I’ve been having some issues with Cherry Laurel on one of my woodland sites since I took over in the New Year. For those of you unfamiliar with this git of an invasive, it’s quite similar to Rhododendron. It’s very tolerant, quick growing and evergreen and can shade out huge areas of woodland understory, impeding native flora. It’s also pretty ecologically useless; I’ve been inspecting large stands of it on the site and I’ve yet to find any birds nesting in it (or even any around it). There are often midges and something’s been having a go at the leaves, but the invert. habitation seems to be pretty low.
There’s a very definite advance line of the stuff – you can see it originating as thick barriers used by some of the hideous mock-Tudor mansions that border the ‘rich side’ of the site to stop the plebs from the estates round the ‘other side’ getting any ideas (I imagine). They’ve undoubtedly caused more damage than the occasional burnt out moped and bit of graffiti I get from the ‘other side’. The centre, semi-ancient woodland, is mercilessly free of the stuff, but it’s thick around the edges and I’ve decided that what’s needed is my own Maginot line and my own Schlieffen Plan of attack (yes, I realise this makes me both allies and axis in this scenario, and that I’m mixing my World Wars).
Normally I’d have the stuff cut by big, burly men (and women) with chainsaws and treated with potentially carcinogenic herbicides, but no money, you see. So it is once again all down to that hardy mainstay of the conservation movement – the volunteer fueled by industrial levels of tea and biscuits.
One of the annoying things about laurel is that if lopped laurel branches are left to lie on the ground, they can take root and sprout new growth. In a perfect world, I’d burn the stuff (fire, the great purifier, solves so many problems), but the woodland is quite closed canopy and I don’t really like burning past March (however, one of the few saving graces is that because of the aforementioned avian aversion to the stuff, as long as it’s had a thorough check beforehand you can pretty much fell it year-round).
So my current method to avoid regrowth is to make a raft of any dead wood and then stack the laurel on top (mattocking out the roots where possible, or just bludgeoning them with a hand axe to let water and disease in). At first, this does produce a large and slightly unsightly brash pile, but after a couple of weeks, it’s already noticeably squashed down.
Where possible, we also built the rafts on top of newly cut laurel stools to prohibit regrowth. In September, I will probably come back and put a match to the whole lot…this has caused some panic; cherry laurel contains cyanide (or something similar) and some people have been a little concerned I might poison local residents. I’ve been assured it’s safe. I guess we’ll find out. If I disappear come the autumn, you’ll know why.
The area already looks hugely different, with a drastically increased light level hitting the woodland floor. I’ll be tracking the laurel regrowth and ground flora for the next few years. Anyway, a bit of a ‘this is what I did at work this week’ post there. But what did you expect? I’ve been busy. Stop complaining.