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I am still a few months short of visiting Lake Wood across all seasons. My first visit was on 19 October. I wonder if I was making a visit after a busy summer season before a clean up, or after a warm summer weekend as I couldn’t help but note then, as I did today, on the discarded coffee cups (Costa), beer bottles (Budweiser), vodka battles (Stolichnaya), crisp and sweet bags. Since that trip I have been prepared to collect some litter so long as it doesn’t require gloves or anything larger than a large poo bag … I have filled a shopping bag on one occasion, and then again a bin liner.
Solutions to such problems of litter, graffiti, a few fires and frequent abandoned deposits of dog waste are welcome. I rather think it starts with trips to the site with local primary school children on litter picking and other trips so that in the decades to come they want to take care of the place.
But please don’t let me put you off – the litter and graffiti is low-key. I’d like to say it is idyllic, and visually it is indeed a treat for the eyes to enjoy a late 18th century early 19th century landscaped garden in the style of Capability Brown. Idyllic for me, however, requires minimal interfering noise from traffic hurtling along the Uckfield Bypass, or negotiating at speed the chicances – despite poor visibility around Rock Road, which takes up two sides of a triangle – so 2/3rds or more of the perimeter of the wood.
Parking, and especially departing the lay-by here requires nerve as from both directions, both hidden corners, vehicles can emerge at speed and they are never sympathetic to find you pulling out.
Something needs to be done about noise pollution and behaviours which I struggle to deem ‘anti-social’ so much as ‘lazy’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘unsympathetic’ – people who can’t be bothered to take their litter home with them having walked in with an energy drink, MacDonald’s milkshake or Wild Bean Coffee. Certainly the take away outlets need to do more to advise and educate their customers – indeed, I think local councils should demand that such outlets as a condition of their licence have clearly visible and well communicated posters regarding litter and the environment.
The current signage that relies on a collection of icons that misunderstood or ignored is not the answer. Or use emojis … at least apply a language that is in common use. Actually, I have come to understand that a lot of signage attracts its own problems by providing confusing, multiple messages. Just two would do: take your litter and dog’s shit home. Digital might help.
This is what I made of Lake Wood in March 2022 > https://bit.ly/3xG3v5S
Lake Wood and The Woodland Trust Mission
Whenever I visit a Woodland Trust wood I go to the Woodland Trust website, read up on it (no matter how many times I have already done this) and download the Management Plan which, as the name suggests, is a dry, practical description of the space, its opportunities and problems and the plans for the immediate 5 years and then 50 years hence. Few of us visit these woods unless as children are likely to care – another good reason to develop interest and love for the woods at the youngest age. I’m thinking age 4 and up – though I can’t see a local nursery, even a primary school, visiting given the health and safety risks of a deep, boggy lake and rocky outcrops, let alone fallen trees and decaying trunks. (Which to my mind age ten sounds like bliss).
I would like an illustrated map. The above is what I produce on AllTrails.
Nothing overly revealing if the ancient trees and some habitats need to be protected, rather than advertised to the world, but a map matters for habitats and paths. And here, as in many woods these days, people treat a track/path or ride as a guide or point of reference and eagerly venture off into the woods whatever the time of year, emerging and blossoming plants.
The Woodland Trust Mission
All management plans open with this statement:
To realise all the environmental, social and economic benefits woods and trees bring to society, we:
- Create Woodland – championing the need to hugely increase the UK’s native woodland and trees.
- Protect Woodland – fighting to defend native woodland, especially irreplaceable ancient woodland and veteran trees; there should be no loss of ancient woodland
- Restore Woodland – ensuring the sensitive restoration of all damaged ancient woodland and the re-creation of native wooded landscapes.
I’m learning as an elected town councillor for the Green Party (any surprises here?) – that wishing for everything even where there is a conflict of interests, that delivering a generous management plan such as they requires wider collaboration, positive communication and engagement with the very group that is always the issue when it comes to the environment – us! People!
Lake Wood, Uckfield
From the Woodland Trust Management plant I read that this is a “3 acre spring-fed lake created from an earth dam”. It includes ‘aramatic outcrops of Cretaceous Ardingly sandstone covered in mosses, lichens and ferns’ – indeed it does, though in places every inch of the stone has been carved into with a knife or chisel so that Gary can declare his love Courtney.
This is ‘a semi-natural woodland’ – ‘although much of it was extensively modified in the late 18th and early-19th centuries in the style of Capability Brown by the enlargement of the lake and the planting of exotic trees and shrubs’. Indeed. Though Capability Brown couldn’t see 250 years ahead to the space coming into public ownership and the burgeoning time engulfing the garden with the modern essentials the residential dwelling: easy access to the countryside and roads that allow you to drive at the greatest speed possible for that road.
We learn that “Trees planted at the time included beech, lime, horse chestnut, sycamore, coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)”. I am too early in my woodland journey to be able to identify some of these readily. I have learnt that both mid-winter and mid-summer offer valuable indicators. I am starting to visit woods with a mind to picking out just one tree at a time until I know it.
Some of the trees sit like giant bonsai on the tops of the stone outcrops overlooking the lake. This, the huge specimen trees, some touching 60 or 70ft I am sure, the twisting hornbeam and the views onto the lake, as well as discovering its steps, tunnel and boat house dug into the stone are all fun.
We learn that the October 1987 hurricane took down a lot of trees here. Many have been left in situ have well and truly bedded down. Many have produced an abundance of new shoots, or support ‘companion’ trees and shrubs – others will rot down over 100 years or more.
We learn that ‘the northern part of the site is largely overstood mixed coppice of hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut with semi-mature birch with oak standards’ – which is also where, if I recall, there is the densest carpet of wood anemones I have seen anywhere.
Over the next 50+ years
“Many of the existing over-mature trees will have died or been windblown but another cohort of mature trees will have been recruited as potential veteran trees across the site”.
Areas with a light tree canopy tend to have a ground flora dominated by coarse species such as bracken and bramble.
There is a Woodland Trust to ‘connect people’ with woods.
However, I would like to see parts of the woods close to trampling feet, dog mess and littering. I cannot see how any space on the edge of a rapidly growing urban area can otherwise protect its intrinsic value. Volunteers are already involved, so if there isn’t a ‘Friends of Lake Wood’ there needs to be one.
The site has a WT access category A: high usage site, regularly used at all times of year with more than 20 people using one entrance every day. There are 2 pedestrian access points from Rocks Road although parking is very limited.
There is ‘anti-social behaviour including litter, fires, camping, swimming, boating and vandalism. I’ve never seen boating, swimming or boating, though the odd fire is lit – the constant problem is litter. Today’s haul included the usual sinners from takeaway outlets McDonalds, Costa and Subway as well as bottles of drink (beer, Coke, water, milkshakes, a yoghurt) and sundry bits of sweet paper wrapper. Last September or October I filled an entire shopping bag with the remains of a large alcohol and energy drink fuelled picnic.
There’s lasting damage to the trunk of a 230 year birch which now features a large wrap around penis and balls. I think an arborist is required here. Soap and water? Careful picking away the affected bark? A strong detergent or a power hose would surely risk killing the tree?
The sound of aeroplanes coming into London disturbs the peace frequently enough, though nothing is shocking as the first time (and last time) you sit outside at the The Hurlingham Club and have a 747 jet land on your head … every 7 minutes.
The management plan says that the 19th century sandstone wall will be replaced by a wire fence when it fails. This unfortunately has been done and what is left is a large gap which filters the noise of traffic on the busy raised Rock Road. The ‘Slow’ signs here are ignored – with people stopping in pop-up lay-bys left and right of the road the speed limit ought to be dropped to 30pm and traffic calming measures put in place.
As for the Uckfield-by-pass …
Why should any through traffic be allowed to blight the lives of the local residents? Speeds should be reduced with signage to explain why and better noise screening put in place.
I visited Markstakes Common May on the 7th, 12th and 17th May 2022.
My discovery of Markstakes Common came about by accident: I was headed for a return trip to Beechmill Wood but finding roadworks blocking the road to Newick north of Chailey and a diversion too out of my way to bother with I doubled back, checked on The Woodland Trust website ‘Find A Wood’ and found this gem – a wood and common up there with any of the best ancient deciduous woods I’ve discovered around East Sussex over the last nine months. I was a bit late for any wood anemones or bluebells at their very best.
Nonetheless, even if not in their full glory, the common awash with bluebells on 7th May was wonderful to see – as if a blue mist were lifting off the common.
Then I stumbled across a diversion in the path put there to protect an ancient oak – 360 years or more old, I believe.
Then, there are more, many more ancient trees: oak, beech, ash and hornbeam.
Courtesy of Friends of Markstakes Common there are various detailed maps picking out the ancient trees and the different habitats; it is this that has me fall in love with the Common; it has variety.
There are ancient trees (I’m thinking 34 trees with ‘ancient’ status meaning they are over 350 + years old).
Yet there are trees of all ages, open spaces and meadow, pools and ponds and seasonal streams. I can’t get enough of it. This suggests to me a space that will still be thriving in another 200 years time.
I’d gladly live close-by. Each time I have come here I meet and talk to someone: an elderly gent with whom life-stories were shared, a mum with kids two young for school but hurtling around like puppies. Most of us had a dog, And young couples too. Everyone is happy to talk and share their love for this space.
It is messy; trees fall and are left, maybe a few branches cut away to assist people on a walk. There is mud, partially dried up seasonal streams, a pond of sorts …
Parking is easy; it is well-shaded off a quiet road by a sturdy stone walk with a large access gate. Unlike every other wood of its kind I have been to around the county there is not one sign here relating to the Country Code, the need to keep dogs on a lead, footfall because of bluebells or a myriad of other concerns that can cause organisations a flurry of worries, costs and concerns that necessitate information boards and other announcements in various forms that can stand up to the weather (or not), or look dated … but does any of it work? My understanding is that all that works are ‘ambassadors’ on the ground talking to as many people who visit a space as possible and sharing the word.
I even have to wonder if information boards and signage simply encourage footfall and visitors by their very presence and do little to contain behaviours: some people drop little and let their dog(s) shit where they like, others do not. Some people trudge across beds of wood anemones and bluebells in search of a unique shot or photo op while others keep back.
These trees and these woods will, I very much hope, still be here long, long after we have gone. All we have to do is avoid killing them off while we’re around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Costells Wood
East Sussex Dog Friendly Walks
It has taken a month before I have started to double back on my favourite walks; I could have easily gone another 8 weeks exploring the coast, South and North Downs without ever visiting the same place twice but there comes a point when you want the ease of going somewhere familiar. This time I understood where to park, where to set off, where to hang back and how long it would take on different sections of the walk.
Parking could not be easier; the grounds of Buxted Park are, contrary to your expectations, open to the public. I had done a U-turn the first time I had entered through the stone gates by the lodge and parked across the road in Buxted – this time I parked under the trees in the dedicated parking by the St.Mary’s Church. There must surely be days when this is impossible.
I was brought here originally by ‘East Sussex Dog Friendly Pub Walks’ which saw me completing circular routes with Evie earlier in the summer between Plumpton and Ditchling around Arlington Reservoir. Today I am armed with my growing knowledge of trees, an interest in the countryside and history and an eye for a good view.
Organ Music is playing in the Church; I don’t enquire. Entering a place of worship with a dog feels inappropriate and if I tether Evie outside she will bark. I give a passing nod to the War Memorial whose names I plan to research at some stage and head towards the ancient yew and a side gate out of the cemetery into the park. The yew tree is reportedly over 2,000 years old. Whether it is now one tree or several is a moot point as the trunk has opened out into a crown all coming from a common base. My mind is a whirl of inspirations and wonders I had as a boy – a BBC TV drama I recall (or perhaps a book) in which a lad left a sword he had used in the Middle Ages under an oak sapling only to retrieve it many hundreds of years later. My mind dwells on ideas of a rejuvenating immortal who takes sucker, if not life-force, from ancient trees like this – modern graphics having him (or her) by the tree at different stages of its growth.
There were many dog walkers out on our last trip; today there are a handful – families too. Last trip I took close interest in the trees downed in the 16th October 1987 storm. I’m sure Buxted featured with trees flattened like so many chopsticks and all aligned from the south-west. Whilst much of the wood was cleared enough has remained in place to regrow creating peculiar semi-mature hedge-like stands of successive trunks emanating from the fallen tree – I like nature’s capacity to rejuvenate like this.
Today I peg my walk to the oldest trees that I spot, a stand of oaks, a lone park-planted redwood and a couple of beech by the lake.