Photographs: CC BY SA 3.0 J F Vernon 2022
Last autumn I took my interest in trees (urban and woodland, ancient and young) a step further by joining The Woodland Trust and taking a close interest in (and supporting) the world of Lewes Urban Arboretum. My journey across Sussex then began, picking out almost every Woodland Trust Wood in East Sussex with the intention of paying a visit to each during each season of the year: another few months and the task will have been completed.
Venturing out across England I’ve visited a few other Woodland Trust woods while I was in the area; I’m unlikely to pay these a second visit. To minimise my journeys and to spread my interest I have also started to visit all the woods in a catchment of around 10-15 miles out from Lewes. This has me visiting The National Trust, Forestry Commission Woods, RSPB Nature Reserves and other private woods and parks. There are some large garden parks such as Sheffield Park (National Trust) and Wakehurst Place which I have not visited recently or included in this journey both because of the cost of admission and because most are planted with excotic and even invasive non-native species such as rhododendron. I will write about Chalk Downland and the likes of Landport Bottom and Malling Down Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife) elsewhere – they are not known for many or indeed any trees.
I have visited William’s Wood, Warninglid at least once a month since October 2021 as I spend Saturday mornings down the road at The Triangle, Burgess Hill and enjoy the contrast from a humid swimming pool teaching swimmers in a busy swimming club to the woods where I only rarely come across a dog-walker, cyclist or the odd rider out on a hack. I have also returned several times with family or friends (and our dog). I last wrote up a visit at the end of March. I had Covid from the end of March that kept me at home for a few weeks right when I most wished to be capturing the winter/summer transition through spring which has distinct stages through the dotted white carpet of wood anemones through to bluebells, and other plants on the woodland floor and by the deeply incised running gills.
I read up on any Woodland Trust wood in advance and enjoy the detail that comes from each wood’s Management Plan. Much can change in a wood over four weeks, in this case,as I hoped, the bluebells were out in modest clumps by tree stumps, and in huge carpets under the still open canopy of the older deciduous trees.
This is the High Weald here, ‘ancient woodland’ (‘an area of land where there had been continual growth since 1600’). Inevitably the woods in the south of England are surrounded closely by farmland and parkland, though William’s Wood benefits from not abutting a major town or residential sprawl which greatly increases the footfall and other consequences politely described as ‘anti-social behaviour’, namely litter and sometimes malicious damage. The A22 is just distant enough not to be heard, though plains and assorted aircraft do leave and come in overhead to Gatwick Airport 12 1/2 miles to the north (20km).
Williams Wood is adjoining another extensive wood and abutting a seasonal shoot (pheasants and ducks) – making it noisy on my Saturday visits from October to February for pheasants and September and to the end of January for ducks.
There is really only parking for one car by the gate along the lane to Bellevue Care Home (formerly Stonewick Lodge) as additional cars can inconvenience residents of Stonewick Lodge on the other side of the lane trying to get into their home; a further two or maybe three cars can park on the grass kerb by the B211 (Warninglid Lane)
A well marked track, claggy with mud after heavy rainfall and for a few weeks in winter therefore, with ‘Keep dogs on lead’ and ‘Private Woods’ signage either side takes you after some 450m to William’s Wood along the left hand fork – turning right takes you on the Sussex Ouse Way along a path that is mostly fenced in between a shoot and other private properties. The ‘keep dogs on lead’ thing is certainly to avoid scaring pheasants.
Having tried an old fashioned map and struggled with Google Maps providing much once off the road I now swear by AllTrails. This is a record of my late April visit, stumbling around a route that might have taken 45 minutes in well over an hour: I was stopping to take photographs and listen to the wildlife.
This also takes you onto the Sussex Ouse Valley Way, which were I to follow it the south east would take me to the English Channel, home in Lewes and then down to Newhaven and the coast. With motorways, urban sprawl, railways and all other kinds of human activity to negotiate, let alone the distance I may give this one a miss. Wellies are recommended after rain, in all but the driest weather sturdy footwear is recommended though trainers might do.
The meadow as you enter William’s Wood was full of primroses.
The first beds of bluebells were a little further on, on banks and in spaces around the gill.
Further on, entering Bishop’s Wood (all part of the same woodland) I hoped to find the largest carpets of bluebells and was suitably pleased by what I found.
Along the way I saw a number of small, bright yellow butterflies (clouded yellow I think), a lesser-spotted woodpecker, black birds, coal tits, a falcon and a few ducks and pheasants that hadn’t been shot or netted during the shooting season.
As well as the sounds of birdlife and a trickling brook, spring smells noticeably different to winter with the scents of flowers and smell of energised greenery. As I suffer from hayfever I don’t quite understand why I am in a wood rather than out at sea or up a mountain in spring – I take antihistamines.
Most visits I record a one minute ‘sound scape’; though I am yet to upload any of these. I’d like to be able to identify more of the birds first.
Sussex Ouse Way