A little something from the Neighbours

As there has been little posted recently by HEAT here is a little something informative from the Wymondham Nature Group. with a date for your diaries:


This was a most excellent talk enjoyed by 87! Here is the report from Jane Hardy. Thanks Jane. 💚🌳🌳

Walk in the Ancient Woods

Steve Collin, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserves manager for Woods and Heaths, gave a packed audience a most informative and beautifully illustrated presentation about our ancient woodlands; their history, characteristics and importance for wildlife as well as the challenges they face.

The talk began 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age when a gradual warming of the climate led to waves of colonisation by tree species such as willow, birch, hazel, oak and ash that we recognise as UK natives today. Around 6,000 BC, when sea levels rose and Britain became detached from the rest of Europe (the first Brexit!), the established tree population, as yet unaffected by human intervention, developed into wildwood across most of the country. Approximately 2,000 years later, an outbreak of Dutch elm disease combined with the dawn of agriculture paved the way for large scale tree felling and woodland clearances. By the 1900s, 95% of the wildwood had disappeared. Fragments of ancient woods survived to supply essential wood and timber products for buildings, ships, tools and fuel.

Centuries of traditional forest management have resulted in ancient woodlands developing distinct characteristics that set them apart from more recent plantations. For instance, Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood, our local ancient woodland, was described in the Domesday Book as being a coppiced wood with standards. Coppicing is a technique which involves cutting trees to ground level and then allowing the “stools” to grow back as multiple stems.


Carried out on a rotational basis, coppicing provided a continuous source of wood while single-trunked standards, in time, provided valuable timber. Coppicing rejuvenates trees and allows them to live for several hundred, if not thousands, of years and it has consequential benefits for wildlife too. Coppiced woodlands provide habitat for spring migrant birds such as blackcap, whitethroat and chiffchaff.


Many ancient woodland plants, such as early purple orchid, herb paris and yellow archangel also depend on coppicing which, by letting in sunlight, effectively extends the spring flowering time. The diversity of these “indicator” species is used to define ancient rather than modern woodland. By their very nature, some are “trapped” in ancient woodlands. The iconic bluebell, for instance, has very heavy seed which cannot be dispersed by wind nor is it eaten by animals; the beautiful early purple orchid relies on mycorrhizal woodland fungi for its germination; whilst the rare wild service tree’s exacting requirements for seed germination are so seldom met that suckering is its usual method of propagation.

Steve described the current management practices employed by NWT in its ancient woodlands including Foxley, Wayland and Ashwellthorpe where coppicing is carried out by machinery or by hand with teams of volunteers. Rides and glades are maintained as open, sunny areas to encourage wildflowers, insects and small mammals. Areas around the outer edges are defined as “minimum intervention” where deadwood creates valuable habitat for bats, invertebrates, fungi and woodpeckers. However, the benefits to wildlife of standing dead trees need to be balanced with the safety of visitors. Fly-tipping of garden and household waste are serious problems at some sites as are picking of wildflowers and large-scale mushroom harvesting. Browsing mammals, particularly deer, are very destructive and are monitored closely.

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Roe Deer

Climate change and increased globalisation of plant diseases are likely to bring ever more challenges to our ancient woodlands, but perhaps the greatest problem comes from the land demands of our own increasing population. This was an exceptionally well-delivered and thought-provoking talk that left us contemplating the nature of our future landscape.

The next talk will be on ‘The Badger – an ecosystem diversifier’ by Will Fitch of the Badger Trust on Thursday 8th March at the Town Green Centre, Wymondham NR18 0PW at 7.30pm.


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