead wood (including ensuring the presence of veteran trees – with deadwood habitats within the living tree – as a result of pollarding and coppicing practices) and many of the best sites for saproxylic invertebrates have a long history of human exploitation.
        It is a fact that we live in a highly human-modified environment. One could argue that we are also part of nature and our presence here in the UK is ‘natural’. Whether or not one accepts that notion we cannot wish away the fact that there are 60 million or so of us living here and whatever we do we will continue to have the dominant effect on the landscape and everything that is in it. The natural processes that in a human-devoid environment would maintain the habitat diversity that allow species of early and intermediate successional stages to survive are largely prevented or at least hugely limited. It is fortuitous that many old woodland and farm management practices did maintain such non-climax habitats and thereby allowed species to persist that otherwise would have died out. Sadly, modern economics has meant that most of these practices have fallen into abeyance with the result that the species that depended on them have declined alarmingly. I believe it is appropriate for conservationists to seek to replicate these practices in woodland management.
        Of course, the key to such management is to maintain diversity and the maintenance of dead wood in various forms – standing, fallen, etc – should form a key part of that and not a token afterthought. In an ideal landscape we would ensure the existence of high forest, open rides and clearings, dead wood etc and certainly not a blanket management prescription covering the whole forested landscape. Removal of timber for fuel or other purposes can reasonably form a part of that and if done in a controlled manner is not to be equated with a wholesale ransacking of the woods for fuel which you rightly deplore.
        The reintroduction of beaver and wild boar has much to commend it and I would love to see that happen but if we are realistic we have to acknowledge that it is unlikely to happen any time soon and when and if it does it is not going to be the case that these species will be allowed to occupy the entire countryside at their natural density. Farmers and other land users will have an understandable objection to wild boar, in particular, building up large, widespread populations. I am aware of course that boar co-exist with people on the continent but I doubt that many French or German farmers, say, would recommend that their British counterparts import boar. Wild boar populations in those countries are subject to control through frequent and widespread shooting and hunting and I am not sure that everyone who is keen for the introduction of wild boar is necessarily prepared to accept that. These may not be insuperable obstacles to the introduction of wild boar but I think it is unrealistic to expect that they are going to play a widespread role in the management of British woodlands any time soon so we are left with the question of what we do in the meantime. In my view the answer to that is that it is sensible to accept that conservation management is necessary and important if we wish our woodlands to retain high levels of biodiversity.
        Finally, woods are owned and managed (or neglected) by lots of different people or organisations with different objectives and aspirations both commercial and non-commercial. I very much doubt however, that with respect to woodland management, the principle motivation of conservation organisations such as Butterfly Conservation or the Wildlife Trusts is the generation of ‘dosh’ as you put it. If the sale of fire wood can help (I doubt that it is more than that) to defray the costs of woodland management I don’t see a problem with that provided that management is well planned and implemented. Comparisons with the management of grouse moors are unhelpful in this context.

        1. Jonathan, no offense, but you’re teaching your granny to suck eggs mate. I know that pollards can artificially extend the lives of trees, I know that we have 60 million people in Britain and that does complicate things (yes really I do understand that!). I know that some management processes replicated natural processes, sometimes, a bit, but not usually a full substitute for the real thing. I know that we can’t have beaver and boar everywhere, which is why I said if necessary ecological processes have to be replicated where necessary. My point is that at a time when we could and should be allowing more of our woods to operate like real, natural(ish) ones we are instead going the opposite way by romanticising ‘management’ and pretending that our species involvement was nothing more than bare necessity and not usually a restraint on biodiversity and ecological process. The veteran trees we do have are only there because they were not ‘sustainably’ harvested in ye olde days. Shame more weren’t left alone, ancient trees should be a standard feature of every wood, but even in Britain where we have more than most of Europe they are still bloody rare. That’s part of the legacy of our ancestors involvement in woodland ‘management’. I wouldn’t blame them for that, but I’m not going to indulge in some dewy eyed, self deluding waffle that it was anything other than what it was – grabbing natural resources.

          There are currently forests in Poland and Belorussia where ‘management’ has been virtually non existent for millennia with the result that they are absolutely heaving with wildlife. And guess what there are plans to ‘improve’ them by setting up saw mills, the old trees are actually diseased you know, and all that dead wood stops regeneration! Promoting the value of standing and fallen dead timber to the public is virtually non existent, yet saproxylic (and yes I knew what that means) species are incredibly important and highly threatened so many species confined to tiny pockets and others gone completely from these isles. How often do you hear of them? Where were all the ‘professional’ conservationists when hollow trees, brilliant bat roosts, were cut down on my canal because some people said they didn’t look nice?

          But using our woods to heat our homes is a spiffing idea, it involves ‘sustainability’, ‘community use’, ‘carbon reduction’ all the lovely buzz words, a marketing dream. Cavity and wall insulation (incidentally I worked as a Home Energy Assessor reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions via public surveys so I’m doubly furious about suburban wood stoves being sold as a ‘green’ initiative) are infinitely better at cutting our carbon emissions and ecological footprint, but not sexy, showy or quaint like a wood stove. Some conservation organisations are obviously jumping on a bandwagon re climate change funding and ‘sustainability’, and putting education and wildlife on the back burner. Harsh? What’s going to do our wildlife more good telling the public about the vital importance of dead wood and natural processes or saying that wood is an excellent ‘green’ fuel? What has more prominence at the moment?

          I recently spoke to a lady in our local wood about the need for it to be a natural one, dead wood and trees, no ornamentals, ivy left on trees and she told me when she takes her grandchild into it the little girl loves nothing more than lifting up the dead wood to see the creepy crawlies under it. Now that’s the human/nature interaction we should be interested in.

          1. “no offense” – none taken and if you were a teeny bit offended by what I wrote (“…and yes I knew what that means”) let me assure you that i intended no offense either.
            I agree with a lot of what you say and certainly with the notion that it is a good deal greener to insulate your home and generally to use less energy than to install any of a number of renewable energy devices. I also agree that dead wood is extremely important as a component of the woodland ecosystem and that the general public and local authorities (amongst others) are insufficiently aware of this.
            I don’t think I am suffering from dewy-eyed self-deluding waffle either as regards the motives of past generations when they collected wood and other resources from the forests. Does anyone believe or suggest that these people were nobly seeking to protect butterflies or dormice or wildlflowers? Nevertheless, an unintended consequence of the methods they used was that a lot of wildlife was able to coexist on the land with them. Modern land management generally does not allow this.
            Of the residual semi-natural habitats we still have we do have to decide how to manage them. This does include the option of leaving alone to let nature take its course but in very many instances that will result in a decline in biodiversity. Coppicing is a legitimate option in the right circumstances (and contrary to your assertion many (not all, of course) of the veteran trees we do have are ancient pollards and coppice stools that are there precisely because they were sustainably harvested in ye olde days) and removal of the timber for use is in my view entirely acceptable – with the proviso, naturally, that it should not be the only management prescription and as, we agree, woods must also be left with significant resources in terms of dead wood and veteran trees.
            I don’t think it is unreasonable to consider wood produced in such a way as a ‘green’ product but I agree that this does not and should not mean that the woods can be ransacked for fuel for log burners and the like.
            I agree that with respect to Bialowieza where there are extensive tracts of forest in near primeval condition the management philosophy should be as hands off as possible and plans to introduce sawmills would appear to be misguided and alarming. I think that the woodland we have in this country though is already massively modified and is not going to turn into a Bialowieza simply by being left alone.

      2. We are coppicing some )mostly) native woodland in partnership with FCS. There is plenty of deadwood left even though we take out some firewood. I shall look out more for butterflies – there are butterflies in our expanding wetland areas…

      3. “The idea that extracting wood from local sites will make a valid cut in our CO2 emissions is laughable, but it looks and sounds the part I suppose.”
        Hear here!
        But it is believed so widely that to point that out is not going to get much of a laugh.

    3. So are we going to get the message that woods need to be ‘managed’ for butterflies, in the same way the uplands have to be ‘managed’ as grouse moors – when it’s really about making dosh?

  4. “Defra was invited to the launch of the report but did not attend.”

    Why would you expect them to be there? There was no one from DEFRA at FoE’s Bee Summit either (to be fair Eustace stepped into the room very briefly, went straight into his warm words and left immediately, though not before Waitrose thrust a bottle of Neonic free Rape Oil in his hands). There was also no one from DEFRA at CIEEM conference on connecting people with nature – though HLF people present throughout did say what they can do to help fund what DEFRA used to.

    One may conclude there are those in the Dept of Farming (the E and RA are really just vestigial letters) who do not see butterflies as part of their brief. Is this really what Truss’s “Open Environment” agenda?

    Or perhaps they are scared to turn up, because they know they are letting us down big time?

    1. Thanks David Hodd

      So is this confirmation that HLF are to become a ‘Public Body’ slush fund? HLF was supposed to bring extra not be a substitute for departments outwith government favour?

      Then again if HLF are going to do what Defra used to do / should do …. then do we need Defra in its current form?

      1. I wouldn’t want to annoy colleagues at HLF – their line has always been they won’t what DEFRA will. What was apparent was a recognition that DEFRA are not going to fund stuff that a few years ago they might well have, and HLF are in any case looking to increase their support for natural heritage. In the context of a connecting people with nature conference, DEFRA have always been pretty poor in funding community supported projects. Environmental Stewardship has always been dismal in this area. But DEFRA are returning to the bad old ways of MAFF. Only at least with MAFF we had an underfunded champion in the DoE.

  5. Thank you, Mark and Les for making my point almost perfectly. On what other subject than woodland could you get comments that so utterly ignore the facts and realities and whilst demanding intellectual rigour confuse Rackham with Ratcliffe ! Whilst I am sure Derek knew a great deal about ancient woodland, I suspect he might have turned to his equally brilliant colleague George Peterken when formulating NCC policy. The point is exactly as made: as Rackham explained so brilliantly (and popularly) our ancient woods are the product of a millennia of interaction between man and nature, producing something that is not ‘natural’ but equally special and valuably ‘semi-natural’, and it is is not just about nature because this is about our cultural heritage as well. So is it right for our generation through ignorance and neglect to, in one generation, throw away something that is part not just of nature, but of us, and almost unique cross over in the interaction between man and nature ? By the same logic we should simply abandon our heaths and see what happens, not worrying when they become covered in trees and Dartford Warbler and Sand Lizard go the same way Nightingale and Dormouse are heading.

    And it is complex: this is not the two dimensional goodies and badies so beloved of conservationists. If you visit RSPB Church Wood you will find extensive coppice. You will also find managed and unmanaged high forest, the latter, with its big trees, of far more importance for dead wood than stood over coppice, and managed rides, all providing subtly different habitats. FC’s management ranges from bringing coppice back into management at one end to the 10,000 acres of the New Forest Wood Pastures where no wood – even fallen dead wood – is removed at all. And ‘Common’: the scale of this is beyond most conservationists comprehension: a huge, 1,000 acre nature reserve would be just 1/ 1,000th of the unmanaged woodlands and I can assure Les and Mark that all the dead wood is not going to be removed any time soon – just take a drive through Surrey and Sussex ! If you can’t be bothered to read Oliver Rackham, try Plantlife’s shocking report ‘Recommissioning Forestry’ for a sharp summary of the issues.

    1. Roderick the arguments you raise about existing woodlands being the result of millennia of interaction with humanity is my point, I did actually mention it my post. There is a dead wood deficit in practically all of them when there should be a healthy level of dead standing and fallen timber in all of them. Basic ecology, very basic. It’s not enough to have the occasional dead wood area, usually where it won’t upset those who think woods should look like municipal parks. I did also raise the point in my post that there would probably be a dead wood policy – but it’s not enough and hardly putting forward the message that dead wood needs to be appreciated, when the core one is that you can feed your dinky wood stove with fuel from your local wood. One of these rather trendy fuel from woods projects was set up near Stirling a few years ago. I raised these concerns right at the beginning and the initial contact was very sympathetic, but after that was met by total silence. Biodiversity yet again swept under the carpet in a rush to do a carbon reduction project (think it would be better to ask people to drive smaller cars, but that would be awkward wouldn’t it?). I do know that many of my local woods here and elsewhere are having their dead wood plundered, and recent comments about ash dieback regularly mention that at least it will provide a lot of fire wood. This idea that’s a jolly good green idea to start ‘harvesting’ our local woods is hardly discouraging this practice is it? My concerns are hardly pedantic! I’ve been very active in dead wood conservation for years and it is infuriating that it only seems to exist as small print after all the ‘good news’ about how we can now heat our homes (first, second and third?) with lovely logs just like our ancestors did in them olden quaint. Want to coppice well leaving the cut timber in situ would make it an even better (real?) conservation practice wouldn’t it, that’s what beavers do. Ahhh..but no big grant for that or dosh off firewood sales. Otherwise what you are doing is fundamentally unnatural. And yes I know that you need to maintain open areas such as heaths, that happens naturally due to grazing pressure, geology etc, but that doesn’t make it OK for our woods to be turned into production units for wood stoves, and how many old trees will conveniently become dangerous and need felling on the back of this? That’s if they can even bother coming up with an excuse to make a quick buck. This idiotic idea of encouraging people to burn wood because it’s ‘green’ is an ecological disaster, I am seeing the consequences of it locally – a local SSSI has become free of dead wood in accessible areas because of locals foraging for their wood stoves. That’s happening again and again. Unfortunately your response just augmented my concerns we are getting into the dangerous territory that our woods need intervention in the same way we have to maintain our glorious moors! The only intervention necessary is repairing the cock ups we’ve been visiting upon them for millennia – preventing the development of ancient trees and dead wood accumulation, removal of keystone species and latterly addition of litter, burnt out cars and invasive species. Full ecological health of our woodlands needs to be the standard, not exception limited to a few areas away from where the public want to see ‘clean’ woods or logs aren’t being extracted to sell to them. I repeat want to fuel your stove bloody well go out and break up some old pallets.

    2. Ancient woodland is a term that simply defines a continuity of woodland cover since 1600, and thus has nothing to do with management of the wood and so owes nothing to the historicity of Rackham, whose book Woodlands I have on my bookshelf along with Peterken and Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe edited “A Nature Conservation Review: Volume 2, Site Accounts: The Selection of Biological Sites of National Importance to Nature Conservation in Britain” in which the National Trust woodland is listed, and which also has nothing to do with management.

      It is a characteristic of Roderick Leslie that he is quick to accuse others when he is not exactly a model of engagement with the facts himself. As I noted on another of his comments on an earlier blog here on the recent flooding, it is annoying that he parroted Monbiot’s reference to Ennerdale as an exemplar in Monbiot’s article about flooding. Monbiot implied that “engineering works” had been removed from the River Liza in the valley – wrong, it was just one “Ireland” bridge from Woundell Beck that drains into the Liza, and which is then canalised until it reaches the lake. Monbiot then says the Liza was “allowed to braid, meander” giving a reference to one of our MSc students, and which actually says:
      “Within the present analysis it is impossible to determine whether there has been any change in the River Liza as a result of the Wild Ennerdale project initiation in 2003, although considering the small changes in land-use and the fact that the valley has only been subject to low-intensity land-use since the Bronze Age (National Trust, 2003) means significant changes are not anticipated”

  6. “On what other subject than woodland could you get comments that so utterly ignore the facts and realities”

    Ooooh I could name one or two but I won’t. But I will say I want to agree with the advocates of “hands-off” management – because I think it would be a cure for many ills. I’m with George Carlin on that: “Leave Nature alone! Haven’t we done enough?”. But I won’t in the case of woodland because I don’t like the result, for entirely selfish reasons. I have to travel to Bentley, Spearywell and Bramshaw Woods or parts of the New Forest to walk in a woodland setting that I enjoy. I resent that – because when I leave the garden gate I walk in a forest that has been enclosed since Henry II was in short trousers and managed for a very very long time before. Once upon a time it would have provided food, fuel, timber and tools for the needs of the inhabitants. Not out of enlightenment, but through ignorance or unavailability of easier means. Nevertheless the legacy of the Days of Yore can be seen everywhere but the provisioning of the peasants finally ceased in ~1984-ish when the woodyard closed. Now, at this time of year it’s as Boring as Hell but not if you like fallen wood, dog’s mercury, exposed root plates, ivy, senile coppiced hazel and ash, dog’s mercury, thickets of Old Bloke’s Beard lianas, dog’s mercury and no open spaces. Some folks do – I don’t, not on an every day basis. This is the Positive Outcome of some Grant Scheme or other. Some death and decay is good, but in them Days that are held up as Good and Old people didn’t waste resources if they could help it. Now we pay people to waste stuff because we can swap our pollution with other countries that we don’t care about – because we can! Genius!

    I walk in the forest for exericise for me and the dog. If I want to see butterflies I stay in the garden.

  7. From reading these comments I think a few guest blogs about woodland management, or non management, would be very interesting.

    1. Paul really is a hell of a priority, great deal of complacency and rubbish re our most biodiverse habitat – I know from a group of us doing genuine conservation work in a local glen that there are hellish obstacles against it. Once we cleared invasives which exposed dead wood we wanted to leave for wildlife, a mad guy in his seventies had such a rabid and I mean rabid hatred of it he went in with a chainsaw, without safety gear to cut and remove it as the sight of it offended him so much. Worse he actively encouraged a 14 year old boy to come in with a chainsaw, again with no safety gear, to help him. I had to have a word with the council to get that stopped. Then there was the persistent landscape gardener that wanted us to use our lottery money to pay him to put in ‘features’ and ornamentals for ‘colour’. Also a local chancer who shed crocodile tears about his ‘heart breaking’ due to woods being ‘unmanaged’, dead wood, ivy and brambles everywhere! He wanted to pre emptively cut down those trees which he said could fall and become a danger. Strangely in every single case they happened to be of a very high timber value – oak, ash and yew. We sent him packing, but sadly the Scottish government weren’t so savvy and gave him a grant of £23,000. I am frightened to think of where he is and what he is doing now – giving woods the ‘management’ they need I assume. We weren’t unlucky these are the sorts of issues (and more) that keep cropping up for people at the sharp end and it’s a constant fight to stop woods being turned into glorified municipal parks. Sadly the conservation NGOs aren’t sticking their necks out about this, where’s the public education needed to counter this rubbish? Might help explain (if not excuse?) why I am so ratty about emphasis on wood as a fuel rather than woods for wildlife, there is a difference! If people interested in conservation put a bit of time into looking at how endangered many dead wood dependent species are they would get a hell of a shock, think they need it.

    2. Hi Paul – keep an eye out in the week between Christmas and New Year, as Mark will be featuring a guest blog which I have written, that advocates for less conservation management.

    3. dear all

      as a follower of Marks blog, and a volunteer warden for a small piece of ancient woodland in Cambridgeshire, I have a good grasp of what the different approaches t o woodland management can achieve, some of it more sympathetic to all or some wildlife than others. I have encountered contractors who ‘can help by taking that pile of dead wood away whilst we are doing the tree work’, whom we have had to physically prevent from doing so for the benefit of dead-wood inverts and other things which utilise piles of cut material. An area of active coppice within a woodland structure sill involving high canopy is probably the ideal goal, and those woods where this is being achieved are staring to show real results for wildlife of various forms, especially when it is monitored on a regular basis as we are, thus we have the evidence to prove it. There are lots of other woodland pressure, but that would make this post into an essay.

      Anyway, back to butterflies – I too was at the State of UK Butterflies launch – sat just along from Mark, in fact, and it was a good afternoon. It highlights what we can achieve with targeted conservation, but it also highlight what has been somewhat overtaken here by the woodland discussion, the fact that habitat specialists, where we know how to intervene, have populations stabilised and in some cases started to increase again, but that the wider landscape species, the thing which you all enjoy watching on a summer walk or in your garden, are really declining, and in some cases declining very fast; we do not know WHY, and because of that, we cannot yet define the best way we should be trying to fix it, apart from having more nectar, more larval foodplants, less nitrogen, less chemicals, and who knows what else.

      Mark – if you would like me to write you a piece on the issues around woodland management (would probably have a lowland england bias) then get in touch.


      1. Thanks for this, my worry is that the critically important conservation and ecological role of dead wood is neglected not just technically, but very, very badly in terms of educating the public why it isn’t ‘going to waste’ and is massively important for wildlife. I don’t see why you can’t coppice AND leave as much of the wood from it behind too. The very first time I went coppicing the task leader insisted that even the brashings that weren’t going to be used had to be burnt otherwise ‘they would act as a reservoir for honey fungus that will kill the trees’!! So no habitat piles that in that wood.

  8. Con; the dead wood brigade. I think you underestimate the amount of fuel that was removed from woods in the olden times and the amount of dead wood there was around. The dry heaths of East Anglia are partly the result of harvesting of fuel. (Hence Natural England leaning on RSPB Minsmere to remove one of of the glories of the local walks: a lovely open Silver Birch woodland, one of the best sorts of woodland for a walk in the winter or indeed at any time of year with the low slanting light on the white trunks, truly lovey. To recreate a blasted heath. End of my rant).
    Fuel was a valuable commodity. Farm workers used to have to collect the faggots from the hedges they cut to cook and keep a little warm. I remember reading historic records where disputes over traditional access to woods for fuel were a source of conflict.
    Pro: The Dead wood brigade; I heard on a BBC program recently that probably less than half the pollution of London’s air by small particulates was due to traffic, the popular dinky wood stoves providing half or more. Nothing’s Simple

  9. I’m far more sympathetic to some of the follow on comments that are gradually emerging. As a forester, removing dead wood for firewood simply isn’t something we do and I am hugely sympathetic to people raging against ‘tidying up’ and even more so trying to turn nature into a town park – and at the other end of the spectrum am hugely frustrated by the endless tree planting, frequently of doomed trees under the dense canopy that is destroying the ground flora ! A couple of rather crucial points, though: first, these are not either/ors. When we were developing management plans for FC owned SSSIs in the early 1990s we aimed to include an area of non-intervention in every plan. Second, whilst we should be keeping an element of dead wood everywhere, it is worth bearing in mind that the coppices where I want to see more management were systematically stripped of dead wood and older trees over hundreds of years, and with it the scarcer dead wood biodiversity. The contrast is the much scarcer pasture woodland & veteran trees which suffered worse from enclosure and as a result are hugely valuable where they occur. Every single FC wood pasture is being conserved, including one in Northants where just 5 veterans survive (and two of those where dead on the ground !), with no dead wood at all being removed and grazing regimes that hopefully will provide the right conditions for the epiphyte flora. This is not simple, in fact as a colleague commented recently’its not rocket science, its far more complicated than that’.

    1. A lot of the dead wood conservation that is happening locally is almost done ‘secretly’. The local council and FC Scotland operations take dead wood and pile it out of sight so as not to offend’ public, the local angling club knows that dead wood in rivers is actually vitally important for aquatic life including fish, but is reluctant to say so because some of its members will rebel and it has still followed convention by removing tonnes of dead wood from the river partly because plastic rubbish gets snagged on it. None of this is going to change attitudes or help wildlife. The relevant organisations need to say very openly, very explicitly and proactively that dead wood and dying trees are utterly vital part of our woodland and they are not natural if they don’t have them. Everything from crested tits, pied flycatchers, pipistrelle bats to goldeneye ducks and pine martens are struggling for nest/ denning sites because the old trees with the holes, crevices and cavities they need are even rarer than native woodland. That is truly appalling. What’s the long term plan for that, are we to just keep putting up nest boxes? I have absolutely nothing against farmland birds, but at the end of the day what is more important the full ecological health of our woodland and literally thousands of species which depend upon dead wood and veteran trees or a few species of birds that may only be here ‘artificially’ in the first place because they exploited a niche opened up by our ancestors’ not so efficient farming? What has received more attention dead wood and ancient trees or farmland birds? If you try to push for dead wood and old trees being kept in your local woods you not only have to contend with unbelievably rabid antipathy from a small but vocal/rabid section of the populace, but also inertia and shirking of responsibilities from your ‘own side’. No matter what first step must be throwing away this ‘shyness’ about telling people they need to appreciate dead wood – some do see it as a garden feature after all.

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