The final meeting of 2016 took place on Salisbury Plain Training Area and was led by the MOD’s regional head forester George Peet accompanied by Tom Theed who works for Landmarc the company responsible for managing the site. Scott Wilson was the invited guest speaker who described and contributed to discussion about the species which could be used in mixtures at this site. The meeting had a memorable start with the group standing almost on top of an Iron-age hill fort with a panoramic view of a landscape almost devoid of trees.
The training area occupies an area of about 38,000 ha which is about the size of the Isle of Wight. Soils are generally thin with an underlying geology that is predominantly chalk, although there are some pockets of clay and also some greensand in the west. The land was originally grazed by sheep and although some remain most of the 45 tenants manage their land using cattle. Approximately 6% of the area are wooded with forestry blocks scattered across the site: whilst there are 3 areas of ASNW most of the woodland has been planted with conifers. About 20,000 ha of the site is designated as SSSI and there are over 2000 archaeological monuments.
The site is primarily managed to deliver a landscape which is suitable for military training of both armour and dismounted infantry. However, the management needed to provide good training landscape does not always coincide with that needed to bring SSSI’s into favourable condition and negotiations with Natural England are common. Dispersed blocks of woodland are a requirement for dispersal and movement exercises and conifers are preferred as they grow quickly and many species provide all year round cover. There has been a lot of plantation clearance during the last decade and little new woodland planted. Currently managers are trying to use continuous cover methods to develop a variety of structure within the stands and underplanting may be used if natural regeneration fails. All deer control on MOD land is carried out by the Defence Deer Management Group. The marketing of timber is generally not affected by the depredations of military training as the best timber grows in areas where shooting does not take place. At present about 70% of harvesting income can be used for improving military use of the woodlands: there is one pot of money for the whole country and managers can bid for funds to carryout improvements such as coppicing and access which are not usually funded by normal forestry budgets. Large areas of scrub are controlled using mechanical and chemical methods to maintain SSSI grassland.
At present decisions are being made on what the military want from every compartment which will allow the development of harvesting plans. The expansion of military activity is likely to lead to an increased need for dismounted infantry training. The effects of training requirements on the practical aspects of woodland management were discussed whilst in Everleigh Ashes which is one of the larger areas of woodland often used for orienteering, and dismounted infantry and pilot training. It is a varied area of woodland including mixed broadleaves with coppice, PAWS and conifer stands which were receiving different types of management: an area of larch had been clearfelled with the intention of restocking to native broadleaves by natural regeneration; a line mixture of beech / Lawson’s cypress had been thinned by rows but retaining a mixture; hazel coppice management had been reinitiated by cutting four 0.5 ha plots annually with the intention of increasing stool density by layering. Much of the discussion took place in a large clearing within a stand of Douglas fir. The gap had been specifically created for training and had grown in radius until it was deemed large enough for Lynx and Squirrel helicopters to land safely – this gap was formed to replace the original which had been in the adjacent area of clearfelled larch. The regrowth of bramble which typically occurs following felling in coppice with standards can become too dense to allow training. Sometimes managers are required to remove brash and branch wood after harvesting operations which affects costs of work.
There is an ongoing MOD wide analysis of the need for biosecurity, but at present there is no policy directive. Military troop movements have the potential to translocate pests and diseases e.g. transferring Phytophthora from the south-west to Catterick. There is a general standard operating procedure to wash vehicles after an exercise but this may not happen until after their return to base.
Wessex Silvicultural Group: Notes from previous meetings can be found here.