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Pollarded tree

​Pollarded trees are an ancient woodland management technique

Burnham Beeches and Stoke Commons are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The Beeches is also a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and European Special Area of Conservation (SAC). SSSIs and NNRs are protected under British law and SACs are protected sites, designated under the EC Habitats Directive. 

The Beeches, covering 220 hectares, is primarily noted for its ancient beech and oak pollards and the range of flora and fauna associated with old trees and decaying wood.

Other notable features include; wood pasture, valley mire, heathland, beech woodland, coppice woodland, three ponds, three stream systems, a large open grassland recreation area and three Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Wood pasture and pollards

Much of Burnham Beeches was once wood pasture. This attractive landscape is very good for wildlife. We have reintroduced grazing and are managing the trees to restore this important habitat. 

Wood pasture contains a mix of young and mature trees - often pollards -standing in open grassland or heathland. This type of habitat has been created by land use going back thousands of years, where the grassland would be grazed and the trees or pollards harvested for timber.

Managing land as wood pasture declined as coal, oil and gas became widely available and people stopped keeping livestock. The result was that the open areas around the trees were colonised by shrubs and young trees and the variety of plants and wildlife diminished.

Download the wood pasture fact sheet (320KB).​​

What is a pollard?

A pollard is a tree that has been cut to just above head height, forcing the tree to send up new multiple shoots. At Burnham Beeches these are mainly oak and beech trees. Pollards are cut at this height so that livestock grazing among the trees cannot eat the tender new shoots. The ancient pollards at the Beeches were once cut like this every 10-15 years in order to produce evenly sized branches that were mainly used for firewood. The constant regrowth encouraged by pollarding extends the lives of the trees so that they live for much longer than standard trees.

Sadly, the practice of pollarding declined and the pollards were left uncut. The Burnham Beeches team is at the forefront of working to re-establish the ancient techniques and restoring the old, lapsed pollards, as well as finding out new methods to create new pollards to help bridge the gap with the veterans.

To find out more about pollards download the pollard fact sheet (295KB).

Gorse and heather

​Heathland is one of the rarest habitats in Britain

Heathland

Heathland plays an important role in providing habitats for some very rare plants, animals and insects that are quite different from those of grassland and woodlands. Heathland is one of the rarest habitats in Britain.

Heathland is an area of vegetation characterised by heathers occurring on impoverished soils and is the result of thousands of years of exploitation by humans. Lowland heath supports a variety of specialised plants and animals and is an internationally rare and unique habitat. In England, 84% has been lost since 1800 (Natural England 2002). Somewhere in the region of 80% of Buckinghamshire's remaining lowland heath can be found at Stoke Common and Burnham Beeches.​

Heathland has been lost through agricultural improvements, a decline in active management and increased road building and development.

Burnham Beeches includes large areas of heathland habitat.  Around 100 years ago commoners stopped turning out their livestock to graze; the result was that scrub and woodland began to grow, crowding out the heathland vegetation. Burnham Beeches contains an area of acidic heathland leading into mire and bog. It is dominated by heathers and grasses, along with many large juniper bushes.​ Since the late 1980s large areas have been re-opened through felling young trees and scrub and the re-introduction of grazing animals.

The area of heathland at Stoke Common is considerably larger and represents the largest remnant of Buckinghamshire's once extensive heathland. ​It is 80 hectares of almost exclusively heathland, home to low growing plants such as heather, gorse and fine grasses, but also includes several ponds, some woodland, a valley mire as well as several public footpaths and bridleways.

Since taking ownership of the common in 2007, the City of London Corporation have been working to a ten year management plan (965KB) aimed at restoring the heathland to its former glory.

There is more information about the heathland at Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common in our Heathland fact sheet (570KB). The leaflet also contains information about the restoration work being undertaken at both reserves.

Coral fungi

​Corul fungi

Fungi

Mushrooms and toadstools are the fruiting bodies of fungi and play an important role both at Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common.  They break down dead and decaying material and play an active role in helping trees and other plants thrive by assisting with the uptake of nutrients.

The reserves are home to a great variety of fungi but picking is not allowed for the following reasons:

  • some are very rare and removing them could threaten them further
  • they provide habitat for many creatures, including some rare or threatened species
  • by removing the fungi you also remove their ability to produce spores and thus the next generation is put at risk
  • and with nearly 600,000 visits per year at the Beeches alone, if people collected fungi there would soon be none left for future visitors to enjoy.

You can find out more about fungi in our fungi fact sheet (425KB) and also by reading our fungi policy (70KB).

Deadwood

​Deadwood provides food and shelter for wildlife.

Deadwood

You may not think that deadwood looks pretty but it is an incredibly important habitat. Many of the rare species found at Burnham Beeches are associated with deadwood so it is very much part of our management plan.

Deadwood is an important habitat at Burnham Beeches. It provides food and shelter for rare wildlife and should not be disturbed. Deadwood includes fallen branches, felled trees, log piles, dead branches in living trees and standing dead trees. ​

Where appropriate and safe to do so, we keep all deadwood for the benefit of the wildlife that depends on it. Areas are zoned so that a balance can be achieved between removing deadwood in areas with high visitor numbers and retaining it in the less frequented areas. Often, if a tree falls or dies standing in the depths of the woodland, it is left to decay naturally.

At Stoke Common some wood is stacked in specially designed piles to create habitat for reptiles and other creatures.

Deadwood may not look pretty, but it is very important for wildlife. It plays host to many species of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates which are dependent upon deadwood for one or more stages of their life cycles. Our deadwood fact sheet (425KB) explains why deadwood is so important and how you can help us to look after it.​

For more information on Habitats found in Burnham Beeches, Stoke Common and Buckinghamshire as a whole, take a look at our management plans on the management and consultation page or see the  Biodiversity Action Plan for the area.

Published:
15 April 2014
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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