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Moat Wood in late Autumn 21 November 2021

My first Woodland Trust Wood 10 weeks ago and one I have returned to a few times since; it is a short drive, it offers a short walk with a variety of terrains, parking, a village shop and pub serving Harvey’s Best. Even the drive there is magical as the old Roman Road from Ringmer to Halland is an avenue of orange and red horse chestnuts.

My trip this afternoon was to capture the late sun glowing yellow onto autumn leaves. Arriving at a little before 4 O’clock I nearly missed it as the days are fast shortening and some low cloud on the western horizon cut the sun off early.

Moat Wood and East Hoathly mapped my All Trails

Knowing my way around I aim for the Church car park to take a loop through the church, passed the primary school to the allotments, then into the woods via the remaining conifer stand towards the moat to get the silhouettes of trees and any remaining colour before pushing through the hazel brush onto the road and back into the village.

St .Mary’s Church, East Hoathly

The light is bright across the church but I’m also eager to get down the path to spot the startling orange of the chestnut in the hedgerow by the road into East Hoathly.

Autumn colours on the oak and hedgerow on London Road outside East Hoathly

I’m not suitably confident about my tree silhouettes so already wish I’d gone a lot close to look at the leaves. I am sure to be corrected if I have this wrong.

London Road Oak, East Hoathly

I’m walking our dog Evie who is on her lead; I’ve come off the footpath to get close to the trees so we double back into the woods. I’m struck how much difference a few weeks can make. The difference between the deciduous trees and undergrowth that have mostly lost their leaves and the plantations.

Scots pine plantation planted in 1969 making these mature trees 50 years or so old.

Since 1987, on the back of the October hurricane which took down a lot of the deciduous trees these pines have been thinned, a practice that will continue here, as it does across Woodland Trust woods in order to restore woods to their deciduous native origins.

A Woodland Trust wood is well signposted at the entrances, where there is usually a sturdy gate or style and in the wood itself there are benches dedicated to those who have made a bequest or where a family have left something to the Trust.

A bench dedicated to someone who loved the woods

I return to these benches as a fixed and unchanging reminder of where I am – even if I also have All Trails live to tell me where I am, and now used like a digital compass.

Moat wood has a number of mature oak; the intention is to allow these to mature over the ‘very long term’ (50 years and beyond), with only minimal intervention as trees fall, create a break in the canopy and other mature.

I tend to find myself in the same spot each time I return so can in due course create ‘before and after’ shots between the seasons and show and timeline between spring, summer, autumn and winter. Lack of rain has reduced the moat to a soggy mud.

In other places the soggy flat ground and a strong wind has tipped a few younger trees over; unlike the trees of 1987 which were replaced, these will be allowed to rot or regrow where they are.

My trip this later afternoon ends as it gets dark and a visit to the King’s Head for a pint of Harvey’s best by the fire.

Costells Wood, Scaynes Hill Saturday 20 November 2021

Costells Wood is owned by The Woodland Trust and is a site of so-called ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ which is made up of ‘wooded heath and gill woodland habitats associated with the High Weald’. ‘Wooded heath’ (I looked it up) is a catch-all term used to describe a kind of landscape in the south of england that is made up of woods, heath, hedgerows and farmland more typical of the 19th century than the 20th while a ‘gill’ is a brook, burn or stream, often ‘deeply’ incised into the soily ground.

In England I rather feel that ‘deep’ here simply means you can’t step over it, though a running jump may do the job. It is deep enough to lose a cow, but perhaps not a skyscraper: this is Sussex after all, not Colorado. 

There are three interconnected ‘ancient woods’ here, Costells, Henfield and another one whose name escapes me. Included are a couple of small ponds and some wooded heath. I used the App All Trails to find my way around, pick out paths and monitor my slow, meandering progress. 

It doesn’t look or feel so ancient – this is not Jurassic Park; the trees are largely under 100 years old, with a lot of younger undergrowth where rhododendron has been cleared or the trees are being coppiced. 

The ‘ancient’ is used technically here to describe woodland that has been constantly used or known as a woodland since the 1600 – but 400 years of woodland use does not mean that any trees are this old. A handful are big enough, I’ve not measured them but would say 250 years is possible. An expert can correct me but I suspect the gale of October 1987 and disease have taken down older trees, whereas woodland management since 1996 when the Woodland Trust took over has seen invasive non-native species, conifers, rhododendron and laurel removed. 

The wood has also been designated an area of wildlife importance. Not living locally I’ve not experienced the wood at night so I would be unaware of this. In any case, the ever present sound of cars on the Lewes Road into Haywards Heath, regular flights overhead in and out of Gatwick and one entire side of the wood made up of a housing estate makes the area far less wild than is required to attract much wildlife. Dogs and walkers take some blame, though their presence is welcome, and I have to wonder what domestic cats get up to here. Where the south of the area is bordered by the busy Lewes Road (A272) , to the north there is a row of power line known as ‘Bunny Walk’ where the land below has been cleared and is cleared regularly to protect the cables – it lived up to its name. 

The entire area and all its paths could be covered in under 2 hours; I’ve made three visits in many months and came here a couple of times ten years ago when my son was playing football for a local club.  It is an isolated patch which risks being hemmed into even further by housing development. The 10 acres to the south is privately owned with a fenced off path through it. It is easily accessed from the village hall car park and blighted by the main road. I rather suspect the recent sale will see three or four very large executive homes appearing on its borders – just like the other such properties on the Lewes Road into Haywards Heath. 

Two large housing developments were built on the other side of the road between 2018 and 2020 which will increase the number of visitors and therefore regular disturbance, presence and impact of domestic pets and litter. 

My walk today took me from the carpark on Scaynes Common down a cul de sac past two grand homes and down an avenue of trees.

The avenue of trees down along the footpath to ‘Bunny Walk’ from Costells Lodge and Silver Birches

It is easier to park in the Scaynes Hill Millennium Village Hall car park and use the entrance off the sports field. The rest of the wood abutting the housing is fenced off with access restricted or banned. 

Quoting the Woodland Trust Management Plan directly I can expect to find ‘oak and occasional ash standards with hazel, birch and hornbeam coppice’ and in spring ‘pockets of ancient semi-natural woodland ground flora such as bluebell and wood anemone’. As well as ‘alder flush woodland’ in the gills, with ‘carpets of mosses and ferns and the occasional and scarce alder buckthorn’. 

‘The most notable stand type is the wooded heath area with open-grown oak, birch and Scots pine with a ground flora of heather, bilberry and bracken’ which the Woodland Trust advise is ‘a scarce habitat in lowland England’.

The ‘understorey species are typically hazel and rowan, with occasional holly and alder buckthorn with a dense layer of mosses, liverworts and ferns carpeting the streamside areas’.

Repeated visits will have me pick things out one by one and in time I should get to know my plant types well; I really need to go on a guided walk with an expert. September to November has so far had me experience late summer, autumn and early winter. There has yet to be a frost; unusually there have been only a couple of spells of heavy rain. The ponds are low, the paths largely dry though wellies are recommended given the many patches of well-trodden mud. 

I removed some litter, the usual culprits: energy drinks, disposable coffee and a take-away … 

A regular visitor to Haywards Heath I will try and make a stop here every month, or at least every other month until I have covered all seasons and weathers. I want to explore Henfield Wood, though a short foray gave me the impression it was made up of a lot of barely penetrable coppiced hazel. I wonder too where the Sussex Ouse Valley Way would take me.

The Sussex Ouse Valley Way using Google Maps

If I am here for long enough I wonder which field, meadow or paddock will be given up to housing. We have to live somewhere, and rather than apartments in town us Brits do love our houses with a tiny patch of front and back garden and a place to park the cars.

References

The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Costells Wood 

Wooded Heaths in the High Weald 

An Autumnal Moat Wood, East Hoathly

Moat Wood, Uckfield 3 November 

My third of fourth trip to this Woodland Trust wood, so I ought to get it right. Parking by the Church is the best way in, with parking spaces and bins, then a path through the churchyard past War Memorial and alongside the Primary School into the woods.

Primary School Pond and Nature Reserve

As we approach remembrance Sunday I must research some of these names shown here; men who served and died during the First World War. 

Moat Wood isn’t a long walk, but our dog Evie is on a time limit of 20-30 minutes given her age and arthritis.

I think I’ve got the timing about right for autumn colours, the path thick with fallen leaves and the canopy in many places becoming a yellow/orange glow. This can only be enjoyed with sunshine so I’ve crawled away from a cold to get some air and stretch my legs before it is too late. Moat Wood is small, surrounds a medieval moat and is demarcated as ‘ancient woodland’. 

Over the last 20 years I’ve used the end of October and then 5th November as the guide for when I would expect all the leaves to have gone from the trees, but it appears to be getting ever so slightly later each year. It takes a storm blowing through or frost and we have had neither despite hints of frost right now and for a day or two.

I sincerely recommend going to the Woodland Trust website and searching for this wood and reading the Management Plan. It is reassuring to know that such an organisation exists and with 1000 woods around the UK many people, communities and local councils have put woods into the hands of the Woodland Trust. You can guarantee a steady hand, careful planning and a sensitive recovery plan for woods thick with invasive species or poorly planted in previous decades (typically with conifers), while dealing with the menace of things like ash dieback. I find their communications with the public are excellent.

And then there are benches, dedications, bridges, duckboard tracks, gates and notices aiming to help the public enjoy the woods rather than keeping them out.

From the Management Plant you learn some technical phraseology, this is ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ with the majority equating to ‘National Vegetation Classification’.  I’m trying to get my head around these expressions as I go from one Woodland Trust wood to another to see for myself what is meant on the ground.

‘Large parts of the wood were replanted with broadleaves after the storm of 1987.’ Which explains why so few fallen trees indicating this event can be found on the ground. There is a corner where the failure of planted ‘oak, ash, wild cherry and non-native Norway maple’ is self-evident and the natural regeneration of species such as hornbeam and birch quite virulent by comparison.

The pine, though thinned, still dominates its corner of the wood where little light gets to the ground.

Brede High Wood, East Sussex

My second visit here which should have made it an easier trip over but for extensive roadworks at Polegate on the A27 which lost me a good 20 minutes; I usually use Waze to dodge this kind of thing and would have cut across country further in land or along the coast.

I’m back because I want to witness that transition through early autumn as the leaves change; I rather think that rather than a great crescendo of colour, that there are instead staccato events over several weeks depending on which trees you are looking at – the sweet horse chestnut are early, British oak is late. We will see, or my homework reading The Woodland Trust management plan for these woods, their magazine and other research will do its job.

I’m not about to disappear through the woods and around the reservoir for 2 1/2 hours; I might manage it but our dog Evie is getting tired after 1 at best 1 1/2 hours so I have to keep things shorter or come alone.

Brede High Wood from West Gate Car Park, All Trails

I have become dependent on All Trails. In the past I have got lost with Google Maps which are fine until you leave the road and I’ve got an Ordnance Survey subscription that I am yet to fully test.

I was looking for change, the streams, the trees, the sites and smells. A tractor was out doing what I could only describe as ‘scarrifying’ the bracken/gorse in a clearing not far from the reservoir. I need to read the Brede Wood Management Plan from the Woodland Trust again to get the lowdown on this; these woods are managed. Parts of it were once farmland. Parts of it were once plantations now being thinned. In places invasive species such as Rhododendron have been removed.

The patchwork of different elements to this wood will become clearer in time. I need to arm myself with a map design for and about the woods.

The Hidden History of Brede High Wood

I also feel I need to be getting out pen and paper to pick out the features in a way that makes them more clear: I am drawn to the sound of a brook which makes it feature so much bigger in my mind than it appears in a photograph. These trickles of bouncing water mean something to me, bring back important childhood memories of being left to play in such spaces creating dams and laying sticks out – even redirecting the water in tiny rivulets.

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