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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.
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.
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
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’.
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.
Woodland Visits : When I go down to the woods each day …
I use Waze or Google Maps and check advice from The Woodland Trust ‘Find A Wood‘.
When I visit a wood for the first time I look at the following: parking and signage, nature, variety and age of trees, the varied habitats and undergrowth, a note on birds and animals, as well the amount of human interaction or intervention, from fellow visitors, to historic and current land used. A wood on an urban fringe is used in different ways to an isolated wood or a wood that is popular and frequently visited; being southern England it is difficult to escape noise from air-traffic or roads. I also think about the signage and in some instances proximity to a pub! There are some great woodland walks that have a pub attached, that welcome dogs and don’t mind muddy feet.
I’ll note how easy it was to find in the first and to park. In some cases ‘getting there’ is part of the pleasure as there are some steep banked roads think with woodland plants in spring or with dense, overhanging trees in summer through to autumn.
In some cases it has taken me two or more visits to figure out where best to park, either because the entrance is off a residential street or off a road where there is no immediate parking at all.
I use AllTrails once we set off.
I usually have our dog with us so I check if there is any signage about dogs. And depending on ownership, time of year I check any information board regarding keeping to paths, sheep, working in the forest and other matters. Following UK Gov The Country Code appears to be a good idea all round for me.
Then I’m off, intent on following or finding a circuit with no doubling back.
I try to clock the trees, types and age and the flora and fauna depending on the time of year.
I’m not great with birdsong and find it hard enough to spot them to make the connection.
I take pictures constantly, usually relying on my phone but where I want close ups taking a Sony DSLR with a macro lens.
I take notes in ‘notes’.
The experience includes what goes on underfoot – so the state of the ground and the presence of boardwalks or bridges: Wellies cover all wet weather and sturdy shoes the rest of the time.
I’ve been using PictureThis to identify plants on the move.
And then I try to sum it up, at first just a few sentences and pictures shared in AllTrails. I would hope to write it up later more fully with reference to a Management Plan, where there is one; they are readily available for all Woodland Trust Woods.
I love a gill or stream: hereabouts they are often seasonal, shallow and unchallenged – in ancient woodland allowed to flood and dam. I love patches of water too, from small ponds to lakes and reservoirs. These all add to the woodland experience.
As I get to know ‘my’ woods I then return across the seasons, more often in spring as things change rapidly from February through to the end of May – here on the South Downs, with visits to the Low and High Weald.
Whether or when I write it up follows, starting in a Google Doc, uploading to a WordPress blog then adjusting accordingly with keywords, tags and captioned images.
Hempstead Wood, East Sussex
Wood anemones, wild garlic and bluebells at their very best.
Picking my way around the woods of Sussex and having often visited the Woodland Trust Woods around Uckfield: Lake Wood and Views Wood, as well as Buxted Park I thought I’d try others from the handy Woodland Trust ‘Wood Finder’. This is how I found myself driving through ‘old’ Uckfield and out towards the east and Framfield along Sandy Lane. This was mid-April (12th April). I have been back several times since (13th, 28th & 29th April and early May: 1st and 2nd) – alone, with our dog, with family and friends. There is often no one around; sometimes a solo dog walker. There are stick dens scattered about so clearly kids come here at weekends or holidays. It is a short walk from Uckfield and easily reached by road.
Location of Hempstead Wood, west of Uckfield (cc OpenStreetMap 2022)
Leaving Uckfield you soon find yourself on Sandy Lane which is in itself a delight, with steep banks covered in bluebells from mid-April to mid-May and mature trees overhanging the road. If you know someone who has mobility issues who would like to see the woods in spring this is one of several lanes around Sussex which do the job.
Hempstead Wood is ‘ancient woodland of the low weald’ (Woodland Trust) and would once have formed part of an ancient wood that stretched right across Sussex to Kent. Indeed many place names are indicative of a ‘clearing in the woods’.
There is parking off Sandy Lane for four cars at most: there is a sign asking that the farm gate is kept clear.
Hempstead Wood is a private wood. Bikes are not permitted and access for them has been restricted by new fencing. There is a rough track packed with rumble and in places deeply incised by the rain that runs steeply down the east side of the wood; the entrance to the woods propper is via a smart stile on the right some 170 metres down the lane. Signs restate that this is a private wood and asks that people stick to the paths; there is also a sign banning bikes.
In spring there are a number of clear stages in the wood marked at first by wood anemones followed by wild garlic before it flowers and then by bluebells and before the tree canopy encloses all.
The wood anemones bloom early to create an ever denser speckled carpet of white and then the flowers disappear quite quickly as leaves appear on the trees.
Bluebells follow at first forming a dense matting of leaves before the distinctive flowers emerge and stretch a foot or more above ground.
Bluebell bulbs are easily damaged by trampling by footfall and dogs. This means that they can’t produce enough energy to flower and reproduce in subsequent years. There is a request to stick to the ‘path’ but with multiple paths around the wood these can be hard to define; sadly there are many additional paths being made through the bluebells which could in time cause fragmentation of the colonies.
In mid-April the wild garlic had not flowered.
A week later flower stems with tear-drop-like bulbs emerged, finally opening into a chandelier of small white flowers at the beginning of May.
The wild garlic here is extensive and covers the damp banks of a seasonal stream that runs through the wood. There are multiple similar beds of wild garlic in many of the woods I have visited, with leaves appearing as early as 11 February on the High Weald.
Sadly, there has been some severe cropping with a scythe in patches.
Whilst Woodland Trust woods permit foraging and guidelines are provided; namely, picking only a few young leaves from any one plant, here in a private wood this ought not to be going on.
Finding wild garlic on sale in local markets is a worrying trend.
A circuit around Hempstead Wood might take 45 minutes; this can be extended by adding a short walk onto the meadow above the Uckfield rail line then back to Spring Lane. There’s an option here to cross the railway line and head into Buxted Deer Park beyond.
As well as the wood anemones, bluebells, wild garlic and tree canopy there are a few early purple orchids, cuckoo flowers and primrose. On different trips we have seen a jay and woodpeckers.
I’ve only seen this sign up in one place, Brede High Wood (early in the season when there were no bluebells to see at all). I rather think these are needed elsewhere otherwise, where they have the resources, owners will fence of the only ‘right of way’, which in some cases can be quite brutal with barbed wire fencing keeping walkes to a single, narrow and well-worn track.
For all walks I use the App ‘All Trails’ and for plant and tree identification I use ‘PictureThis plant identifier’.
I only discovered Hempstead Wood in April; most of the woods I visit, Woodland Trust and others around Uckfield, Blackboys, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings I have been visiting since December 2021, some since October. I have therefore had the chance to see them in late summer, autumn, through winter, early and now late spring. Other woods, heaths and parks visited include: Little Foxes Wood, Lake Wood, Views Wood, Moat Wood, Kiln Wood, William’s Wood, Beechwood Mill and Brede High Wood, as well as Buxted Park, Laughton Common Wood, Chailey Common and Markstakes Common.
Further advice and information
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
Natural England – The Countryside Code (link to PDF)
Forestry Commission – New Forest Fungi Code Q and As
Scottish Natural Heritage – Scottish Wild Mushroom Code