Lynn Daley, Forestry England’s Community Ranger for the Marches, took some time from a very busy schedule to answer an LGL Q&A about Mortimer Forest. Lynn covers a range of topics including: its history, geological features, why logging takes place, returning gradually to native woodland and how we can all help to maintain our forest.
1. Mortimer Forest is a well-loved local and visited entity but while we are enamoured of its natural beauty, a fair few of us literally can’t tell the woods from the trees! Can you fill in the gap and tell us a bit about Mortimer Forest?
Mortimer Forest covers over 1,000 hectares across Shropshire and Herefordshire. Most of the tress you’ll see on a visit to Mortimer Forest were planted by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s but parts of this land have been woodland habitat for hundreds of years. When the Forestry Commission took on the site, we planted a lot of Douglas Fir and Larch. Douglas Fir is a conifer tree that is native to the west coast of North America. These species were chosen at the time for their quick growth rate, suitability to the English climate and potential to provide a much-needed timber source.
Areas of Mortimer Forest that were formerly ancient woodland are now being managed by Forestry England to restore the ancient woodland species that were here previously. The tree species in these areas are mainly oak, birch and beech. The aim is to manage a gradual return to native woodland in these areas.
Mortimer Forest has many interesting geological features, with a variety of significant rock types visible in the small former quarries and exposed rock faces. Rocks first studied in this area in the 1830s were named after local places and these names are now known by geologists around the world. For those with a keen interest, the Mortimer Forest Geology Trail examines features and rock types at marked locations along the Mortimer Forest section of the Ludlow to Wigmore road.
2. Fact or fiction: Welsh Pine Martens are setting up residence in the forest?
While it is possible that Pine Martens could be in the forest, as yet we do not have a record of any confirmed sightings.
3. There is great concern about falling levels of biodiversity and recently the Woodland Trust issued a study suggesting that UK woodland was under threat, how is Mortimer Forest’s addressing these types of concerns?
All our forest plans take into account the economic, social and environmental considerations of the site. The environmental considerations include steps to maintain or increase biodiversity within the woodland habitat, as well as increasing the diversity of tree species to improve the forest resilience in the face of increasing numbers of pest and diseases.
As part of the management plan for Mortimer Forest we manage open areas and link sections of the forest with wildlife corridors. This management is especially beneficial for adders and several species of butterfly. Our wildlife ranger keeps records of species living in the forest and plans habitat creation and maintenance work within the forest. We are also very fortunate to work with a number of excellent volunteer groups who submit wildlife records and help us with practical habitat management within Mortimer Forest.
4. There has been a lot of logging going on, how does this work and is there replanting? Also, is it seasonal and when will it be over?
Harvesting operations at Mortimer Forest are now completed. This work was part of the forest management plan. The main aim of the plan is to manage the woodlands with increased conservation and landscape benefits, whilst maintaining timber production, increasing resilience to climate change, pest and disease risks, and offering opportunities for informal recreation.
During the recent work at Mortimer, some areas have been thinned, which creates more space for the remaining trees to grow. This is all part of the forest lifecycle. In other areas, non-native tree species have been removed with the aim of a gradual return to native woodland. When areas are replanted, the tree species used depends on the overall plan for that area. We may replant or enable natural regeneration of native broadleaf species in some areas while in others we use information from current research to choose non-native species that will be more tolerant of predicted conditions due to climate change.
5. One of the best loved points begins at the Vinnalls car park and the Climbing Jack, the easy access route are there any plans to extend the route? Also, are there plans to add more signage as people sometimes find it difficult to follow way-marked trails or to add more seating?
Following completion of the forest operations, all way-marked trails are now fully open. In the area of the Easy Access trail, the trees that were removed were at increased risk of disease. The multi-layered woodland structure of this area is important to us and is appreciated by visitors. We are endeavouring to maintain and enhance it.
Mortimer Forest has five way-marked walking trails, ranging from 1 mile to 9 miles in length. Three of these trails start from Vinnalls car park. These are the Easy Access trail, Vinnalls loop and Climbing Jack trail. The other way-marked trails are the Blackpool loop and the Whitcliffe loop, starting from Blackpool and Whitcliffe, respectively. We do not have plans to extend any of these routes at present. There is also an extensive network of forest roads and bridleways suitable for horse riding, cycling or walking.
We regularly review signage on way-marked trails and welcome support from our visitors to help us to improve. We welcome any suggestions by email.
At present there are picnic benches in each of the car parks and occasional benches in the forest, especially along the easy access trail and near view points. We do not charge for parking and have limited resources to maintain car parks, benches and trails so we do not currently have any plans to add more benches.
6. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pandemic has meant an increase in visitor numbers, is this borne out by your data? How do you plan to increase interest while keeping visitors safe? Are there any issues with cleanliness? Any do’s and don’ts that people need to be aware of?
Forestry England, the country’s largest land manager, has recorded the highest ever number of visits to the nation’s forests across England over the last year. Some 296 mn visits took place — an increase of 77 mn (or 35%) compared to the previous year.
Locally we have definitely seen an increase in visitor numbers at Mortimer Forest and at our other woodlands across Shropshire and Herefordshire. The vast majority of our visitors are very considerate of others, the local wildlife and the woodland environment. They take their rubbish home with them, pick up after their dog, keep dogs under control and respect other visitors to the forest.
Mortimer Forest is an important habitat for several species including roe deer, adders and a range of butterflies, to mention just a few. In order to ensure that they have the space they need, we ask that cyclists and horse riders stick to forest roads and bridleways, and that dog owners keep their dogs in sight and under control at all times during their visit.
7. How does Mortimer Forest reach out to the local youth and get them engage in the environment?
We already work with a variety of local community groups, including youth groups but we are always happy to meet and support new groups. We also support school visits and youth group visits to the forest.
If you are involved in a local youth group and would like to find out how you can learn more about any aspect of the forest or get involved, please contact our Community Ranger by e-mailing us.
8. Finally, what do you want the local community to know?
While gyms, cinemas and indoor entertainment had to close for extended periods due to Covid restrictions, the nation’s 1,500 forests were always available. As an organisation we are proud to have been able to provide spaces for people to relax, exercise, meet family and friends and cope with the challenges of the last year.
Locally our team have worked hard to care for and maintain Mortimer Forest to produce sustainable timber, a home for wildlife and a place for people to enjoy.
We ask that all visitors respect the forest and the important role that it plays and that they continue to be kind — to each other and to our staff. The nation’s forests are for everyone, and the astounding number of visits we have received over the last year shows the value they hold. Many people discovered the beauty of our nation’s forests for the first-time during lockdown, and we hope that people will continue to visit and explore respectfully.
If you’re a dog owner, then we’ve recently launched new guidance to help you know what you can expect when you visit the forest with your four-legged family members. For happy times and waggy tails, read the guidance online.
It’s not always easy to capture the beauty of the natural wonder in Mortimer Forest. Our gallery below gives a glimpse and if you have any warm thoughts about Mortimer Forest do share in the comments below!
Forestry England’s Facebook page specifically covering Shropshire and Herefordshire.
Community Ranger email