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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.

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.

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