Larch clearance poses problems for ancient woodland restoration

A KM Morris contractor saws infected larch trunk at Wentwood Forest - image:PA/Geoff Caddick
A KM Morris contractor saws infected larch trunk at Wentwood Forest - image:PA/Geoff Caddick

Restoration of Wales' largest ancient woodland has been dealt a blow by the need to clear larch from over 200 hectares of the 1,000-hectare Wentwood Forest near Newport.

The felling, which began last week, is in response to the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, to which larch is particularly vulnerable.

But the Woodland Trust, which co-owns most of Wentwood Forest with Natural Resources Wales, has said the felling will undermine seven years of work spent restoring the wood's native broadleaf trees and and associated understorey flora and fauna.

Its head of woodland management Andrew Sharkey said: "This is the most serious and devastating action we’ve had to take because of tree disease, and it again highlights both the need to tackle tree disease and the importance of restoring as much of our damaged ancient woodland as possible to make it more resilient in decades to come."

The trust will immediately replant the wood with native broadleaf trees with the aim of preserving woodland specialist plants that only thrive when sheltered by tree canopy. But as no restocking grants are available in Wales this year, this leaves the Trust facing a bill of £35,000.

Meanwhile Natural Resources Wales is investing £500,000 immediately to try to stop P. ramorum from spreading further, with an additional £2 million being set aside for future work.

Its head of forest regulation and tree health John Browne said: "Our ultimate aim is to make our forests more resilient to pests and diseases and we are heartened that the Woodland Trust is to seize this opportunity to undertake change of structure and species within Wentwood Forest by planting native broadleaves."

The Woodland Trust was recently awarded £1.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake UK-wide ancient woodland restoration. It is also close to establishing a tree procurement programme to ensure all the trees it plants are UK-sourced and grown. 


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