Spring Plantation – Rhododendron Thinning

Thursday 16th February 2017

This week saw us at a new site called, Spring Plantation, located north-east of the village of Taverham which is owned by the Broadland District Council and managed by the Norwich Fringe Project. The site consists of broadleaf and deciduous trees and various footpaths run throughout the woods. Last year I was able to survey this site with Annie Sommazzi (Broadland District Countryside Officer) and we noted down that there was quite a lot of Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) and Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) which was making the wood quite dark and overgrown in places.

The cutting, burning and treating of the Rhododendron on site.
The cutting, burning and treating of the Rhododendron on site.

The plan of attack over the next two days was to cut back some of the Rhododendron (a non-native plant and classified as an invasive shrub), burn the cuttings and treat the stumps to reduce the likelihood of regrowth. It may seem a bit harsh to do this to such a lovely flowering plant that supports bees, hoverflies and butterflies, but unfortunately once established it creates such a lightless canopy that native plants cannot establish themselves and eventually we lose the next generation of these plants. Further to this, the leaves of the plant are toxic and are inedible to invertebrates and most insects, and the seeds can be viable for several years once deposited into the soil. All in all, a very specialised plant made to dominant and survive.

Paula tackling and almost being swallowed up by the shrub with her new chainsaw.
Paula tackling and almost being swallowed up by the shrub with her new chainsaw.

With our loppers and saws drawn for action, we started cutting away, while Paula started hacking away at a large section of the Rhododendron with a chainsaw. We thought we had lost her at one stage as we could only see her orange helmet and hear the buzzing of her saw as she powered through the layered stems. Eventually she emerged and the section was cleared and deposited on the fire for burning with the cut stems ready for painting (a very fetching blue coloured herbicide was applied). The following day saw us continuing the work of burning, cutting and treating.

A Dotted Margin Moth (Agriopis marginaria), Common Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) and the start of Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) coming through.
A Dotted Margin Moth (Agriopis marginaria), Common Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) and the start of Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) coming through.

Looking back over the last two days, it was great to see that we had made a start and that eventually in the long run more light will reach the woodland floor and our native trees and plants will have a fighting chance of flourishing instead of being bullied off their patch by these invasive plants. There is still more work to be done here to allow the woodland to recover and breathe again and hopefully we will be back here on future volunteering work days.