More than half the trees in two new woodlands in lowland England have been planted not by landowners, charities or machines, but by jays. It's yet another example of if you leave nature alone to get on with things, it just does.
With zero human intervention, two former fields have naturally and rapidly turned into native forest with no plastic tree-guards, watering or expensive management, according to a new study which further boosts the argument for using natural regeneration to meet ambitious woodland creation targets.
During this “passive rewilding”, thrushes spread seeds of bramble, blackthorn and hawthorn, and this scrub then provided natural thorny tree “guards” for oaks that grew from acorns buried in the ground by jays.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, followed the story of two fields next to Monks Wood, a nature reserve in the East Anglian flatlands of Cambridgeshire. One, a barley field, was abandoned in 1961. The other, former grassland, was left to its own devices in 1996.
After just 24 years, the grassland area, known as “the new wilderness”, had grown into a young wood with 132 live trees per hectare, 57 percent of which were oaks. After 59 years, the barley field, called “the old wilderness”, resembled a mature woodland, with 390 trees per hectare of which 52 percent were oaks.
In both cases, jays were the likeliest source of the oak trees, typically carrying acorns to cache for the winter much further than wood mice and grey squirrels.
Dr Richard Broughton of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and lead author of the study, said: “Many people don’t like jays. Traditionally they have been seen as a pest. But jays and possibly grey squirrels planted more than half the trees in these sites. The jays and the thrushes basically engineered these new woodlands.”
The Knepp Estate in Sussex is becoming one of the largest and most prosperous rewilding projects in Britain. The 3,500 acre estate in West Sussex, about 40 miles south of London, was suffering from poor yields from conventional farming when Charlie Burrell finished agriculture school in the 1990s, after inheriting the Knepp Estate when he was just 21 years old. More...