Heartwood Forest #kclfield Activities

Just this week our first year undergraduates had their fieldweek, with lots of geography-related activities across London. For the physical geography activities we headed up to Heartwood Forest, the largest new native forest in England (near Sandridge in Hertfordshire). A nice video from last year’s trip is below.

As you can see from the video, currently much of the ‘forest’ looks more like fields than what would be considered forest in Michigan, but the 600,000 trees being planted by volunteers will grow over the coming years to change that. There are three existing ancient woodlands (covering 45 acres) in the entire 858 acre (347 ha) area the Woodland Trust have acquired. Much of this area was previously agricultural land – the planted trees and newly created meadows will connect the existing woodland.

So there’s going to be some big ecological changes over the coming years as landscape changes. To keep track of changes in vegetation and animal populations volunteers from the Herefordshire Natural History Society (HNHS) have set up a monitoring group that regularly collect data on the growth of new trees, plants, mammals, birds and butterflies.

Similarly, some of the activities our first year undergrads undertook were to do ecological surveys of understory and overstory vegetation. Our students also did hillslope surveys and soil moisture monitoring, measured vertical wind speed profiles (to see how wind speed changes with height from the ground), explored the use of helium balloons and thermal cameras to make aerial photographs and other observations, and learned how to use global positioning system (GPS) units. The students seemed to enjoy the day at Heartwood, and the entire fieldweek for that matter, as you can see from their activities on Twitter (we use the #kclfield hastag to associate tweets with our field activities).

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Over the coming years we hope to expand our students’ field activities at Heartwood to our third year undergraduate and taught Master’s students. In particular, we hope that dissertation research by these students will be able to contribute to the efforts of the Heartwood monitoring group, to collect data and investigate questions of ecological interest. For example, to analyse presence/absence data for mammals like woodmice, we might use statistical modelling techniques like those I used to examine neotropical bird populations in Michigan.

It’s going to be very interesting watching and studying the ecological changes as Heartwood really does become a forest over the years. Keep track of the changes by visiting the forest yourself or via the HSNS website, the Heartwood blog and right here on this blog.

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