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LU Conservation volunteers: Raking, cutting and digging

18 January 2024

3 mins

Guest blog by Rich-Fenn-Griffin, Loughborough University’s Assistant Gardens Manager. This was written after the first conservation volunteering activity in the autumn term.

Many thanks to our first group of volunteers who were out in Holywell Wood in the glorious autumn sunshine.  Holywell is the quietest of our two ancient woodlands, only being accessible to University staff and students. 

The first task was raking the cut vegetation from the main ride (completed by Rose, Jack, Gursimran, Issy and Caitlin).  Rides were created in woodlands for two main reasons: firstly to make it easier to get into the wood to get timber out, and secondly, when deer hunting was common in woods it made them easier to ride through (hence the term ride). 

Historically, the rides were kept open by a combination of felling trees and grazing animals.  The volunteers today were mimicking these animals.  By raking up the cut vegetation and taking most of it off-site they were pretending to do the nutrient transfer out of the wood that would have happened with grazing animals. 

As a rule, for every two bags of raked cuttings taken out, one bag was left in a pile on site (this is a great habitat for insects).  This keeps the nutrient levels in the ride soil low which favours a more diverse range of wildflower species than if we just left the cuttings to rot down.  Please pop into the wood in the spring and early summer to see the range.

Jack (after finishing the ride) helped the University Arborist take down the bird boxes in the wood.  This might sound a bit counterintuitive for conservation but bird boxes in this context actually hinder the survival of one of our rarer species.  This is because bird boxes provide homes for their competitors.  To tip the scale in the favour of this rarer species we have decided to take most of the bird boxes out from the wood.

Lastly, Rose and Issy installed a support in the forest school area as part of a new balance beam extension to the stepping stones.  They expertly measured everything up and hopefully will have the opportunity to finish it off in the near future.

Next time on LU Conservation Volunteers . . .

We will be working in the new Carbon Offset Woodland (adjacent to Burleigh Wood).  This wood was planted about 20 years ago on old arable land.  As such, it now has plenty of trees but little in the way of ground flora.  To give things a helping hand in the right direction, we’re going to plant bluebells and sow wildflower seeds to create more habitat for pollinators and kickstart the woodland to becoming more biodiverse.

If you want to help out, please look out for and respond to the next invite email. 

To find out more, please get in touch at

This article is in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land. To read more click here

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