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Our Winter Work for Wildlife

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Posted: Monday 11th December 2017 by WildBlog

By Joe McSorley, Living Landscapes Manager

As winter starts to take hold on the land, with hoar frosts sparkling the ground and bare-limbed trees dotting dormant hedgerows, our practical conservation work turns to winter tasks. Many people may be turning up their heating, snuggling down in front of a fire and a good boxed set and staying indoors more. But for us at Avon Wildlife Trust and for our teams of conservation volunteers, the winter months are busier than ever and we’re hard at work on our nature reserves and other land we manage.

Helping habitats flourish – and bringing in the machinery!

This is the time of year when we can get stuck into the heavier work necessary to keep grasslands, woodlands and other habitats in the best condition so that they can thrive and provide shelter for wildlife. The summer nesting birds have flown south and delicate wildflowers have set seed and are dormant until spring so we are able to use machinery like brushcutters - powerful machines that can clear high grass, heavy brushwood and small trees. We’ve been using these out on grasslands and clear open hillsides to keep the ‘scrub’ at bay – the fast-growing plants and trees like gorse and blackthorn which if not kept in check will cover over the open space we want lower-growing wildflowers to flourish in.

In our woodlands too, we’re now able to turn to machinery rather than just hand tools, and have been using chain saws this month to coppice woodlands – managing the growth of trees to ensure a good balance in the height, type and age of trees. This variety helps to support different wildlife including dormice which prefer hazel coppiced woodland where they can build their nests and feed on the hazel nuts. And ensuring plenty of light reaches through the tree branches gives other animals, insects and plants the conditions they need to flourish. Coppicing is a traditional way to manage woodland over time, and of course gives us the word ‘copse’ meaning a wood where young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to keep the tree in an early stage of its natural life.

Tuning into winter woodland sounds

As the buzz of chain saws stops for lunch and we’ve downed tools for a break, we’ve been able to tune into the stillness and peace of winter woodland. Our volunteers have taken a moment with us to enjoy the sound of birds flitting in bare branches and the crisp breeze rustling the leaves on the ground. A hard morning’s work it may be – but our volunteers say it’s the perfect antidote to piped Christmas music and the present-buying rush! 

AWT conservation groups are active every day of the week and are a great way to get outdoors, meet new people and learn practical skills so if you’d like to join us and take part in some hedge laying over the winter then please contact us at

Photos (c): Frosty oak leaf, Phillip Precey, Volunteering, Matt Hew Roberts, Coal tit, Richard Bowler. 

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