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    Irregular silviculture and stand structural effects on the plant community in an ancient semi-natural woodland

    Alder, DC, Edwards, B, Poore, A, Norrey, J and Marsden, SJ (2023) Irregular silviculture and stand structural effects on the plant community in an ancient semi-natural woodland. Forest Ecology and Management, 527. p. 120622. ISSN 0378-1127

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    Abstract

    Plants associated with traditional forms of coppice management are affected by changes in, or cessation of, stand management which produce differences in structure, usually in the direction of high forest. The habitat structure, ground flora richness, and composition of an ancient woodland in southern England were compared across three distinct management treatments: traditional Coppice (the cyclical cutting of underwood on rotations), Limited Intervention (representing the effective cessation of management), and Irregular High Forest silviculture (a form of continuous cover forestry using single and small group selective tree harvesting). Coppice and Irregular silviculture showed a more complex woody stand structure whereas Limited Intervention was strongly correlated with closed-canopy, single-storied structures and no developing understorey. Increased bramble Rubus fruticosus cover was strongly associated with Irregular silviculture, bare ground mostly with the limited intervention closed-canopy stands. Distinct plant-habitat associations were identified across stand management types with the greatest differences between Limited Intervention and the two active interventions. Overall vascular plant species and Coppice group species were lowest in Limited Intervention stands. Using ancient woodland indicator and Coppice plant species and groups, we found a similar community pattern between Coppice and Irregular silviculture. More ancient woodland species were accommodated within the comparatively heterogenous woodland habitat associated with active silvicultural interventions of Coppice and Irregular High Forest management. The study indicates that the introduction of Irregular silviculture as practiced here can conserve most ancient woodland and Coppice plants associated with traditional coppicing, a practice which has declined significantly in the UK since the late 19th Century.

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