Sunday, March 6, 2022

Restoring the Woodland

My house sits on a bit over 10 acres, about three of them lawn and ornamental gardens. The remaining seven acres is woodland, and much of the woodland is part of the “resource protected area,” RPA, as you can see on the green overlay below. Over the past decade invasive species seemed to takeover the woodland after dozens of trees were lost to Emerald Ash Borer.  

Until a few years ago I felt we did not have to worry about dead trees, as it was all part of the natural process of renewal. However, the number of dead and dying trees had increased dramatically and it was obvious that the invasive vines were choking out the renewal process. So with guidance from the Forest Service and the Chesapeake Bay Act guidelines I began a project to restore the woodland.

RPA’s as defined in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act are vegetated areas along water bodies, such as lakes, streams, rivers, marshes or shoreline. RPAs are the last line of defense for the protection of water quality. These buffers stabilize shorelines and stream banks, filter pollutants, reduce the volume of stormwater runoff and provide critical habitat for aquatic species and wildlife. Trees and shrubs in riparian buffers reduce erosion, improve air quality, and provide shade in the summer, windbreaks in the winter and adventures all year for little boys.

A healthy forest has living trees functioning as part of a balanced and self replacing ecosystem that is a complex mix of trees, understory shrubs and groundcover. In a healthy woodland the process of natural succession occurs over time. Small saplings develop and will become the next generation of trees as the older ones die out. Though benign neglect had been my rule for managing the RPA, it seemed clear the woodland needed some help to renew itself. We contacted the Virginia Department of Forestry for assistance and guidance in this effort.

Assistance came in the form of Kinner Ingram, an Urban and Community Forestry Specialist from the Virginia Department of Forestry. He came out and inspected the woodland and made some recommendations.  He felt that with removal of the invasive vines and the hanging dead trees the wood might begin to renew itself. He put his recommendations in a report for me to submit to Clay Morris, Natural Resources Section Chief, Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works. Though there has been some questions about the Chesapeake Bay Advisory Board role in exceptions. I was strictly by the book in what is allowed in an RPA.

Though the RPA covers just 2/3 of the woodland, I am treating all the wooded area in the same way.  I applied for a Permitted Buffer Modifications under (9VAC25-830-140.5) to do the RPA. After the Mr. Morris reviewed the second year of work he granted us permission to complete the project as outlined in the roadmap for restoring the woodland health provided by the Forest Service and implemented by Wetland Studies and Solutions. General woodlot management for the removal of the invasive vines and some of the dead trees to facilitate regrowth and regeneration of the woodland. In the area where we just removed the invasive Autumn Olive, we are planning of seeding a wildflower mix this spring. It is hoped that the surviving trees will spread their seeds in the open areas and that the piles we created will serve as habitat for wildlife.

Horrible tangled mass of invasive vines above and below is the after picture

I am not a landscape designer, but I dream someday of having a “niceish sort of woodland” with a pathway to wander that Jane Austin herself would approve of- an ode to Kings Point Park where I spend much of my teen years wandering the woods and picnicking with Jane Austin’s books. Right now my budget every year goes to the hand removal (with clippers and chain saw) of the invasive vines and plants and creating habitat piles of the cut up dead trees. A small portion of the budget each year is used to paint the stumps of the vines with herbicide to extinguish them and keep my foot path clear. Someday a garden folly will mark the entrance to the woodland.  

This is an image I loved from the Haddonstone catalogue. 

Right now I am enchanted with the Haddonstone Folly

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