The Warren is an area of woodland, about 5.2 hectares, owned by Harting Parish Council. It leads southwards from South Gardens and is a long, narrow strip of land leading up to the South Downs Way. It is an area of open access with many well-used footpaths running throughout. The busy B2146 road runs along the east of the site. The woodland was gifted to the Parish in 1937 for residents to use for ‘recreation and exercise’.
Ash Dieback is a deadly fungus transmitted through spores, not unlike viruses in
the human population. The spores are carried by the wind and in countries such as Denmark and
Poland up to 95% of ash trees in woodlands have been lost to the disease. A similar loss is predicted
for the UK’ ash stock in the next few years.
The ash dieback fungus progressively damages the vascular tissues of the tree, causing branches to
die back by blocking their supply of water and nutrients, hence the name. Ash dieback causes a
range of symptoms including wilted and spotted leaves. Most affected ash trees will lose some of
the leaves at the top of the tree.
However, ash dieback can affect trees in different ways – for example, some may develop dark
patches called ‘basal lesions’ at the base of their trunk but have no sign of ash dieback in their leaves
Once the fungus infects a tree, the dead or dying branches can become brittle and fall. Over time, as
the tree loses nutrition, water and the leaves which produce its food, the disease may eventually kill
the tree. However, often other opportunistic disease-causing organisms (pathogens), such as honey
fungus may cause the eventual death of the tree by accelerating wood decay and tree failure rather
than ash dieback itself causing the tree to shed limbs or fall without warning.
Ash dieback can affect ash trees of all ages. Younger trees succumb to the disease quicker.
In August 2017 the Council commissioned a ‘leaf-on’ tree hazard survey of the area, this was
followed by a ‘leaf-off’ survey in February 2018. Ash dieback was identified and 13 ash trees were
marked for felling.
The third tree hazard survey was undertaken in June 2019 and found that the virus had spread
significantly since the last survey and was affecting all the ash trees in The Warren and Wace
Plantation. All of the ash trees were condemned as a result and the Council was advised to fell them
as soon as possible.
As a result of little woodland management over a period of about 20 years the ash trees had become
the most dominant species in The Warren and Wace Plantation.
All ash trees within falling distance of footpaths and highways needed to be felled to ensure public
safety. The high number of paths and desire lines throughout the area, in addition to the position
adjacent to the busy highway, meant the whole area was affected.
The Council employed an Arboriculture Consultant to carry out the tree hazard surveys.
Prior to the tree hazard survey in 2019 the Council had begun to make plans for the regular
maintenance of the Warren. Petra Billings, a chartered ecologist had been commissioned to prepare
a Woodland Management Plan and to provide practical advice on how to improve the overall health
of the Warren. Alongside this, the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) woodland officer
had visited the site and provided a great deal of help and advice with an offer to help train local
volunteers with work such as thinning, copicing and creating glades.
Once the need to fell the ash trees became apparent the Council made an application to the Forestry
Commission for a Felling Licence. This application was prepared by Petra Billings along with a
restoration and replanting scheme for the Warren and Wace Plantation.
The Council continues to work with the Petra Billings and is receiving support and advice from the
Tree Council, the Forestry Commission and the SDNPA.
The decision was taken at the Council’s 20th June 2019 meeting to fell all of the ash in the Warren as
soon as possible. A Felling Licence application was submitted to the Forestry Commission at the end
of June 2019, the licence was issued on 27th September 2019.
Some beech and other trees had been identified in the hazard survey as at risk of falling and were
therefore felled at the same time.
Unfortunately, there has been some loss of the beech trees in the Wace Plantation. The remaining
beech were left more vulnerable as the removal of the ash trees left them unprotected from the
sustained periods of south-westerly winds which prevailed early in 2020.
There was no cost to the parish. The cost of felling was offset against the sale of timber and
chippings for bio mass, this resulted in a small surplus income being returned to the parish.
How were the contractors chosen?
Due to the unpredictable nature of trees suffering from ash die back, traditional methods of felling
are not recommended, the Forestry Commission have advised arborists not to tackle badly affected
trees in this way. The traditional process would also be very costly.
The County Councillor alerted the Council to a demonstration of ‘tree harvesting’ along the B2141
on the 4th June 2019. The Tree Working Group attended and were able to see harvesting machinery
being used to remove trees in a safe and timely manner.
The Council agreed the ‘harvesting’ technique was the only method that could be used given the
demographics of the woodland and the severity of the ash dieback. It would also be necessary to
remove the timber from site and, if possible, sold to offset the cost of the felling operation. This was
taken into account when contractors were approached.
Two companies provided quotes for the work. One of the companies worked with a number of
felling companies so was able to provide more than one quote for that work.
The Council appointed a contractor at its meeting on 11th July 2019.
It was anticipated that the work would be carried out in the latter half of September 2019, however
due to a hitch at the Forestry Commission the Felling Licence was issued five weeks later than
anticipated on 27th September 2019. This delay impacted on the availability of the contractor and
work finally started on 28th October 2019.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be the start of one of the wettest periods on record.
The severity of the weather meant that the footpaths became damaged by the machinery used for
the felling and extraction of timber.
At the end of December, the Tree Working Group met with representatives of WSCC and the
contractors who agreed they were responsible for the condition of the paths. The paths were
officially closed for a period of 6 months to allow them to dry.
The contractors carried out some profiling works on the footpaths on 6th June 2020 and cut several
grips to the side of the paths to help drainage.
The paths are now starting to recover and have improved greatly in the last few months. The footfall
from people using the paths will continue to improve their condition. The replanting scheme will
include shrub planting to address the width of some of the paths.
The large timbers were removed from site and sold, in addition over 500 tonnes of brash were
chipped and sold as biomass fuel.
The remaining brash on site will quickly rot down and will recycle nutrients into the woodland soils.
Petra Billings and the Forestry Commission officer have confirmed that the remaining amounts of
brash on-site will not impact on the replanting programme.
There is a pile of branches to the east side of the Warren which is due to be burned at an appropriate time.
If the soil was left unplanted there would be a significant risk of erosion on the steep slopes and
potentially a loss of topsoil.
Petra Billings has confirmed that fertilising the soil would artificially change the soil chemistry and
the balance of nutrients and would stimulate the growth of competitive species such as stinging
nettles. These would very quickly out-compete the ancient woodland flora leaving an impoverished
biodiversity. She also stated that the disturbance to the soil may have some benefits as it has mixed
up the seedbank and will promote germination of light-demanding species such as oak and other
long-buried dormant seeds.
There is already a great deal of natural regeneration occurring in the Warren and one of the first
tasks is to protect that regeneration from rabbits and voles as well as the fallow deer that are
prevalent in the area. Bio spiral guards will used for this purpose.
Our appointed chartered ecologist has completed a regeneration plan which will see 4300 saplings planted. Trees and shrubs will be planted by teams of local volunteers with professional contractors planting
the more challenging areas. Find out more about the Replanting Plan
Deer Fencing will be used to protect approximately two thirds of the new saplings, this will reduce
the need for plastic tree guards and will allow the ground flora and fauna to flourish. The fencing is a
temporary measure and will be removed after 10-15 years when the trees are established.
Social distancing restrictions and national lockdown regulations delayed both the professional and volunteer planting plans. The majority of the planting was done by MJO Forestry and started on 8th March 2021. Volunteer planting days will be scheduled for the November and December 2021. Find out more about the Replanting Plan
The Council would like local volunteers, from all age groups, to become involved in the restoration
programme and become ‘Harting Tree Champions’.
As well as planting trees there will be a need to maintain, particularly in the first two years, the new
planted areas to ensure they are kept weed free.
Find out How to get involved
The Tree Council has taken a great interest in the issues and difficulties arising from the management of ash dieback. Harting Parish Council is thought to be the first parish to have undertaken such a large project. They are very keen to work with the Council on the restoration project and to be able to use the experiences to help and inform others.
The Tree Council has very generously provided a grant of £32,179.00 towards the cost of the restoration project.