Managing Woodland on the Sefton Coast
Paul Nolan April 2011
The 420 hectares of pinewoods, limited to a central 12 kilometres of the dune coastline, are owned by some 30 landowners and users with profoundly different objectives ranging from conservation bodies with contradictory international and national objectives, to internationally important golf courses and even a military firing range.
In 2003, the Sefton Coast Forest Woodland Forest Management Plan was approved by Forestry Commission. This plan, with extensive public consultation, marked the start of a new way of managing the woodlands after several years of a management moratorium, to enable the plan to be put in place and for the wider public views to be gathered.
The owners agreed to a series of shared objectives, with a work programme identified to meet these objectives. Each owner has an individual work plan, collectively these plans constitute the Forest Management Plan
Eight years on and funded through Heritage Lottery Landscape Partnership Scheme and The Mersey Forest, we are now looking to renew and refresh the plan to take into account lessons learnt from the first period of activity as well as the needs of a changing society and new political priorities – but still focused on the long term sustainability of the woodlands.
This area has some of the lowest tree cover in the UK and so the woodlands are a relatively isolated, but significant part of the landscape, fulfilling an important environmental and social function. Following the first successful planting of a 2-acre mixed conifer/deciduous plantation on the dunes in Ravenmeols by Rev. Richard Formby prior to 1795, further woodlands, mainly of conifer, were planted by the Formby and Weld-Blundell families at the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s on a much larger scale.
In the 1950s, the estates were broken up and the land sold off to a number of different owners. The national nature conservation body (now Natural England) declared some 160 hectares as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) in 1965, followed shortly after in 1967 by the National Trust purchasing 80 hectares at Formby Point.
By the late 1990s, decreasing timber prices and low levels of grant funding meant that woodland management costs were not being covered. This forced landowners, especially those with smaller holdings, to delay or neglect woodland operations. With very heavy use by the local community, the neglect fostered an increased sense of „a common good‟ with open access.
As the millennium came to a close a small group of the woodland owners, together with the Forestry Commission and The Mersey Forest began to meet together to discuss how to overcome some of the barriers to management. Although the region was well served with strategic land and coastal management policies and plans, there was no unified woodland management approach for the woodlands. It was decided that a management plan should be written using a Forestry Commission initiative called the Forest Plans, formally introduced in 1999 to „encourage landowners to prepare a plan that provides a coherent, comprehensive and long term view of their woodland management‟.
The woodland owners have continued to deliver this plan, with a review in 2007/8 to check on progress. The renewal in 2011/13 will provide an opportunity to assess progress and take new information into account.
What has changed ?
The delivery of the Forest Plan is coordinated by a task group, linked to the nature conservation task group of the Sefton Coast Partnership. The owners meet periodically to update and share information. Over the first 8 years of the plan good progress has been made, although financial pressures has meant that progress has slowed in recent times.
We have “discovered” through more detailed site assessment that there are more broadleaves in the area than previously thought, including the rare Black Poplar. The renewed plan will have to take this into account. The red squirrel population has crashed as the parapox virus hit the area but it is now building up again, with numbers back to 40% of pre-parapox levels.
The workshop at Ainsdale has been set up by Sefton MBC to use timber from the coast to make a range of products, seats, signage and benches for the coast and beyond, helping to save money and make good use of the local timber.
A new disease to trees in this country, red band needle blight may be a risk to the large areas of Corsican Pine, we may need to find ways to accelerate the replacement with other, resistant species, that can still provide food for the red squirrels
We are hoping to follow a similar process to that for the initial development of the Forest Plan and the 5 year review, with public consultation and opportunities to comment on the renewal of the plan.
Initially, we are looking to update the plan, identifying where progress has been made or has been delayed.
We are also looking to carry out more research on the historic development of the woodlands and the current nature conservation value. The review will also look to make use of the new information that has been provided as part of the Liverpool City Region Green Infrastructure Framework. This helps to identify key assets and priorities for action at a strategic level and perhaps aid funding bids in the future
A Sustainability Assessment and Habitat Regulations Assessment will also help to shape the revision of the Plan, providing a useful way to discuss the widely varying views and discuss the myriad objectives, strategies and policies that impact on the pine woodland area. The new Plan will be ready for implementation in 2013, with another review in 2018.
More information or an update on progress can be provided by The Mersey Forest Team
Telephone 01925 859604