Heartwood Forest’s long term monitoring project
Heartwood is an ambitious project, started in 2009, to convert the farmland at the former Hill End Farm, north of Sandridge, near St Albans into deciduous woodland. This presents a valuable opportunity to monitor how plants and other wildlife are responding to this development. Volunteers from Hertfordshire Natural History Society and the Woodland Trust have set up a Monitoring Group, co-chaired by Ken Smith and Brian Legg to keep track of the changes.
On this page you will find information about the project, what is being studied and all the results gathered so far. More data will be added as it is collected.
We are currently monitoring:
- the new trees as they are planted,
- veteran trees,
- some other invertebrates,
We have also established some permanent long term monitoring plots. We hope more people will join the monitoring group to both extend the current studies and include more species groups. We would also welcome more people to set up their own studies or study areas, with such a large and diverse site the is plenty of scope for more projects.
Background and history
The Woodland Trust acquired 347 hectares (850 acres) of arable farmland in 2008 and, after obtaining the relevant permissions, tree planting started over the winter of 2009/10. This continued over the following two winters and 300,000 saplings had been planted by April 2012.
Three quarters of the land will be planted with 600,000 trees over a ten-year period. As part of the habitat creation plans, significant areas of open space in the form of grassland and wild flower meadows will be included, the proposals are shown on the map and interactive map.
The main habitat areas being created are 247 ha newly native woodland, 10 ha scrub and 79 ha of grassland and meadow. Those areas already planted are shown in pale green, the full extent of the Heartwood site is in pink.
The existing 17.8 ha ancient woodland (dark green on the map) comprises four blocks known as Langley Wood, Pismire Spring, Well and Pudler’s Wood (considered 1 unit) and Round Wood, all were already designated as County Wildlife Sites.
Over 100ha have been planted with native trees sourced in Britain, 38ha in each of the first three winters 2009/10, 2010/11, and 2011/2 in the southern half of the site. Almost all the saplings were planted by volunteers, 8000 were involved last winter.
Pile of spades ready for the volunteers photographed by Peter O.Connor.
Visit the Woodland Trust website for more information about Heartwood, tree planting and community events and news.
Recognising the importance of this development for habitats and wildlife volunteers from the Woodland Trust and HNHS set up a Heartwood Monitoring Group. Monitoring of breeding birds and butterflies started in 2009, sapling survival and veteran trees in 2010 and botanical and some invertebrates in 2011 together with the establishment of long-term monitoring plots. Each is discussed in the following sections. We hope that monitoring of bats, badgers, small mammals, fungi and a wider range of invertebrates including moths will start in 2012.
The existing areas of woodland at Heartwood contain a number of very old – veteran – trees. These have been surveyed, measured and tagged by John Moss and his team of experts. Follow this link for details of the survey method and results.
Birds have been systematically recorded at the site since spring 2009, before any tree planting work had started. Go to the Heartwood Birds page for full information and results and a checklist of birds recorded since 2008.
A standard breeding bird survey, using British Trust for Ornithology methods has been carried out by Ken and Linda Smith each year from 2009, covering all of the land owned by the Woodland Trust.
Follow this link to see a description of the survey methods and the full results.
The total number of species recorded in the transect surveys has increased over the three years from 35 in 2009 to 46 in 2011 representing an increase in diversity. At present birds that are open ground/farmland specialists are favoured, such as Skylarks. (photo by Steve Shand)
Systematic monitoring started in Summer 2010 based on a transect in the south west of the site. The transect is walked every week from April to September.
So far 22 species have been recorded.
In 2010, a group of volunteers came together to monitor and manage the existing hedgerows at Heartwood Forest with the objective of increasing their ecological value. At the outset, four hedgerows were identified for continuous review. This was on the basis that they would be retained as hedgerow habitat following the completion of the woodland creation project at Heartwood Forest. Details of the survey methods and results here
A botanical survey of Heartwood was started in 2011 to record and monitor changes in plant species diversity and composition; particularly with regard to successional changes from arable to woodland habitats both within the natural regeneration area (referred to as ‘The Thicket’) and within the sapling plantation plots. Botanical surveys were also undertaken within Pudler’s and Langley Wood to monitor any potential changes to the ground flora of existing ancient woodland. More details of the survey methods and results are here. Photo of ‘The Thicket’ in Sept 2010 by Linda Smith
In 2012 Linda McArdell carried out an observational study of wild plants in flower in the fields near the car park and scout hut. View the results and list of plants found.
Steve Kelly and members of the Herts and Beds Fungi Group did some exploratory survey work in autumn 2012. Details here.
Scarlet Elf Cup, about 1.5cm across in Pudler’s Wood in September 2010 photographed by Paul Why. (These fungi grow on fallen twigs, particularly Hazel)
Monitoring small mammals has just started. The group organised one session of trapping and releasing in six locations in early October 2012, under the supervision of Veronica Carnell. Full results of the survey.
Bank Vole, 11/10/2012, photograph, Brian Legg
Hares, Rabbits, Muntjac and Fallow Deer are numerous at Hearwood and Foxes have been seen.
Sightings of mamalls may be submitted through the HNHS on line recording scheme here
Long Term Monitoring Plots
Three permanently marked sets of plots have been established for long term monitoring of the changes in flora and ground dwelling fauna as Heartwood is developed. The three transects each consist of 20×20 metre plots in an existing area of ancient woodland, at 25 metres from the woodland edge and at 50 metres distance. Initial baseline surveys are taking place in the years 2011-2013 (three to six years after cultivation). Soil cores were taken in March and April 2012 and are being stored dry until money can be found for their composition to be determined. Work is underway on determining soil microbial diversity form these cores. More details and map showing the plots are here.
Insect surveys, consisting of pitfall and yellow-tray trapping, sweep netting, and D-vac sampling are planned for 2012 and 2013. Plant surveys will also be carried out.
It is hoped that local enthusiasts and possibly school and university students will use these plots for their own research as time goes on and that, in the long-term, the techniques used for the baseline surveys will be replicated on a regular basis in order to produce a dataset that rivals the Rothamsted Wilderness experiments for scientific value.
Sapling Survival and Growth
We have set up a network of sampling points throughout the newly planted areas. At each point all saplings within 5m were located, identified to species, scored as alive, dead or missing, their height measured to the nearest 5cm and the evidence of top browsing assessed. The pre and post planting treatments of individual saplings were recorded. These measurements will be repeated in subsequent years.
In the first year a large number of sample points (51) were surveyed and the information used to inform the planting strategy in the second and subsequent years. From these 18 were selected to carry forward.
First year survival was 77% from 2009/10 and 68% from 2010/11 (based on 18 sample plots in each year with an average of 14.3 stems per plot)
In both years the survival rate was highly variable.
For the 2009-2010 plantings the variation was probably caused by poor planting in some areas and losses due to browsing. Survival was particularly poor in the Guinness ‘World Record attempt’ area.
For the 2010-2011 plantings the low survival was almost certainly caused by dry conditions in spring affecting the later plantings.
Follow this link for more details of the survey methods and the full results
Sampling poits have also been established in the areas where natural regeneration is being encouraged, to the south of Pudlers Wood and in an area to the east of the B651.// //