We’re so excited to have our very own little woodland here at our island home. Located next to The Green House, it has about two hectares of mixed mature trees – oak, ash and hawthorn – as well as a fair amount of hazel saplings in the undergrowth, probably grown from seeds buried by the red squirrels. There is a stream feeding into the brook below us, with mosses and bog-loving plants and a natural glade, which is covered with brambles.
Brambles, along with bracken, need to be controlled without removing them completely. There are many plants that thrive in glades and the edges of woodlands that would quickly become swamped by these two. Having said that, both bramble and bracken provide habitats for many species. Bramble is the food plant for 61 types of moth and bracken provides vital ground cover for small mammals and birds.
The land all around was once part of a manor estate and a farm. The trees on the boundary of the woodland suggest the ‘ghost’ of an ancient hedgerow, which has long since died away and left rows of oaks and ashes behind. Until 1979, two cottages stood within the boundaries of our woodland – which is why we also have found apple, plum and pear trees growing there.
The key to developing an area like this without destroying what makes it special is a management plan. We have based ours on Forestry Commission standards that will mean managing the growth and spacing of existing trees to allow the hazel saplings to come through and mature – we would like to encourage the red squirrels we have to stay and thrive.
With our team of willing volunteers (our Green Team) – we look forward to a truly green future in more ways than one!
The red squirrel
Unfortunately, the red squirrel is endangered in the UK, with the origins of its demise starting when the grey squirrel was introduced in the late 1800s by a local silk manufacturer, Thomas Brocklehurst, who reportedly imported a pair of grey squirrels from the US as pets. When interest in them waned, they were released in Henbury Park, Cheshire in 1876 and have subsequently gradually outcompeted our native reds. As if this wasn’t enough, man has increased their plight of red squirrels by drastically reducing their habitat.
There are precious few locations now left in the UK where red squirrels are able to thrive, but – thanks to the 3 or 4 miles of sea between us and the mainland – our Isle of Wight home is one of them.
The development of ‘woodland corridors’ (such as our woodland area), plus rope bridges across busy roads, both help the free movement of squirrels and enable them to expand to their full potential as a population. We have planted more hazel saplings in our woodland to increase their food supply, and added squirrel feeders in areas where squirrels have been spotted. All being well, the Island can support a population of around 3500 squirrels. We often see them from our office windows at The Green House, looking for food or just passing through.