Management of Habitats
The woods are in a healthy state, containing trees of all ages.
Regeneration of trees takes place naturally in gaps created by the death of old trees. Little intervention is required, dead wood is left, unless it blocks the footpath, to provide micro-habitats for insects and insect eating birds and mammals and nutrients from the wood are recycled into the soil.
Some trees that are not native but are spreading on the reserve, out competing native trees e.g. sycamore are felled.
From Park to Nature Reserve
Much of the area downstream of Otters Bridge was managed as a formal parkland. Evidence of this past management still remain, hard surfaced paths, exotic trees and shrubs.
The open areas were maintained as lawns. They were regularly mown and had short grass, they are now mown less often to form meadows of long grass.
Rhododendron, Laurel, and Sycamore can be found in some numbers. These trees are not native but were planted here, they have now naturalised.
Exotic trees, shrubs and flowers can look very attractive and are grown in our gardens, but in a nature reserve they can spread.
Some of these species have a very vigorous growth and out-compete some of the more delicate species which then have no room to live. For example stand under a Sycamore or crawl under a Rhododendron bush and see how dark and gloomy it is - there is no light for other plants.
The leaves of 'rhodies', when compared with those of an Oak tree show how little insect damage there is. To maintain the diversity of the reserve the Ranger keeps a check on the 'alien' plants and cuts down those encroaching.
Conservation can mean cutting down trees but in a careful and controlled way. Himalayan Balsam has pink flowers and comes from Asia; it is abundant on the river bank, choking other plants.
This is causing a problem because pulling up the plants does not remove it as it has a underground tubers which sprout again.
The Environment Agency who monitors the health of our waterways, has identified two other invasive plants that affect the River Dibbin.
These are Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed.
Bodens Hey Meadows
This large area of grassland, like the reedbeds, requires management to prevent encroachment of scrub and trees.
Maintaining the grasslands is important for biodiversity. (Creating the right habitats for the widest range of wildlife likely to live in the reserve) Cutting is difficult on these sloping grounds.
To conserve the grasslands, the grass needs to be cut and removed.
This ensures that the land does not become too fertile and thereby encourage only rough grasses. Many meadows are maintained by allowing cattle or sheep to graze the grass.
The Reed Beds
The dam on the Spital Road was constructed last century. By creating a partial barrier to water flow, areas upstream in Dibbinsdale became susceptible to flooding.
This has created a series of pools and marshy areas, some of which have been colonised by the Common Reed (Norfolk Reed). These reed beds can be seen from the main footpath immediately downstream of Otters tunnel which runs through the reeds.
These flooded areas and reedbeds are of recent origin but they are still valuable habitats for wildlife because they provide winter feeding for wildfowl, breeding areas for amphibians and homes for aquatic invertebrates.(e.g. dragonflies ).
The reedbeds are not stable habitats; they depend on a high water table so they are affected by local weather and climate. In time reedbeds can dry out as the colonisation by saplings of damp tolerating trees such as willow occurs.
Willow colonisation can be seen through the wet areas of the floodplain at Dibbinsdale and in some places dense thickets of willow called 'Willow Carr' have replaced the reed bed.
The willows lower the water table, by using the water for growth. This allows for the colonisation of trees that are less tolerant of flooding such as Alder, Birch and later, Ash and Oak.