In May 2016 Fiona Gomersall and John Clayfield, on behalf of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, carried out a detailed botanical survey of Brineddin Wood. On a steep south-facing slope near to Chapel Lawn in the Redlake Valley the wood covers an area of about 40 acres and is composed predominantly of sessile oak. The trees have not been felled or otherwise managed for about a hundred years but were probably managed in earlier times by intermittent coppicing. This summary draws together the overall findings of the study but the original report should be consulted for a complete listing of the areas studied and the species observed in them.
Recordings were made of ground flora, understory and canopy trees at 30 points in the wood. The survey points were distributed in two criss-crossing lines along the length of the wood about halfway up the slope. Some places at the top and bottom edges of the woodland towards the western and eastern ends were included. Ground flora was recorded in 2m square quadrats and the tree canopy assessed in 20m square quadrats. Detailed records were made of the number of species found in each quadrat together with notes of general impressions. The methods used and the criteria against which the wood was assessed were consistent with the Common Standards Monitoring prescribed by Natural England.
It should be noted that this is a record at a point in time and was designed to provide an indication of the overall range and types of flora to be found. Notes were kept of all the species of plants found in the sample locations but a few other species may have been present in places that were not sampled. This is not, therefore, a record of all the species that have ever been found in the wood. Information about many of the plant species (not specific to this survey) can be found on the Shropshire Wildlife Trust website (https://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/species ).
The most commonly found ground flora were wavy hair-grass (Deschampsia flexuosa), hairy wood-rush (Lazula piloza), wood melick (Melica uniflora), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) and common dog violet (Viola riviniana). Heather (Calluna vulgaris), St John’s wort (Hypericum pulchrum), bluebell (Hyacinthoides non scripta), heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis) and dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis) were also present in some sites. Early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) was seen in one isolated area.
Haircap moss (Polytrichum formosum) and fork moss (Dicranum species) were most often recorded amongst a wide range of other, less common bryophytes.
Woody seedlings were predominantly sessile oak (Quercus petraea) found in the majority of sites and honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) in the centre of the wood. There were occasional seedlings of holly (Ilex aquifolium), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Single seedlings of beech (Fagus sylvatica), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Rhododendron ponticum were identified. (The last appears to have been found at the top of the RVCBS quillet.)
Trees and shrubs
Sessile oak, holly and rowan were present in most of the areas surveyed with hazel (Corylus avellana) and hawthorn in a minority. There were a few ash, silver birch (Betula pendula), elder (Sambucus nigra), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), field maple (Acer campestre) and wych elm (Ulmus glabra).
Condition of the wood
The condition was judged satisfactory under the attributes of area (no loss of semi-natural area), dead wood (lying and standing dead wood found in most zones), tree and shrub composition (greater than 90% native species) and range of ground flora species. Structure (target canopy cover 60 to 80%) was also satisfactory but the average was 80% which implies that in many parts the cover was undesirably dense.
The wood failed to meet the standards for canopy age (proportion of trees with diameter greater than 50cm at breast height), the extent of understorey (20 to 40%, which was achieved in very few areas), species diversity in the shrub layer, and evidence of regeneration. These features are the consequence of the wood not having been coppiced for many years. It is now composed of a uniform population of tall slender trees of similar age which shade the ground and prevent the development of seedlings that might otherwise grow into new trees and shrubs.
Conclusion of the surveyors
Condition: Unfavourable due to
- lack of large canopy trees
- poor understorey
- poor regeneration of woody species
The lack of large canopy trees is of course due to the wood being a traditional coppice. Some of the tree bases will be extremely old however and will themselves provide habitat for various flora and fauna. Since the woodland is no longer managed as coppice it is important that some of the trees are allowed to reach a greater age to improve the diversity of the woodland. Where there are multiple stems to a single tree, one should be selected and the others felled (on chosen trees). Felling or at least coppicing of parts of the wood would help to improve the understorey which is generally poor. The lack of light getting through will limit growth of the understorey. However deer grazing is a major factor in most South Shropshire woodlands and this will be having an impact on understorey, ground flora and regeneration. The ground flora, although poor in parts is on a whole diverse. Most of the woodland is sessile oak and so the flora would not be expected to be very diverse. Despite this, a large number of species were identified, with the eastern part of the wood the richest. Here the soil is deeper and less acid, which is reflected in the species recorded: early purple orchid, dog’s mercury, wood melick, and yellow archangel.
Regeneration of woody species is perhaps the biggest problem in Brineddin Wood with the two main factors being deer grazing and lack of light penetration through the canopy. Without recruitment of young trees, the wood is under threat in the long term.