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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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