Destroy one habitat to create another,?

"So you'd like to do your bit for conservation? How about planting some trees!?" It has become almost a knee-jerk reaction to the mention of conservation and the environment t( plant trees, even to the extent that it is one of the few things the Government is prepared to spend tax payers' money on. Given that the UK has one of the lowest percentage areas under woodland cover in Europe, the wish to plant trees, and incentives to do so, shouldn't come as much of a surprise. They contribute so much to the beauty of the countryside and our enjoyment of it, quite apart from the value of the habitat for wildlife, that it is only natural that they should be high in our thoughts when it comes to conservation. But before you rush out with the spade and the tree shelters just stop and consider it'here you are going to plant them.
Carried to its logical conclusion, all this tree planting will leave us with a countryside which is either more or less intensively farmed agricultural land, or woodland. Do you gel what I'm driving at? Farmland or woodland? What about the "in-between" bits? All the rough grassland, the badly drained corners, the steep grassy slopes that are difficult to get onto with a tractor. What sort of country did you see the barn owl drifting over in the twilight? It wasn't woodland, and it wasn' the bright green grass of silage fields, or the arable land.
I'll bet it was some rough grassy land, most likely with tussocks of cocksfoot grass and lovely purple-flowered knapweeds in the summer. It's the sort of land that cattle were turned away to in the winter in the days when they were wintered out of doors. It didn't matter too much if they cut the ground up a bi because you were not likely to be going over it later in the yea with the mower, and you weren't going to lose much in the way of "production" anyway. Its value was as wintering land. But who wants it'illtefltlg kind now?
Well! The barn owl still does. But he is not alone. He is just our most favoured indicator of a whole ecosystem which includes the skylarks, meadow pipits, marbled white butterflies, all the "brown" butterflies, bumble-bees, beetles, spiders and, of course, the voles and mice which attract the barn owl in the first place. So where are they going to find a home if we plant it all up to trees? In the first few years they will be quite happy among the young trees, but when the trees start to shade out the ground flora all the denizens of the tussocks will disappear along with the grass. And the countryside will be the poorer for it. And we won't have achieved what we set out to do which was to enrich the environment for nature. To do that we need to plant trees on what, for the wildlife, is virtually a desert, which is the arable and improved grassland of our farms.
Of course, when you kick off your wellies at the end of the day you will still not have created a wood - that can only come after centuries have passed, and it is far better that you look after existing woodland with its rich and varied flora and fauna. In time your plantation of trees will attract the flora and fauna that you expect of a wood, which will be better than that which existed under the agricultural regime. But don't plant your trees on the barn owl's patch. He and his mates will tell you it's rich enough already, thank you!

Tony Atkinson

A stalwart of the Trust's Caradon Branch, Tonv Atkinson has contributed his views through Council, Executive and other committees for many years and is currently Chairman of the Scientific Committee. He is active in many areas of the Trust's work, including that of the Otter and Bat Groups.
Barn Owl illustration

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Membership cards

The Trust has decided not to issue membership cards, because of the expense, but will gladly provide proof of membership to anyone travelling outside Cornwall who needs it for access to other Trusts' reserves etc.

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Any member in the Lizard Helston area wishing to become involved in Sunday practical work, please call me on (01326) 561952. Work includes tree planting, scrub clearance, work on the Lizard National Nature Reserve and waymarking. New volunteers are always welcome!

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