A partnership between Ross-on-Wye Town Council, Natural England and the Wye Valley AONB Unit has been undertaking work to manage the riverside in Ross, to encourage biodiversity and improve riverside views. This is part of a programme of tree management to help create better habitats for a variety of flora and fauna along the river. Trees have been pollarded and coppiced to improve the age structure of riverside trees, providing a good habitat for a variety of species. This also creates views of the river, and light and shade on the river and along the river bank. Shade to maintain beneficially high oxygen levels in the water, and adequate light for the growth of aquatic plants.
Pollarding, coppicing and pleatching are traditional tree management tools. Pollarding is a form of management which encourages vigorous fresh growth from where the tree is cut, above the height of grazing animals. It helps to prolong the life of trees by stimulating growth and reducing the weight of the tree so it is less likely to split or fall. Willow trees, such as the tree pollarded in Ross, respond well to this management and fresh growth should apprea next year.
Coppicing, where trees are cut down at their base to encoourage growth of new stems, also creates a sustainable timber supply for future generations. Some of the alder trees along the river bank in Ross are showing signs of suffering from Phytophthora; if left unmanaged the trees will eventually die. Examples of this can be seen in a number of standing dead trees close to Wilton Bridge. Whilst standing deadwood is an excellent habitat, coppiced trees are less likely to be affected by the disease when regrowth starts in the spring. The decision was made to coppice trees to encourage fresh growth.
An innovative form of riverbank management has also been tried out, in the form of pleaching. Just like hedge laying, willow has been hinged at its base and layed along the riverbank, with it branches in the water. The tree continues to grow and the vegetation in the water creates a habitat for aquatic animals. The branches slow down the flow of water, creating slack water. This slower flowing water provides a habitat for fish to shelter in.
Pollarding and coppicing have been undertaken on the flood plains of the River Wye for many centuries, particularly at Ross. The town had a thriving basket making idustry, which relied on the new growth of the coppiced willow trees lining the river. This blue plaque on the Hope and Anchor pub remembers this part of th town's history.
The River Wye is protected as a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) because it is an important migration route, wildlife corridor and breeding area for many nationally and internationally important species.
Esther and Henry Rudge, of Ballingham Court Farm, have been presented with the Wye Valley AONB Farming Award trophy for the third time, at the Monmoouthshire Show.