Parking is limited to three or four cars on a stretch of badly broken curb or in a near-by lay-by but at this year especially it is worth the effort. There are no visitor plans or ‘site interpretation’ at the entrances which I rather feel is a mistake – education mattes, and helps. Not everyone will care to download maps or information in advance or once they have arrived picnic in hand, dog on a lead, children in tow.
I’m no fan of the noise of traffic coming at you from two sides of this 20 acre triangular ‘ancient woodland’ plot that makes up Lake Wood. I keep thinking I ought to get earphones and listen to music; this is the sad reality of a number of these Woodland Trust woods here in Sussex where most seem to be on the edge of a main road or on the edge of urban development.
The site was given to the Woodland Trust by the Streatfield family to whom there is a dedication. From the Management Plan I learn that ‘landscaping occured in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
A pond was enlarged, features carved in the sandstone outcrops and exotic specimen trees planet as a part of the ‘Gardens and Pleasure Grounds of Rocks House’. This would make the oldest trees, both conifers and broadleaves, some 140 years or so old. Armed with a tape measure this is what I found with a ‘veteran’ sweet chestnut, beech and giant redwood, in turn with girths of approximately 300cm to 500cm. It is likely that theee were all planted around the same time in the 1880s.
To protect woodland and put it into caring hands who will manage it for generations to come I can think of no better policy; it is that or risk seeing it being developed – in this case with a series of executive homes each with its own access to the lake, or a mass of Bellways Boxes, the lake drained or fenced in, or the wood simply abandoned to motorbikes and picnic litter.
The lake is the creation of Capability Brown and the rides around the lake, including a tunnel through the rocks, were designed for carriages. Excotic trees were planted, many of which survived. Steps, tunnels and a boathouse were cut into the rocks at the time too.
The 1987 storm took down some 100 oak trees and led to the quick spread of rhododendron and the associated effects it has on taking all light from the ground. An early task of the Woodland Trust, working with volunteers, was to remove the rhododendron.
Reading the Lake Wood Management Plan indicates the thought given by the Woodland Trust to getting the wood into a state where it can largely grow into its natural self, encouraging the variety of structures, ages and types of tree and undergrowth currently present with invasive species removed while retaining the ancient specimen trees. My sense of all this is at times more of a living museum, or a safari park for trees, than a truly natural wood – nature would quickly cover and block the so-called rides and paths kept clear by footfall alone could not exist without the steps and bridges so thoughtfully added. Here the need to accommodate, if not encourage visitors, is clear.
Nature in its truest form is more apparent where there are dead or fallen trees – though the mass flattening of hundreds of trees in the October 1987 hurricane is not apparent. I rather believe that with rhododendron invasion the site would otherwise be a mass of 40 year old densely tangled waxy leaved evergreen rhododendrons. Despite their threat as an invasive plant the cherry laurel planted along the dam as a hedgerow remains – it is about as appealing as a neighbour eager to shut out prying eyes from a private garden and looks out of place, or is just another boundary like a wall, road, by-pass or fence.
The rock outcrops are favoured as a feature and so are to be kept free to some degree of birch and holly which would otherwise hide their form.
There is next to no litter – unlike the bag of cans, bottles, crisp and sandwich wrappers I collected in September. I took away one plastic bag that had been used to pick up dog faeces and left in a hedge. I was wearing gloves: I already had a small bag from my own dog so didn’t feel unduly put out. However, there are no bins on site or near the entrances which is a pity – some people clearly leave litter at one entrance as if expecting a bin rather than taking it home with them.
I’ll be back mid-winter. I’m sure it will look different again once all the leaves have gone, with frost or a snowfall.