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Nap Wood – case study

Nap Wood can be used to illustrate the functioning of the nutrient cycle. A
relatively small area of woodland, it was previously part of an estate, but has
since passed into the care of the National Trust. Located 4 miles south of
Tunbridge Wells, in a
relatively densely populated
rural-urban fringe region, it
serves a recreation function
for walking. However, its
access is from the main
A267 and there is little
parking available, so
overuse is not a problem.
Foot impact keeps paths
free of vegetation, but only
just.
Figure 1: Location of Nap Wood

Four layers of vegetation can be identified in Nap Wood (Figure 2) and its
pattern is similar to most English deciduous woodland:
1 the upper canopy, the tallest
hardwood trees, mainly oak, with a
few beech and chestnut, plus a
considerable number of particularly
tall silver birch – normally silver birch
do not rival oak in height, but here,
the former are quick growing and
have reached maturity while the
latter, though older, are slower
growing and have not yet reached
full size
2 the lower canopy, consisting of
younger trees
3 the shrub layer, mostly holly
4 the ground layer (see below).
Figure 2: Layers of vegetation

In March 2002 the following, somewhat limited, range of woodland floor


species was observed:

• various mosses
• bluebells (leaves only)
• brambles
• honeysuckle
• bracken (mostly last year’s, dead, but with a few new shoots).

Later in the year a variety of herbs (soft stemmed green plants) will appear.
Woodland management

Most deciduous woodlands in the UK today are managed in


some form. At Nap Wood the management level is low, since
the small amount of human usage has little impact on the
functioning of the ecosystem. The National Trust’s role is one
of protection rather than of interference.
In Figure 2 there is a fallen tree. Nap Wood includes many fallen trees. In
March 2002, a significant minority of the silver birches had been either totally
or partially uprooted over winter 2001/02, the reason probably being high
rainfall for the second consecutive winter. Saturated ground gives tree roots
less purchase in strong winds, and the silver birch’s root system is not wide,
so these are the first trees to fall. By leaving Nap Wood’s fallen trees where
they lie, the National Trust is allowing the nutrient cycle to operate naturally
and fully. Not all management policies have taken this approach, and this was
illustrated in south east England in particular after the Great Storm of October
1987. The region suffered badly and many fallen trees had to be cleared for
practical reasons. For other sites two policies were possible:

1 clear fallen trees and debris in the hope that shrub and ground layer
2 a ‘leave alone’ policy, i.e. no clearance – rot naturally over time.

Ashdown Forest, a protected area under the care of forest rangers, is located
about 5 miles west of Nap Wood. Both the above policies were employed to
tackle the hurricane damage in different parts of the Forest. Studies on
contrasting areas of Ashdown have clearly shown the different impacts of
these management strategies on the nutrient cycles.
The data clearly shows
that the removal of a
large amount of the
system’s nutrients in
the form of fallen timber
reduced the quality of
vegetation and the
speed of nutrient
cycling.
Figure 3: Management at Ashdown Forest

Future management plans

Only 9% of the UK is wooded, and areas of ancient woodland are limited.


Conservation groups, such as the Woodland Trust, aim to increase that area
by planting new deciduous woodland, trying to create an ecosystem as similar
as possible to that of true ancient woodland. They aim to raise funds to buy
both existing ancient woodland, and adjacent land to extend it, in Kent at
present, and perhaps elsewhere in the future. Hopefully, both an increase in
area covered by deciduous woodland, and management plans sympathetic to
maintaining the nutrient cycle, and therefore a healthy dynamic ecosystem,
will be the way forward for the future.