Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Destructive conservation

14 January 2015

Last week, whilst some of us laid waste to molehills – though not to moles – others were busy resurfacing the path that runs to the rear of the Chapel. Civil engineering isn’t really our thing. Terry and Mary occasionally check and clear the many gullies that help keep the Estate’s tracks from becoming waterlogged, but for the best part we deal with nature and landscape; infrastructure is best left to others. Anyway, this path had become a slimy, sticky yellow – not good for visitors or chapels – and was in need of urgent improvement.

Boys from The Blackstuff - the completed path

This week, as we laid waste to rhododendrons on the ride and in the woods adjacent to the Monument to Liberty, some reflected that last week’s path building was one of the few seemingly constructive activities the Wednesday Conservation Team had undertaken. Of course, this isn’t true. We plant trees, build log piles, manage ponds and many other things to improve the landscape and encourage wildlife. And we cut down rhododendrons and burn them.
Pyromaniacs at work!

Some things just don’t belong, or are too successful at the expense of other species. Recently, for example, we removed great numbers of silver birch and sycamore that threatened newly planted hazel in the West Wood. On the other hand, we rely upon silver birch to lead the recolonization of clear-felled Snipes Dene. Opinions differ about sycamore, but all agree that the non-native, invasive western hemlock must be eliminated. Rhododendron presents a conundrum: people love it for its display of early summer flowers, but it is a difficult to control imported nuisance that blankets the woodland floor and drives out native species. Gibside, after all, is largely designated nature reserve of one type or another. So we chop it down or pull it up, and burn it. It’s being destructive to be constructive in our mission to conserve nature.
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

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