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Hertfordshire County Council

Why do we cut down trees on heathlands?

Heathlands are open landscapes on acidic soil with a variety of low-growing plants. In Hertfordshire they’re dominated by grasses, but also support characteristic plants like heather. They’re one of the most special places for wildlife in the county. Like grasslands they’re man-made, so they need management just to stay as they are.

Without that management, trees will quickly take over. And in some places trees have been planted on old heaths. Although woodlands can be valuable to wildlife too, they are much more common.

Heathlands survive only in scattered patches, and are well worth restoring where possible, even when trees have to be cut down to do so. This helps a wide variety of interesting plants and animals which are found nowhere else in Hertfordshire.

Croxley Common Moor near Rickmansworth is one of the most valuable wildlife sites in Hertfordshire. Special plants like petty whin and Dyer’s greenweed are an important part of the heathland environment. These in turn support a community of rare insects.

Management of heathlands

Heathlands are managed like grasslands, by grazing or mowing. This stops trees becoming established, and keeps the heath healthy.

Mowing is simple and effective. When different parts of the heath are cut each year, it creates areas with a variety of ages. Not surprisingly, this is better for heathland animals than lots of plants that are all the same age.

Grazing is a more traditional management technique. Grazing animals are the best way to develop an interesting structure in the heath and make it as good as it can be for wildlife. They are a much greater commitment though – they need to be checked regularly, water to drink and fences to control where they go.

Bracken management

Bracken is a natural part of the vegetation in a heath or a wood, but it can easily take over and dominate, suppressing other plants and becoming increasingly dense.

In the past, it was normal to spray bracken with a selective herbicide to control it. That herbicide was banned by the EU in 2012, and although it is being made available on an emergency basis each summer its long term availability is not guaranteed.

Using a specially designed bracken roller helps reduce bracken growth without needing chemicals. The same area needs to be rolled for several years to avoid the bracken recolonising the area. CMS has used a bracken roller on several sites in Hertfordshire.

Contact the Countryside Management Service

01992 588433

Countryside Management Service Office (Car Park H)
Environment Department (CHG001)
County Hall
SG13 8DN