Tough love

Digger creating scrapes at Hertford Heath © Laura Baker

Nature is beautiful and delicate, but creating the right conditions for wildlife can seem brutal and destructive. The works are crucial to maintaining the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

Now is the time for cosy autumn walks through crunching leaves, admiring the beauty of nature. It is also the time you might see felled trees, open scrapes and cut meadows. Wildlife conservation is a brutal-looking business, but have faith, these measures will ultimately improve the habitat and benefit the wildlife there.

We do most of our habitat management work in winter to minimise disruption to wildlife.

From winter blues to woodland hues

If left unmanaged, woodlands can overgrow and become very dark to the detriment of nesting birds, invertebrates and wildflowers. 

Tree felling at Balls Wood

Tree felling at Balls Wood Nature Reserve 

A wildlife-rich woodland consists of trees of different age and even a good amount of deadwood - either standing or felled dead trees, log piles or tree stumps. 

Ringbarked tree at Fir & Pond Woods

A ringbarked tree at Fir & Pond Woods Nature Reserve. 

This is why we fell selected trees and sometimes ringbark them. Ringbarking is a practice to kill a tree without having to fell it. Dead trees are great habitats and provide a home for a huge variety of wildlife, but we are also using the technique to make small openings in the woodland, encouraging new saplings to grow to create a mixed-age woodland. 

For marvellous meadows

On our chalk grassland reserves, we spend every autumn and winter battling against invasive scrub. Bushes such as blackthorn and dogwood as well as bramble and clematis, if left unchecked, would quickly spread to shade out the sun-loving grasses and flowers that are key to the diversity of insect life on these sites. 

Scrub clearance at Hilfield Park Reservoir

Scrub cleared at Hilfield Park Reservoir

Creating wetland wonders

Wetlands are high maintenance. At Amwell, we have created new scrapes and an island to keep ground-nesting birds safe from predation. Maintaining ponds, river banks and ditches all require large machinery and the aftermath can resemble a building site before nature once again takes over. 

Newly created wader island at Amwell Nature Reserve

Newly created wader island at Amwell Nature Reserve © Frieda Rummenhohl

A truxor at Marsworth Reservoir

A truxor cutting rides in the reed at Marsworth Reservoir © Tim Hill

A so-called truxor maintains reedbeds by cutting rides which support reed-dwellers such as bitterns who have very specific habitat requirements. 

Nature's Engineers

Livestock are vital to habitat management at our reserves: they remove vigorous grass and scrub, allowing rare plants to flourish, and create bare ground and dung which together provide food and homes for wildlife such birds, bees and other insects.

Herdwick sheep at Aldbury Nowers (c) Laura Baker

Herdwick sheep at Aldbury Nowers (c) Laura Baker

The Trust's team of cows, sheep, goats and even pigs help us to manage our nature reserves in a sustainable manner.  In the past, the countryside would have been grazed by wild animals or through traditional farming and common land grazing practices, shaping these habitats. In conservation grazing, we seek to replicate these practices to maintain and increase biodiversity on our reserves.

We are currently raising funds to care for our "Nature's Engineers". Please support our appeal and give what you can.