Wood anemones, wild garlic and bluebells at their very best.
Picking my way around the woods of Sussex and having often visited the Woodland Trust Woods around Uckfield: Lake Wood and Views Wood, as well as Buxted Park I thought I’d try others from the handy Woodland Trust ‘Wood Finder’. This is how I found myself driving through ‘old’ Uckfield and out towards the east and Framfield along Sandy Lane. This was mid-April (12th April). I have been back several times since (13th, 28th & 29th April and early May: 1st and 2nd) – alone, with our dog, with family and friends. There is often no one around; sometimes a solo dog walker. There are stick dens scattered about so clearly kids come here at weekends or holidays. It is a short walk from Uckfield and easily reached by road.
Location of Hempstead Wood, west of Uckfield (cc OpenStreetMap 2022)
Leaving Uckfield you soon find yourself on Sandy Lane which is in itself a delight, with steep banks covered in bluebells from mid-April to mid-May and mature trees overhanging the road. If you know someone who has mobility issues who would like to see the woods in spring this is one of several lanes around Sussex which do the job.
Hempstead Wood is ‘ancient woodland of the low weald’ (Woodland Trust) and would once have formed part of an ancient wood that stretched right across Sussex to Kent. Indeed many place names are indicative of a ‘clearing in the woods’.
There is parking off Sandy Lane for four cars at most: there is a sign asking that the farm gate is kept clear.
Hempstead Wood is a private wood. Bikes are not permitted and access for them has been restricted by new fencing. There is a rough track packed with rumble and in places deeply incised by the rain that runs steeply down the east side of the wood; the entrance to the woods propper is via a smart stile on the right some 170 metres down the lane. Signs restate that this is a private wood and asks that people stick to the paths; there is also a sign banning bikes.
In spring there are a number of clear stages in the wood marked at first by wood anemones followed by wild garlic before it flowers and then by bluebells and before the tree canopy encloses all.
The wood anemones bloom early to create an ever denser speckled carpet of white and then the flowers disappear quite quickly as leaves appear on the trees.
Bluebells follow at first forming a dense matting of leaves before the distinctive flowers emerge and stretch a foot or more above ground.
Bluebell bulbs are easily damaged by trampling by footfall and dogs. This means that they can’t produce enough energy to flower and reproduce in subsequent years. There is a request to stick to the ‘path’ but with multiple paths around the wood these can be hard to define; sadly there are many additional paths being made through the bluebells which could in time cause fragmentation of the colonies.
In mid-April the wild garlic had not flowered.
A week later flower stems with tear-drop-like bulbs emerged, finally opening into a chandelier of small white flowers at the beginning of May.
The wild garlic here is extensive and covers the damp banks of a seasonal stream that runs through the wood. There are multiple similar beds of wild garlic in many of the woods I have visited, with leaves appearing as early as 11 February on the High Weald.
Sadly, there has been some severe cropping with a scythe in patches.
Whilst Woodland Trust woods permit foraging and guidelines are provided; namely, picking only a few young leaves from any one plant, here in a private wood this ought not to be going on.
Finding wild garlic on sale in local markets is a worrying trend.
A circuit around Hempstead Wood might take 45 minutes; this can be extended by adding a short walk onto the meadow above the Uckfield rail line then back to Spring Lane. There’s an option here to cross the railway line and head into Buxted Deer Park beyond.
As well as the wood anemones, bluebells, wild garlic and tree canopy there are a few early purple orchids, cuckoo flowers and primrose. On different trips we have seen a jay and woodpeckers.
I’ve only seen this sign up in one place, Brede High Wood (early in the season when there were no bluebells to see at all). I rather think these are needed elsewhere otherwise, where they have the resources, owners will fence of the only ‘right of way’, which in some cases can be quite brutal with barbed wire fencing keeping walkes to a single, narrow and well-worn track.
For all walks I use the App ‘All Trails’ and for plant and tree identification I use ‘PictureThis plant identifier’.
I only discovered Hempstead Wood in April; most of the woods I visit, Woodland Trust and others around Uckfield, Blackboys, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings I have been visiting since December 2021, some since October. I have therefore had the chance to see them in late summer, autumn, through winter, early and now late spring. Other woods, heaths and parks visited include: Little Foxes Wood, Lake Wood, Views Wood, Moat Wood, Kiln Wood, William’s Wood, Beechwood Mill and Brede High Wood, as well as Buxted Park, Laughton Common Wood, Chailey Common and Markstakes Common.
Further advice and information
Natural England – The Countryside Code (link to PDF)
Forestry Commission – New Forest Fungi Code Q and As
Scottish Natural Heritage – Scottish Wild Mushroom Code