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Moat Wood, East Hoathly through the seasons


I took up visits to woods in general and Woodland Trust woods in particular to give that part of my day no longer occupied with e-learning at GBMET a focus. This has seen me travel back and forth across East Sussex, with some trips into West Sussex and over the border into Kent (just). I may say that in time my current tramping ground is the South Downs. 

The Woodland Trust provides the detail on the history and management of the wood I visit, along with guidance on the flora and fauna to expect. I rarely get the parking right and can differ up and down local lanes several times before I get it right. 

My Sussex Woods

As petrol prices have gone through the roof my trips have spiralled ever closer to home, within 5 miles of Lewes, and on foot on local walks in every direction from the Winterbourne to Juggs Lane, Egrets Way and the Railway Land Trust, Malling and Southerham Nature Reserves, Malling Field along the Ouse to Offham and of course Landport Bottom and the Old Racecourse. 

I had already completed six or more visits to Sussex Woodland Trust woods before I took a punt on Moat Wood, East Hoathly. We know the village from ‘outlier’ bonfire events – always a nighttime November trip, so hardly an opportunity to take in the countryside. 

I’ve now been back to East Hoathly at least ten times in nine months, most times varying the visit a little, either parking up on South Street in the layby or by the Church. I’ve also wondered well beyond the woods into the surrounding fields. The temptation has even developed to move here, with a few properties coming up which have looked interesting (if not always affordable). Anything away from Lewes, its connectability, schools and ‘quality of life’ and resources becomes more affordable if you want a detached house, a patch of garden and somewhere to park a car. 

The Mission of The Woodland trust is to ‘improve woodland biodiversity and increase peoples’ understanding and enjoyment of woodland’. I can get behind that, and apply the same thinking to Chalk Downs and hedging and coppiced fringes into woodland and suburban back gardens. I apply this to the shambolic ‘rewilding’ of my own urban garden which has had ten years of ‘nomoever’ and a lot of mulching. 

Moat Wood is an easy, short circuit on the flat. The rides can be muddy and on some paths are best tackled in wellies or sturdy boots. There is one bench on the corner of one walk and some hefty downed trunks that afford a good bench and picnic spot south of the spartan remains of a mediaeval moated farm. It was designated a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage in 2000, which gives the site additional protection against unauthorised change. This might not be enough to prevent the site being closely fringed by busy roads and housing development. 

There are two recommended spots to park, either by the Church in the village car park or by the side of the road, or on South Street where there is a layby with space for several vehicles. I’ve always been able to park, often being the only vehicle in the lay-by. 

Location of East Hoathly in East Sussex, southern England (cc OpenStreetMap) 

I’ve not tried the entrance closer to the A22 because there is nowhere to park and I’ve learnt to stay away from the often busy and noisy A22. 

The entrance to Moat Wood off South Street, East Hoathly. 

I may try some early morning trips here when the traffic should be lighter. I’m afraid that traffic noise and overhead planes are impossible to avoid anywhere in Sussex as we’re criss-crossed with commuter routes and underneath some of the busiest skies on the planet for planes with Gatwick and Heathrow close, let along Luton and Stansted beyond and local airfields sending up small craft. 

My knowledge of the trees is limited but growing: I can identify a handful of trees though generally will need a leaf to go by, rather than figuring it out from a trunk or twig. I’m getting there. You also need to see the trees at different stages of growth from sapling, to mature and ancient trees. 

Hornbeam

Oak over the moat and April, June and January

Moat Wood offers all the stages through to mature trees of maybe 150 years old. For truly ancient trees of 200-300 years old you need to look further afield … of come back in a century. I know my oak:

I love to find woods through The Woodland Trust ‘Find a Wood’, read up the introductory blurb on the website and then download the Management Plan. 

The three strategic aims of The Woodland Trust that I’ve picked out are to: 

  • Protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future
  • Work with others to create more native woodlands and places rich in trees
  • Inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees

This is a fine balance which opens the woods up to access to the most invasive of all species: us, our dogs and behaviours while working with local councils, and land owners, which might include a property developer or farmer, or a wealthy individual with a philanthropic turn. Woods in Sussex are largely unconnected and isolated; either a patchwork of often visited spaces close to urban sprawl, or a wet or deeply incised space which couldn’t be commercially turned over to farming (or a commercial shoot) as well as apparently random spaces that few people ever visit which might offer the best sanctuary of all. We don’t take kindly to being kept out of a wood and protect our rights of way and footpaths stoically. 

It required significant donations from local people in East Hoathly and the East Hoathly and Halland Parish Council to purchase Moat Wood Moat for the Woodland Trust in 1999. 

The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Moat Wood tells us that:

The majority of the canopy of Moat Wood is dominated by mature oak, grown as high forest, with a mixed species understorey. 

This canopy was drastically opened up by the storm of 1987 and subsequent clearing operations. These cleared areas are now dominated by a mixture of natural regeneration and coppice re-growth, particularly of hornbeam, along with a few surviving planted oaks. 

My multiple visits to Moat Wood are shared on All Trails and a selection of my photographs shared to Google Maps. My photographs, trails and even these notes are essentially a personal aide memoire. I’ll revisit what I have written and build on what I know over the years. 

Moat Wood from South Street, around the ‘moat’ to the A22 perimeter. You could try and cross this busy dual-carriageway – I haven’t. 

The policy for Moat Wood is of ‘minimum silvicultural intervention’ which means there are no operations such as coppicing, thinning or felling.

All I’ve been aware of is the clearing of some of the saplings, bracken and brambles that were choking up the southern environs of the 13th century moat – cleared during a dry spell last autumn they became soggy over winter but at least make it possible to make out the old moat and what would have been a farmstead. It requires a lot of imagination to picture it. The joy though is to see the trees and plants change so much during the seasons, with autumn and spring by far the most colourful, while the contrast between mid-winter and mid-summer couldn’t be greater. 

The Management Plan for Moat Wood has more to say on these moated farmsteads: 

This type of moated site is likely to have been a prestigious domestic or religious settlement containing timber-framed buildings and been built between 1250 and 1350. 

There are around 6000 moated sites known in England, mostly built between 1250 and 1350. They form a significant class of mediaeval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside

Mature Oak 

Some of the mature oak is currently affected by chronic oak decline and ash is affected by ash dieback

There are ‘ancient woodland indicator ground flora species’ such as bluebell, wood anemone and wild garlic. These are glorious as early March, through April to May. 

The coppice regrowth around the moat will be re-cut on a short cycle (2-5 years) to maintain open views of the feature.

There is a ‘naturally regenerated understorey of species such as hornbeam, birch, hazel, holly, sycamore and sweet chestnut’. 

Conifers

According to the Management Plan parts of Moat Wood outside of the Trust’s ownership are ‘threatened by unmanaged conifer plantations’ in one area and ‘attempts to remove all vegetation prior to submitting a planning application in another’. It is one of the main principles of the Woodland Trust to protect, maintain and restore this species-rich habitat.


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