A regular column from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Rachel Shaw.
As spring gets into its stride, one of our most breath-taking natural spectacles is unfolding.
Plants that have lain dormant for months have sprouted leaves and are now sending flowers that colour woodland floors.
Carpets of bluebells with swathes of celandines, wood anemones and wild garlic are the epitome of springtime. Among them are less well known flowers such as the evocatively named yellow archangel and the strange herb-Paris with its small flower set above a symmetrical whorl of four large leaves. The flowers are exploiting the brief moment in time when sunlight drenches the woodland floor before the trees have fully unfurled their leaves and cast their shade. These flowers can be seen at their best in ancient woodlands: woodlands whose history can be traced back to 1600. And if a wood was a wood in 1600, it was probably a wood before then as well.
It is also likely that people have used or managed the wood for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Our woodlands aren’t impenetrable dark forests that you need a machete to explore; they are the result of centuries of sustainable timber production. Cut a hazel, birch or oak at its base and the following spring it will send up new shoots. These shoots can be left to grow and harvested for firewood or making baskets, fencing or furniture. This is called coppicing and it creates woodlands that are open and light: perfect for the spring flowers that we enjoy.
Visiting Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust woodland nature reserves, coppiced trees can be seen forming the understory beneath the larger oaks and ash trees. Coppicing isn’t the only way in which woods are managed. Trees are also felled to thin them out; just like a gardener might do with seedlings. Trees will grow tall and spindly if they haven’t got enough room. For an oak tree to mature to its full size and develop a magnificent crown it needs a lot of space. Even where oaks are 100 years old, if they are too close together, we will thin them out. This allows the strongest tree enough room to spread and grow for another 400 years for more to reach true veteran status.
See the bluebells of Dole Wood nature reserve on Sunday, April 24. From 10.30am to 4pm local members of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust will be on hand to show people the nature reserve. Refreshments, excellent homemade cooking and locally grown plants will also be on sale. Access to Dole Wood is off Obthorpe Lane, Thurlby, near Bourne.