Changes in the ground flora and butterfly populations of woodlands managed to encourage pheasants.
The intimate patchwork of coppice and farmland that still characterises certain parts of lowland Britain is a reflection of the important historic role played by woodland management (Rackham, 1986). This landscape was widespread in the middle Ages and began to decline in the eighteenth century with the Enclosures Acts and a shift in the emphasis of woodland management from underwood to timber production (Warren, 1976). The loss slowed down in the latter half of the nineteenth century as farming became less profitable, so that almost all the woods present in lowland Britain in 1845 still existed in some form in 1945. Since the Second World War, however, the combined effects of replacing the existing trees with conifers and grubbing out for agriculture have led to che destruction of between a third and a half of the remaining ancient woodland (Rackham, 1986).
Many landowners consider management of their small farm woods uneconomic and have neglected them for many decades. As a result, lowland woods are currently shadier than at any time in the last millenium (Thomas and Webb, 1984). This continued neglect is likely to affect the woodland ground flora and may cause other changes to the historic character of the woodland and its associated wildlife (Peterken, 1981).
The value of small farm woodlands in terms of heritage, landscape and recreation as well as nature conservation is widely recognised (DART, 1983). However, apart from the few sites with statutory protection, their conservation is largely dependent on the efforts of the private landowner. An important incentive for such conservation is game production: 67 per cent and 56 per cent respectively of Timber Growers UK members responding to a survey stated that they retained and planted woodlands of less than 10 ha in size partly for their value to the pheasant shoot. The value of small woodlands for game was perceived by respondents to be second only to their value in the landscape and greater than their value in terms of timber, wildlife or shelter (Cobham Resource Consultants, 1983). The same survey revealed that many landowners undertook management of their small woods primarily to enhance the quality of the shoot.
This chapter examines the principle of woodland management for game and nature conservation and discusses the compatibility of the two interests. A case study into the effects of woodland management for game on the ground flora and butterflies within a shooting estate in Dorset is used as an illustration. Recommendations are then made for the compilation of long-term management plans for woodland which satisfy both game and nature conservation interests.