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Philip Trower FRICS, agent on the Wotton Estate and experienced forester explains the value and adaptability of one species in particular, the Scots Pine:
“On the Wotton Estate, the wooded area is extensive and unusually it makes up half of the estate’s acreage. Divided between the main woods, mostly in quite large blocks and the wooded Commons. As owners, the Evelyn Family have a proud silvicultural tradition. One of the most famous members being the Diarist John Evelyn (1620 — 1706) who wrote “Sylva” in 1664 on forest trees, aiming to encourage landowners to put their woods in order.
The two main silvicultural systems operating at Wotton are plantation forestry and natural regeneration. The first chiefly operates in the main woods. Mature areas of timber are harvested at the appropriate rotation age as a clear fall, then replanted, maintained, and steadily thinned until they are clear felled in their turn. In the larger blocks this can achieve a good variety of ages and species. Larch has been extensively used in the past, as it is attractive and provides a mature crop quite quickly (45-50 years for Japanese or Hybrid Larch). Unfortunately, a nasty lurgy called Phytophthora Ramorum hit the UK some years ago, and the discovery of two infected Larch trees at Wotton resulted in over 20 acres having to be cleared, some less than halfway through their rotation but thinned three times and otherwise looking very promising. As the planting was to make good, the damage was quite heart breaking. Pines (especially Corsican Pine) have been suffering from Red Needle Blight and Ash trees face a severe threat from Chalara. In many ways foresters must be eternal optimists.
The principal species on the estate’s Commons, especially the large area running down to Leith Hill, is Scots Pine. This has seeded in naturally for about 100 years and since animals stopped grazing the area. A programme of “seeding fellings” has been in operation for a while and involves a heavy thinning to leave about 12 of the best trees per acre. These then seed over the largely cleared area and with a little patience, a new crop emerges. Some institutional owners primarily interested in conservation prefer to convert (or restore) these areas to heathland, but the annual cost of preventing such areas from a reversion to pine and birch woodland is astronomic. Scots Pine has been part of the Surrey landscape for over 10000 years thus it is very satisfactory to perpetuate it.
There is of course nothing particularly novel about the natural regeneration system. It has been used to good effect elsewhere, for example The Hurtwood to the west of Wotton, where Alex Wilks, Partner at Batcheller Monkhouse acts for the Shere Manor Estate.
Woodlands across the UK face numerous challenges, particularly with pests and diseases. Ash dieback threatens to change the landscape; potentially as significantly as the Dutch Elm disease did over 30 years ago. The forestry industry needs as much help as possible to track and monitor the spread of these threats. Climate change is often claimed as a major cause, but of greater concern has been the poor management of our borders and the importation of infected plants”.
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