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Lake Wood, Uckfield – early summer visit

Lake Wood, 12 June 2022

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. 

Lake Wood (panorama view) 12 June 2022

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. 

Rock Road entrance to The Woodland Trust, Lake Wood

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).

Lake Wood, AllTrails 12 June 2022

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. 

Graffiti on a 230 year old birch, Lake Wood, 2022

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. 

Noise Abatement

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.

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. 

My Sussex Woods

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. 

Hornbeam

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

Mature Oak 

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’. 

Conifers

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.

Lake Wood, Rocks Road, Uckfield early Spring

I’ve returned to Lake Wood every month for the last six months of so. This has allowed me to see the area through the changing seasons and weather conditions; wet, dry, cool and cold. There has been no snow this year and little frost.

The plus side to this walk is the landscaped grounds around the lake with its older specimen trees (around 150 years old) and the gradual ‘re-wilding’ thanks to the work of The Woodland Trust. The down side is its popularity at weekends and during holidays, with likely litter and the noise from the busy Uckfield by-pass and Rock’s Road.

In previous posts I’ve referred to the Woodland Trust Management Plan; this is always a great place to start. You are spoilt for detail on what is to be found, the work done to date, then short and long term management plans. Few of us will live the 50 years to see these come to fruition. Who knows what climate change will have done to adjust this planning by then. This year spring has sprung at least a week early. The wood floor has been dense with wood anemone’s for a while.

I use AllTrails religiously, even when I have done the walk several times. This walk took us closer to the A22 and traffic.

The broader views across the lake have changed little over the last few months.

Closer up, in the shallows of the marshy ground, there are signs of Yellow Marsh Marigold and rushes.

The next visit will take me outside the Lake Wood managed area either across the open meadow towards Longwood Gill and Shemanreed Wood or across the A22 to Butcher’s Wood. Sadly, both are likely to suffer from noise pollution from the A22. We’ll see!

Flowers Wood, Ilmington  

On a short break to Barton on the Heath, with time to take a longer, exploratory walk, and a dog to take out anyway I do an unproductive search for Woodland Trust woods; they are small and few in number. That said, Batsford Arboretum is up the road, there are many National Trust woods and properties and where there is any wood of any size, even if designated ‘private’ there is usually a footpath through it. 

Like a twitcher ticking off birds I want to tick-off the Woodland Trust Woods regardless so I head north to the nearest, towards Shipston and Ilmington. Flowers Wood is small enough to be someone’s large garden; just 1.55 acres of former pasture left by a Mr Dennis Lowndes Flower, CBE – 25 years ago.

Flowers Wood, Ilmington

Now planted, if nothing else it allows me to see what various trees at 25 years old look like. See above. Thigh width. I use ‘All Trails’ to register/monitor this walk – the shortest I have ever done. What use is an acre of wood to the Woodland Trust? Even 10 acres is small and 100 acres is just starting to be meaningful. Surely we need 1000 acres of land being moved to woodland at a time to make any difference in the long term at all? Flowers Wood is just an indulgence or a tax break.

Flowers Wood, Ilmington

As is often the case with these small plots, according to the Woodlands Trust Management Plan, ‘local people were instrumental in fundraising to purchase the land’ yet I also read that ‘the land, on which Flowers Wood has been planted, was given to the Trust by the Dennis Flower in August 1994.‘ There is a yew and a couple of Scots Pine in the north-east corner which suggest the former paddock or meadow was just an extension of the neighbouring garden.  I wonder about Dennis: something about him would be interesting. Google Dennis Flower CBE of Ilmington Manor to learn more. Afterall, this wood and these trees are in his name.

Ilmington Manor

I learned from the Woodlands Trust management plan that the site was included as one of 200 planted by the Trust to celebrate the Millennium under their Woods on Your Doorstep initiative.

The Flowers Wood site is not on Waze so I reverted to Google Maps which may have the location though to my eye the plot looks more triangular than a rectangle. 

Down the road in Barton on the Heath we were planting trees by the side of the road in the name of our children and grandchildren – there is a ‘Zoë Tree’ I pass on foot and driving towards Todmarton which will be 22 years or so old. 

Zoë’s Tree, Barton on the Heath

The pleasure of the site is in part the drive through north Cotswold country lanes to find it.

Hedgerow cut along the southern edge of Flowers Wood

There are older trees in the hedgerow than in the wood and the houses, predominantly warm Cotswold sandstone and several hundred years old (or built to look this way). 

“A disused railway line embankment forms the western boundary,” I read. This embankment has been integrated into a garden and a deep cut through it allows the stream to run through.  

My curiosity takes me to where this line came from and went to and how better off we would be with the line reinstated.

Flowers Wood, Ilmington

The line of mature trees fringing the stream is the wood’s greatest delight and exactly the kind of thing I would have explored as a boy. I would visit here with children old enough to plod about and clamber over the fallen trees and not worry overly about the odd nettle sting. 

As the management plan describes the southern and eastern boundaries are essentially hawthorn hedges – intermittently cut back the old wood  left in situ.

Flowers Wood

The management plan fails to pick up the 200 year old oaks that line the adjoining lane, each forming an aggressive silhouette, like a giant hand reaching out of the earth.

Flowers Wood

The main species planted was oak, with ash and cherry and alder near the stream on the northern side. The 500m (or 400m) circular walk was scattered with oak leaves in mid-February when I visited. The pleasure will be to return every five years or so and perhaps see the trees reach 50 years knowing that those not cut out and allowed to mature could see 200 years or more. What children’s book did I read in my youth where a boy in mediaeval times buried a longsword in the roots of a young oak only to collect it centuries later? 

For woods, gardens and ‘Nature’ nearby there is Hidcote and Batsford Arboretum.

Getting round the 500m walk in 5 minutes I retrace my steps twice in different directions. On the third outing I delve around the ground hoping to find wild garlic but only find sorrel, nettles and dock leaves.

I traipse through Ilmington before heading into Shipston for a trip reminiscing on the time I lived nearby 22 years ago. Little has changed; the toy shop is now full of nicknacks, the co-op is the same, the parking as trisky. I end up by the mill. I wander over to Sheldon’s Wine Merchants out of curiosity.

Sheldons Wine Merchants

Dropping into the iconic wine merchants for no better reason than remembering coming here in the early 1980s with my father (taking me to Oxford off the M6 to the A34 long before the M40 was created). I have returned on and off myself in the 1990s.

I am spotted ‘is your face familiar from Long Compton’ I am asked to find I am talking to someone who had served in the village shop 20+ years ago and remembers our family and children.  

We play catch up with those who have died, children who have grown up and where we all may be. 

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.

References

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. 

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