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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.