Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Response to the Mortimer Forest Design Plan Prepared January 31st 2019

Thursday 31st January 2019

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust welcome the opportunity to comment on the Mortimer Forest Design Plan (FDP). In general we welcome the ambition of the 50-year vision, particularly the drive to increase the area of Broadleaved woodland, restore Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites, protect ancient and veteran trees as well as the aim to ‘deliver a rich mosaic of robust habitats that support an abundance of both rare and common species’. The significance of the Mortimer Forest in a county context cannot be understated, such an extensive area of land containing numerous rare and protected species provides a unique opportunity with the potential to create huge biodiversity gains. The FDP is the basis by which these gains can be achieved. Whilst the Forest Design Plan has the potential to enhance biodiversity, we believe the opportunity is far greater and there will be challenges to delivering the Vision based on current proposals. We therefore have the following observations:

1.       The Vision implies there will be a substantive shift towards increasing broad-leaved woodland cover and a reduction in PAWS and conifer plantations. However, this is not supported by the indicative future make up of species, which proposes only modest changes by 2048 of a 2% reduction in evergreen Conifer and 6% reduction in Larch. Naturalised and broad-leaved woodland will increase by only 6% and open space will not increase at all. Whilst it is acknowledged that additional Larch removal may lead to increased open space, presumably for disease control, it does not appear to be an objective in the plan.

Similarly, the plan summarises that ‘Implementation and maintenance of an environmental corridor system will continue to increase diversity of habitat and internal landscaping’. However, within the plan it doesn’t say how this will be achieved above and beyond maintaining the existing system of rides and tracks. There does not appear to be any drive to increase open space in the woodland or expand on the system of rides and glades.

A reduction in conifer cover with corresponding increases in broad-leaved woodland, greater areas of coppice management and an enhanced network of open space throughout the woodland is critical to the increase and expansion of many rare species that are found in Mortimer Forest (e.g. Wood White butterfly, Dormice, Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Adders and Bats). It is therefore, hard to see how significant progress will be made in the conservation of these species (and many other associated species) within the first 30 years of FDP implementation.

2.       Much of the area outside of the designated Ancient Woodland is earmarked for retention of conifers. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many of these areas were once important habitats such as Wood Pasture. This is particularly true of Bringewood, Mary Knoll and the Vinnalls. Wood Pasture is a priority habitat within the Herefordshire Biodiversity Action Plan supporting important species, including those identified within the FDP (e.g. adder). We would like to see actions within the FDP to restore areas of Wood Pasture in preference to continued conifer plantation.

3.       Within the PAWS woodland there are ambitions to restore older crops of Larch at a rate of 0.25ha per 2ha per 5 years. This would mean that some areas of PAWS restoration could take up to 40 years to implement. We believe that this is too long. The success of PAWS restoration diminishes over time and we would like to see this activity accelerated, preferably within the first 20 years of the plan. The halo thinning and protection of ancient and veteran trees within PAWS should also be a priority to ensure their survival.

4.        We would like to see objectives in the Plan for increased partnership working with local communities and NGOs. This would undoubtedly bring broader benefits and new opportunities such as help with ecological surveys, volunteering tasks and additional external funding through grants and donations.

5.         The Mortimer Forest is a key site within one of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscape areas as well as a regional landscape conservation initiative focusing on the Marches. The Mortimer Forest could be an exemplar of sustainable woodland management, setting a high standard within the region and providing an exemplar site that could be emulated both locally and regionally.