The Forestry Commission’s Dymock Forest, near Newent, straddles the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border. Part is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is in the Queen’s Wood section of Dymock Forest, known as the Michael Harper Nature Reserves. In spring, many areas of the wood are carpeted with beautiful wild daffodils.
In the late 1960s, Dr Harper highlighted eight areas within the wood that had particularly interesting and varied plants, butterflies and moths.
Volunteers from the Ledbury Naturalists Field Club and Herefordshire Wildlife Trust took on annual winter coppicing on these woodland reserves. This work continues to this day, to maintain and expand the Michael Harper Nature Reserves.
Dead wood in British woodlands is a relatively scarce habitat. Dr Harper developed a method of constructing vertical wood stacks (eco-heaps) to promote various types of decay. Being open to all aspects, some wood was always exposed to either sun or shade. These eco-heaps look a bit like wigwams! This work resulted in records of various moths, with different requirements, living on the same dead wood. Birds and other animals nest and roost in them and possibly Dormice hibernate in the bases. Many of the original eco-heaps are still standing today and some are still sturdy enough to have been added to in recent years.
They do take quite a while to get going and to make them durable they need to be stable. We have heaps that are nearly 30 years old and still standing and useful to wildlife. To make them use a lot of short narrow pieces of branches ( around an inch or 2 wide and approx. 2 feet long.) site it not on damp areas. Create a ‘wigwam’ using the short branches pushed in to the ground and just continue to make it gradually wider and higher. Once it is stable you can just rest the pieces of wood against the heap. The key is not to have gaps, so if you end up in the early stages with gaps in it, ’post’ small bits of wood in to fill the gaps. As the heap gets wider and higher , larger bits of timber can be placed on it. Although the photo shows quite small wood on the outer edge, we normally save some of our hardest and largest broadleaved timber to put on the outer layer (oak is great for this)
Volunteers also undertake regular surveys of plants and animals in the woods, especially in the summer. So far over 1000 species of butterfly and moth have been found, many of which are classified as rare.