Tree maintenance and preservation of pollarded trees

Tree maintenance and preservation of pollarded trees
A freshly pollarded willow. © Yann Kohler

Involved sectors

Agriculture, Water management, Nature protection, Local population/citizens

Affected habitats

Shrubs and wooded areas, Grassland, Arable land

Description

Pollarded willows are characteristic elements of the landscape in various Alpine regions. The unusual shape of the heads of the trees is created when the young trunks and main branches are cut back to promote a more bushy growth of foliage. At the head of the trunk, cavities are formed over time, and in the branches, the bark and especially the cavities, numerous species find a habitat and niches in which to breed. As many as 200 species of fauna can occur in the willows found in intact river meadows, for example. In the past, pollarded willows provided a source of wood, e.g. for fencing, shafts for tools, bindings for wine, basket-making etc., but they have no current value from this perspective today. In the context of large-scale agriculture, too, stands of pollarded willows are often regarded as a nuisance and are therefore removed. The management of pollarded willows is time-consuming and labour-intensive, and if they are not maintained, the trees often break apart. In networks of interlinked biotopes, they constitute important stepping stones and transit routes.

Impact

Impact in particular on Birds, Insects
Ecological impact  
Improvement or preservation of habitats Regular cutting of the willows results in rapid thickening of the trunk, with areas of decay and cavities developing at the upper end as the years pass. In the cracks, niches and hollows of these old stands of pollarded trees, numerous species of small mammals, insects and birds etc. find a habitat and niches in which to breed.
Element of ecological network As linear structures, e.g. along small watercourses, they can act as transit routes. As isolate trees they form important stepping stones in the cultural landscape.
Other Pollarded willows are suitable for use to reinforce ditches and banks and can thus replace masonry in the rehabilitation of watercourses to some extent.
Time of realisation for measure Immediate: Pollarded trees develop their habitat and stepping stone biotope function with increasing age.
Impact scope Very localised (plot): As part of a local or regional strategy for the management of the pollarded trees, the biotope networking impact can be substantially increased.

Implementation

Implementation period Days: Caring for the trees is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Managing a large number of trees is likely to be fairly time-consuming. Regular cutting only takes place every 8-10 years, however, so that the management can be spread over a number of years.
Frequency Recurring: The characteristic shape of pollarded trees will result from regular pruning every 5-20 years.

Economic and legal aspects

Costs Very low (less than 1'000 EUR): Subsidies can amount to around € 25-30 per tree.
Socio-economic impacts Medium: Pollarded willows provided a source of wood, e.g. for fencing, shafts for brooms, bean poles, bindings for wine, basket-making, firewood, etc.. This has decreased in significance but is now being revived in local projects. The wood is used in schools and kindergartens as a material to build play tunnels, lattice fencing, etc. Willow rods can also be used in private gardens and for reinforcing banks in "green" hydraulic engineering.
Sources of financing Other private sources, Public: local, Public: regional, Public: national, Public: European
Legal situation Management, maintenance and new planting of pollarded willows are subsidised in various Alpine regions. In some regions, these trees enjoy protect status as significant elements of the cultural landscape.

Further information

Evaluation Pollarded trees are important and particularly striking features of a cultural landscape and are closely linked with various traditional forms of use. For that reason, in addition to their ecological function, it is important to integrate them into biotope networking strategies. They can develop symbolic significance for entire projects (see project run by Burgenland Society for Nature Conservation).
Information Other: Braun, Konold (1998): Kulturgeschichte und Bedeutung der Kopfweiden in Südwestdeutschland. Beiheft 89, Veröffentlichungen für Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege in Baden-Württemberg. 240 p.
Contact Austria: e.g. Pollarded tree project run by Burgenland Society for Nature Conservation: http://www.naturschutzbund.at/burgenland/

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