A major three-year project is underway to restore 42 hectares of ancient woodland in Berkhamsted.
Ashridge Estate is home to the largest ancient woodland in the care of the National Trust, defined as woodland that has been under continuous tree cover for at least 400 years.
It was previously thought to be impossible to carry out the major work required because much of the woodland is located in some of the most inaccessible and ecologically vulnerable parts of the landscape.
The new restoration project is trialling the use of track matting to protect the ancient woodland floor from the impact of the large machinery needed to carry out the work.
Emily Smith, the countryside manager at Ashridge, states that what is found in the soil is “completely irreplaceable”.
She said: “Unfortunately, a number of these sites have been planted with non-native species such as conifers and those trees tend to acidify the soil; they drop needles, they cast heavy shade, and all of that damages the soil underneath.
“That’s why we’re undertaking this project, to get those conifers removed and restore these woods to be as good as they can be for wildlife.”
Many of the conifers are situated in the heart of the woodland where there are no surface tracks, which poses its own challenges.
Emily said: “By year three of the project, we will have built up enough experience to be able to access these really difficult areas without causing damage.
“We’re working closely with the Woodland Trust, who will also be taking what we learn and applying that in a far wider context.
“It wouldn’t be possible without the Forestry Commission and the support they’ve given us through the Infrastructure Innovation Fund that’s allowing us to fund the project.”
Photo credit: Lisa Hopkins