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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.


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.

Butcher’s Wood and Lag Wood, Hassocks

I’m ticking off another East Sussex Woodland Trust otherwise I might not have gone far from home – I’m going down with a cold. But the sun is out, the dog needs a walk and the fresh air usually does me good.

Not for the first time I got lost in the suburban entrails of a town, this time 1960s detached homes, and bungalows on the edge of the London to Brighton Rail Line. I don’t like to get caught in a cul de sac or turning circle in a dead end so parked when I felt close enough and could see tops of trees over garden fences. Asking a friendly dog walker gave me a way in – no through someone’s back garden (they do not even have access), but down the road, along a path, by the railway …

Butcher’s Wood (The Woodland Trust) to Lag Wood (privately owned / public access)

The top end of the walk was me getting out of the housing estate, and then doubling back along a narrow path between a link-chain fence and the railway and high fencing along people’s back gardens. An inauspicious start though had we wanted the brook by the bottom of the path might have been a spot for Evie to wet her feet and take a drink.

People are always friendly and usually have a dog with them. In this instance the conversation turned to ‘ash dieback’ before I even got to the wood. In the distance chainsaws wired. I reassured a depressed walker that over in Lewes we cut back the ash a few years ago and all the stumps were left to grow back. The dead or dying trunks need to be cut down before they kill someone I guess. It’s the responsible thing to do – especially where the wood is managed by the Wood Trust to provide accessibility.

From the cul de sac in Bonny Lane, Hassocks

There’s much that can be learnt from the Woodland Trust Management Plan for Butcher’s Wood which is available from the Woodland Trust website.

They were working on the trees when I was there, with intermittent chainsaw action, plenty of space in the canopy and piles of logs. Some will be left, some removed. Additional planting is unlikely as hornbeam, silver birch and sweet chestnut should self-seed I believe.

Woodland Trust forresters at work

This is only the second time in a six weeks of doing these woodland walks that I’ve come across people at work – the paths kept me well away from them, across a patch of meadow into Lag’s Wood – privately owned, access permitted, with a brook running through one side of it.

Lag’s Wood

I can understand the pleasure locals will have here, adults and children, for walks and picnics.

On the way back passing through Ditching I pulled over to get some photos of their effective traffic calming measured; I can’t see getting approval for this in Lewes, but this is what some residents are calling for. I’d like this on Winterbourne Lane to oblige the rat-run traffic to be more considerate, while over in Malling people would like something like this on the busy main road that is Malling Hill and Malling Street.

Hargate Wood, Tunbridge Wells 22nd September 2021 

The Woodland Trust

Best laid plans … As always I failed to find an official entrance and after going back and forth along the southern edge of the wood I pulled in at a likely spot before Evie exploded with frustration and the need to go.

It was an inauspicious start to find myself looking at a flytopped dishwasher; I couldn’t have been in a Woodland Trust Wood – I wasn’t, but I was close. 

From the OS map I could see that I was on the outer edge of Hargate Wood so could follow a path of sorts along the edge of a field to Sprat’s Brook then make myself upstream and into the woods proper. 

The 9 year old came out in the brook – the compulsion to engineer a few sticks here and there took me back to the so called ‘water works’ at Mowden Hall – the tiniest trickle of water that the youngest boys, me amongst them, age 8 or 9, would play in for hours redirecting runnels of water and forming dams. 

The wood properly revealed itself in the shape of mature oaks and Scots Pine and a pond with a Woodland Trust bench and dedication. 

By now I am an All Trails fan, zooming in close to show paths through the wood that even the OS map doesn’t pick up. I can also orientate All Trails to True North so I become as handy as a compass in the palm of my hand. 

We make it across to a closed reservoir along one edge of the woods then double back. Having met no one in an hour it was a surprise to meet a woman walking her dog and her daughter’s dog, which I learned is scared of skateboards and cyclists – apparently there is a cyclist about in the woods somewhere. She lives in Tonbridge and wanted somewhere her daughters might be let off the lead without being spooked.

Having found our way back to the car via a few misdirections over poorly erected wire fences I drove a few minutes to the ‘official entrance’. 

It is a disappointing start: a lot of cars parked up, the noisy A26 along this side of the wood, and the smell first and then the site of dog shit – this is my first encounter of a ‘dog shit alley’ despite the notices asking people to pick up and despite the prominent bin along this stretch. A couple of young dog walkers with an array of five dogs, only one on a lead, another escapee with its lead still on was indication enough that dog poo was being left in situ. What is the solution? To start with any bin has to be placed further down the path and there should be several of them – someone who is too lazy to pick up after their dog does not double back to bin the offending matter – they either leave it where it is, or toss bag, poo and all into the undergrowth.

Moving deeper into  Hargate Forest you start to see the Management Plan in action – the fir trees fined, opened up heath thick with bracken and self-seeded saplings and ancient trees that have toppled, cleared from the path but otherwise left in situ.

I’d visit again: it is easy to park, and easy to find (once you’ve got your bearings) and once into the depths of the ‘forest’ you are away from the traffic on the A26 and Bunny Lane, with mature deciduous trees, Sprat’s Brook and a pond. Though largely eradicated rhododendron is creeping back in various spots. I’d never appreciated what a problem it was, as a child loving to vanish into the maze of stems of a mature stand of rhododendron with their tunnels, dens and burrows. They kill the light so that nothing on the ground can then grow. 

Kiln Wood and Turnmill Wood, Blackboys, 20th September 2021

Woodland Trust 

First Wood of the Day. I’m on a minition to ‘bag’ a few today; the twitcher in me is out. 

Evie and I walked from the village of Blackboys. We’re earlier enough to be ahead of school drop-off and far too early for  the wonderful looking pub. 

Across the busy B2192 to Heathfield from Uckfield Road and into the woods. Sadly the noise from the traffic is never far away – how much more pleasant it would have been to have been here, quite against the regulations, during the Covid-19 lockdown when even our local wooded walk along the edge of the busy A27 Lewes bypass was silent.

We get quickly away from the road and in so doing move through a patchwork of land use types.

Indeed, there is a second wood, Turnmill Wood, not yet on the Woodland Trust website (or missed amongst the 1,000+). There’s a ‘remnant of precious ancient woodland’ in here – dark between mature trees and pooling streams. It is a treasure, but sad in its isolation, like a neglected standing stone, or a piece of Hadrian’s Wall alone in suburban Newcastle. Foreigners must laugh at our niggledly loves and precious attitudes, but when you just have crumbs or ancient woodland left rather than vast forests stretching miles over mountains and dotted with wide lakes what else can we do. 

It doesn’t take long to find the ‘other’ entrance, or the correct entrance to Kiln Wood – there’s layby parking here too – for two or three cars at least, off the busy main road. 

It is more of an entrance too, with some of the features I am coming to expect and recognise in a Woodland Trust managed wood – excellent steps, gates, bridges and signage. I’m looking forward now to returning to these spaces after a downpour or in the rain, once the tree cover has gone and in winter. So my frantic ticking off woods in Sussex now is to set me up for 28 or more return visits over the next 6 months through autumn, winter and spring.

I’m used to telling a person’s story each day of the year for The Western Front Association, people, almost always young men, who served and died during the First World War, rather than peacefully and commemorated like this in a local wood. I have my eye on several spots around Sussex, a beach in Northumberland and a snow covered slope in the French Alps, so my ashes will have to be bagged up and split, and funds set aside for a bench or two such as this.

The Blackboys Inn is so picture-postcard that in the summer, and outside Covid-19 travel restrictions, I am sure it is popular. I’ll aim to get here for lunch or an early evening snack next time. 

Church Covert, Slaugham 18th September 2021

The Woodland Trust, Slaugham, West Sussex

The Chequers Inn, Slaugham and village, West Sussex

I love an ancient tree, but in this case you’ll find it in the churchyard rather than the adjoining walk. 

A couple of sheep paddocks have been planted. The result feels no different to taking a sports field and planting trees, albeit they are well chosen and nicely laid out and as they mature will create a tiny patch of woodland with broad walks – a place to walk the dog. Though local dog walkers here prefer to dodge round the back, over a broken, non-Woodland Trust, bridge, to perambulation around or near to a private lake then out the other side.

As I learnt the trees were planted recently (in tree terms I would say this is within the last 25 to 50 years). It was part of Woodland Trust’s ‘Woods on Your Doorstep’ project where local residents got involved (and perhaps stump up some of the funding through fundraising and council grants). This idea appeals to me for ideas residents have in Lewes to return some of the land in and around the town to woodland. 

I followed this route at first, and other dog walkers taking it and as a result doubled back past a mansion converted into flats and the ruins of the 400 year old Slaugham Place before stumbling upon a gated entrance to Church Colvert. By far the best place to start and end this walk is in front of the St Mary’s church in Slaugham – there is a pub opposite.

It is an attractive hamlet in the Sussex High Weald with narrow roads, dips, twists and turns. It is a pleasant escape from the A23 though not far enough away to escape its noise. 

Slaugham, West Sussex cc OpenStreetMap

Though in a hamlet it feels quite urban, with overhead power lines, public and private paths, gates and fences, the ever present A23/M23 and planes coming in and out of Gatwick overhead.

Trees I learn from the Church Colvert Management Plan from the Woodland Trust were planted over winter 1997/98 – these trees and some ‘natural colonisation by native trees’ make up what we now see. 

Costells Wood, Scaynes Hill, West Sussex, 16th September 2021

No.3 Woodland Trust

I’m on a roll; three Woodland Trust woods in as many days. The temptation is to go for a fourth in three days. In truth I should pace myself. I can hope for a wood a day, or to post a trip to the woods at least once a week – I will be away from time to time. I may be ill or busy. And as I will find within a month once I’ve covered the 24 woods of East and West Sussex I am going to be travelling into Kent and Hampshire or north into Surrey. And once I’m out of what I consider to be the South East of England (everything south and to the south east of London) I’ll be looking at day trips and overnights.

For now, I have Scaynes Hill, woods I know from looking for a dog walk while Toby had football practice nearby and on the road I took regularly for many years all the way into Haywards Heath.

Thinking I was too cocky when I made some wrong turns getting to East Hoathly yesterday, today I use the SatNav (Waze) and find myself in a cul de sac surrounded by 60s suburban town houses – and high fencing preventing entry into the privately owned section of Costells Wood. I should have taken myself into the Village Hall car park – our spot from football a decade ago.

It has changed. The private section of the wood that runs up to the mainroad is closely managed with carefully constructed fences and a path through to the Woodland Trust.

Patches of soggy mud have been carefully filled with lengths of thin logs. There’s a fairy dell – a painted patch of trunk and a sign telling you so. And a lot of signs indicating what is private. Looking at the map I have to wonder if this land is being kept set aside for development with housing rather than being kept as an open access space.

As talking to people I meet is my modus operandi I start making small talk with a couple who turn out to be the owners. They are proud of their efforts to keep the public to the footpath, with fencing made from their own holy, and proud of the sections of simple path improvements they have made so that you can walk when the place is ankle deep in mud. They own a bungalow on the site with .5 acre the the other 12.5 acres is theie’s. A pronounced, boggy ravine makes up part of this, the rest looks like mature deciduous wood and dense stands of bracken. 

I take my sound recording: traffic back and forth on the busy road into Haywards Heath, planes above coming in or leaving Gatwick, a power tool in a garden on the other side of the high barrier fence. I press on to a dingly fell ‘fairy’ spot into the Woodland Trust land proper  – where the fencing either side of the footbath stops abruptly.

The rest of the walk Evie and I know, if only from a decade ago – down to a pond, over a short footbridge, up the bank at the other side, around and back heading north looking for an exit in the housing estate or beyond.

I find there is no public access into the housing estate, so you have to walk around – no doubt this reduces footfall all over the place and does something to alleviate pressure on a modest patch of woodland. I hear a kite; I see a grey squirrel. We are hemmed in by housing though and the wood is transected by power cables.

Beechland Mill Wood, East Sussex, 16th September 2021

A Woodlands Trust Wood

This is only my second trip out to a specific Woodlands Trust wood. I knew there would be a challenge because the Woodland Trust Guide for East Sussex has No.1 Beechland Mill Wood signposted as one where ‘local parking is difficult’. Actually, I had a problem finding it because though there are roads equidistant in a large rectangle with the wood in the middle, the wood itself is across a field or two, via paths or sports fields.

Advised not to rely overly on a SatNav I nonetheless had Waze and Google Maps send me back and forth around the top, around the south then to the east. Eventually I got out and walked up a lane only to find myself in a private driveway – perhaps there was a path down one side of one of the houses. My journey was further curtailed by roadworks.

Eventually, across football fields I should have recognised from when my son was competing in one of these leagues I make it along the side of a house, across a rugby field, over a meadow and into the woods. You know it is a Woodland Trust wood as soon as you come across a stream crossed by a well-made footbridge; depending on where there’s signage you will know too from dedications on the occasional park bench or other marker.

I pause, I listen. I recorded 30 seconds of soundscape. I take in a deep breath through my nose. I look at the trees, gauge their age, look at the amount of undergrowth and consider the amount of intervention – are trees felled by the weather left or cleared? 

A popular dog walk from Newick I meet three couples and two people on their own – all with a dog (usually one, sometimes two). I greet them and talk with one. 

A wood like this always takes me back to Mowden Hall School, Northumberland and the 35 acres of woods some 105 or more boys had to roam in every weekend. We dug holes, made ‘trenches’, had dones, climbed trees, had mock battles with staves, bow and arrows and ‘handgrenades’ (bracken rhizome) and built dens. The fancy den had plastic sacking in the roof and on the floor with a ‘barbed wire’ defensive fence made from dead bramble stems. 

Moat Wood, East Hoathly, East Sussex, 14th September 2021

No. 1. Woodland Trust

This is my first self-conscious Woodland Trust wood walk. 

I made it easy on myself and went to a wood not far from home, to a village I thought I knew and where there would be easy parking. I still managed to go off in the wrong direction on the A26 for 3 miles before doubling back; this is what happens these days when I turn the SatNav off. The weather was as promised and worst. I took an anorak and umbrella.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Leaving Lewes to the north east is a painful exercise as major roadworks have reduce a busy road to a single lane. I’m sent back on the south route to avoid it coming home.

Being my very first trip specifically to a Woodland Trust I wonder what regular observations I will make? I record 30 seconds of sound for a potential set of soundscapes. I also take a deep breath and take in the ‘forest’ smells. Adsly at this time of year things can start to set off my hayfever allergies. Something about spores or seeds in the air.

I rather think a wood needs: trees, paths, a stream or lake with bridges, styles and gates in and out and some simple signage. There are benches, but I wonder when or if bins will ever appear? I pick the little litter I find on such walks. I rather thank others do the same.

Queries on a Woodland Trust wood are readily answered if you are a member as you have access to the Management Plan for the wood. This gives a detail context, the geology, surrounding land use and current spread and nature of the trees, and the plan. Here we have a mixed wood that some 80 to 100 years ago was planned with pine – which have stolen all light and underwich there is little to no growth – this is only a small section of the wood which is mostly deciduous.

I tend to use my nose and ‘sense of direction’ to navigate a circuit in and out of a wood. At under 25 acres I guess this is an easy enough thing to do, that and using the sight and sound of the A22 along one edge to guide me back to the village.

As the Digital Editor for The Western Front Association for the last six years I have become efficient at searching names in the National Archives and our own Pension Ledgers and Cards. Throw in the rest of Ancestry, the British Newspaper Archive and my own growing library of local and national ‘rolls of honour’ and I can usually complete a reasonable profile of a person, their life before the war, during the war, demise and commemoration. I curate over 2,300 names in our daily ‘Remember On This Day‘ in which someone who served and died is remembered. I will indulge the good story, most especially where we have a photograph of the protagonist too.

R W Beal
 A J Bishop
A A Brooker
R Surcess
W C Carley
C J Colbran
H Corke
L Ellis
C Y Goldsmith
S G Warboard
E N Hurd
A C Nutson
FSC Joules
CJ Kemp
E Morley
G EM Peskett
H M Piper
R Russell
W W Woodhams 
The War Memorial at East Hoathly, East Sussex

There’s some natural overlap between an interest in those who served in the First World War and the village and town memorials I will stumble across, as here. The temptation is to start researching the names – you do one and you have to do them all though and there’s a very good chance someone has done this somewhere already.

I wonder if those with dedications on the woods would want more said? A few paragraphs and a photo online?

All photographs taken on a iPhone11 Pro. I’ve come to adore its simplicity and convenience. In due course I may take it out, if only for the close-up lens. For 360 degree pictures to indulge some interactivity with ThingLink I will need myself a 360 camera – now there is a thought for my upcoming birthday 🙂

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