topcombo

BylineMaryGreen

Village Nature Diary with Mary Green

Reserved for the future

Posted on October 19 2011 at 1:21:06 0 comments

Cleared glade, Pipershill

Mary Green explores two of our local nature reserves.

Iwonder what sort of weather you will be facing when you read this! Last year, of course, we had snow and intense cold in November, and some weather forecasts suggest similar for this year. At the time of writing this we have just had a record-breaking October heatwave, which has slowed down the early turn of leaf colour.

The fruit harvest was exceptional – in Withybed we were all drowning in apples, plums and damsons! The plum is a very local one, a bit like the Pershore egg-plum, but with a red flush on its gold, and very sweet. The only thing that was disappointing was blackberries – they were rather small and dry, and were mostly over by Michaelmas, thus saving the Devil the trouble of spitting on them.

I must apologise for mis-captioning a photo last month. The flowers in the meadows on page 64 were sneezewort, not feverfew. I got it right in the text! Both are old herbs used for treating colds and flu, but sneezewort is less common.

I think I may be putting a jinx on wildlife. No sooner did I write about the wonderful plant life on Alvechurch station, than Network Rail put forward a plan for “upgrading” the station and line. I described the flowers along the canal edge by the old scrapyard, and works have started on that bank to create another mooring.

Then British Waterways cut down all the lovely bur marigold and orange balsam by the dead arm causeway, before they had time to set seeds. Maybe I should stick to nature reserves!

Last month I wrote mostly about woods that were in private hands. This month I am concentrating on some local nature reserve woods, managed by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. We shouldn’t need nature reserves, but we do. I would actually prefer to see these areas being part of the working landscape, but unfortunately these days that too often means that they are not worked in a way which aids local biodiversity and makes them sustainable.

Many of our nature reserves were originally working landscapes. Eades Meadow is a good example: it was a hay-and-grazing meadow which a determined farmer refused to plough up during the times when everything was supposed to be used for arable crops.

The beautiful Uffmoor Wood, near Romsley, was owned by Harris the brushmakers, who managed it for wood for their brushes. I hope that some of the farms now making use of the government’s environmental schemes may promote biodiversity for the future, so we will have less need to preserve places artificially.

My first walk, Broadmoor Wood, is on the Wolverhampton and Dudley OS Explorer map. Broadmoor Wood used to be owned by Wilkinson’s, of swords and razor blades fame. It is now part of the National Trust Chadwich estate, on the edge of the Waseley Hills, and is situated near Rubery, in the gap between Waseley and Lickey Hills.

The best way to get to it is to drive to the small car park (the one you don’t have to pay in!) on the south side of the Waseley Hills on Holywell Lane – grid reference SO 978769 Cross the road and you will see St Oswald’s Camp playing fields, and a Wildlife Trust notice by the gate.

This is a short walk around a hidden, secret little wood, but not an easy one. Walk down past the playing fields to the gate into the wood in front of you – there is usually a mown path to follow directly to the entrance, but if not, look along the edge of the wood to find the gate.

There is a path through the little wood which goes down the right-hand side into the dingle and round a pool, then back up the other side. When I went it was rather overgrown, and it can be very muddy, but it is quite well-marked and easy to follow with steps down the steep bits. Dogs are not allowed.

The pool is mostly silted up now, but was the upper spring pool which provided water for the sword mills downstream. There are some remains of wooden structures, showing the past uses of the woods. Some of the trees, especially hazel, are coppiced, in other words cut for use every ten years and then grown out again.

The wood would be used as fuel or to make fences and small items. This means the trees always look young, but may be very old at the roots. Other trees are “standards,” in other words left to grow naturally and just used occasionally for fallen wood or thinned branches.

There are some magnificent old standard oaks as well as ash, birch and rowan. As with all deciduous woods, it looks beautiful in the autumn with leaf-colour and fungi. It is fairly overgrown and closed in, so can have that creepy feel you get in some woods.

However, if you don’t get there this month, wait till next spring! This is a classic bluebell wood. Its little ravine is full of bluebells, yellow archangel, wood anemones and wood sorrel.

In the boggy area is golden saxifrage, and the bright gold of marsh marigolds. Go on a sunny day and take your camera – you may well find artists painting there too, and local school children learning about wildlife. It’s such a little gem, but was there to aid the making of weapons. Nearby is a holy well, and from the fields above the wood the views are wonderful.

You can combine this walk with the south end of the Waseley Hills walks I described last year to make a longer walk.

My second Worcestershire Wildlife Trust wood is much nearer home, and I can’t believe how often I drove past it before I got round to walking in it! It is probably the most stunning wood in the area, and is very accessible and much used and loved. This is Piper’s Hill (or Pipershill and Dodderhill Commons, as the reserve notice has it) on the B4091 between Bromsgrove and Hanbury.

It is at grid reference SO 960649 on the Worcester map, and has easy parking just off the road. It is on the right if you’re coming from Bromsgrove, near the top of the hill just past the Country Girl. The car park is at the very beginning of the wood, and is not signposted from the road, so don’t miss it!

In the car park you will immediately see huge old oaks – two or three hundred years old. There is a track down to Knott’s Farm – don’t take this unless you’re in a hurry, as there are nicer paths. I suggest one route here but you can wander quite freely as long as you keep to paths.

Go from the car park along the footpath to the right heading near the edge of the wood to its NW corner.  Here there is a road and houses, and a good view when you come into the open.

Turn straight back sharp left and follow the path back into the woods. It’s quite hard to follow as there are other paths, but keep above the slope that goes down to the edge of the wood on the right. Join the farm track and stop to look at the beautiful old house and great views.

You’ll pass a big pool, an old fish pond, with willows and bulrushes (reedmace.) Continue parallel to the edge of the wood till you reach the southwest corner. There is a lot of cleared ground here with big old trees, including a few yews, and foxgloves and willowherb in the summer. At the corner you meet houses again.

There is a track that goes left uphill, eastwards towards the main road. Go up it a little way then take a good path steeply rising to the left diagonally through the wood. This takes you to the top of wood and a lovely clearing, with rope swings made by kids, and some huge oaks.

Carry on along the high ground with great views to the left towards Droitwich. Here there are beautiful old sweet chestnut trees with twisty swirly trunks, as well as beech and oak. Cross a deep little valley and the path takes you back to the car park looking down over the pool.

There is a reason why the wood is so open and easy to walk in. It was originally pollarded and grazed. This means many of the trees were cut off a few yards up every ten years or so, and the new wood harvested – a bit like eye-level coppicing. This way the trees were saved from felling, so the trunk may be very old. The woodland was grazed by cattle, sheep and pigs, so the ground was kept very clear of undergrowth.

This type of land – woodland pasture – used to be very common and is a good way of using land for a variety of purposes, while making it sustainable long term. The land was common land, in other words local people had rights to graze their animals there, as well as pannage (rights to gather acorns) and estovers (rights to collect wood), though these rights no longer exist here.

The trees were pollarded instead of coppiced to stop the grazing animals eating the new growth. The grazing history means there is not much understory of bushes, and not so many flowers, though these are coming back to some extent now it is no longer grazed.

It does, however, have great fungi – apparently 200 different kinds! – so should be especially good at this time of year, provided you’ve had some rain (when I visited in October it was virtually fungus-free). Some of the oaks are not pollarded, but are huge standards, with big crowns because of the lack of competition from other trees. I noticed how different this was from the very tall, thin trees in Lion Wood, described last month.

It is one of the best places around here to see old sweet chestnut trees. This is an interesting species: it was introduced here may centuries ago, probably by the Romans, and now behaves like a native species. It grows to a good old age, and in its later years has the most beautiful bark, twisting and swirling up the convoluted trunk. This makes it a lovely sight even in the dead of winter.

It has distinctive long serrated leaves, and in July the flowers come. There are long sprays of insignificant small yellowish flowers, with a strange and rather sexy scent. And of course, in autumn it has prickly cases with sweet chestnuts, once an important food source.

There are some ancient specimens around the country. One in Gloucestershire was described as ancient in the 17th century. It has been measured as between 36 and 52 feet round. It is a writhing complex of trunks and branches, hard to say if it is one tree or several. Nowadays it is thought to be over a thousand years old, at least.

There are about 240 ancient trees in Piper’s Hill, many more than 400 years old and reaching five metres in girth. This is why it is an SSSI (site of special scientific interest). Its bird life includes all three kinds of native woodpeckers.

However, it lacks shrubs and small trees, especially hawthorn and holly, so there are not enough berries to attract some other birds. It is a great dog-walking, picnicking, sitting-on-a-log-just-looking, playing-with-kids wood too!

There is a good path from the south west corner to Hanbury church and on to Hanbury Hall. There is more woodland on the other side of the main road, which looks less old and less well-managed, and has more holly understory. From here footpaths lead across the fields to Eades Meadow.

By the time you read this a lot of the trees will have lost leaves. The oaks usually hold on longest, going golden-brown in early November, and beech can be quite late too. Both of these have leaves that hang on well in the brown state unless there is high wind.

Ash, on the other hand, turns yellow really suddenly in late September/October, and drops very quickly then. Field maples can have quite a long turning season, and indeed most trees seem to behave in very individual ways, with trees of the same variety and age standing next to each other changing colour weeks apart. The continuing dry weather probably means leaf colour will not be so spectacular this year.

These nature reserves are open to the public (not all are) and need to be treated with respect. Keep to paths, either the public footpaths which often run through them or to reserve paths, which are usually well-marked on the ground but not on maps. Check whether dogs are allowed and keep them on leads. Don’t take any plant life – do your foraging somewhere else!

Look out for the volunteers who maintain the woods for future generations, and notice how woods are managed. Thinning and occasional felling keep them in shape, but these days wood is often left to lie there as it is a host for wildlife, from fungi to insects and mammals.

Some people still wonder why trees are so important. As I wrote this, I heard of the death of Wangari Maathai, a remarkable Kenyan woman who won the Nobel peace prize in 2004. She won it mostly for planting trees. Many people at the time couldn’t see why a tree-planter should have anything to do with peace.

Her “Green Belt” movement helped to reverse the harm that had been done by commercial farming and un-planned development to the ecology of her country, which was once thriving and self-sufficient. In doing so, she promoted democracy and re-established the key role of women in the economy.

She said “The tree is just a symbol of what happens to the environment. The act of planting one is a symbol of revitalising the community.”
And of course, the act of destroying them without replanting is the opposite.

The poem is one I wrote last autumn.

Elemental

You can live without fire. People did back in the dark time
Eating fresh and raw, so long as there was water
Now some live without earth, in the concrete forests
At least they would, until Tesco ran out of food.
For a day you might live without water, I guess
But air is different. You need it every minute
Invisible, free, untaxed, the universal benefit

As I walk in the golden October days
I think the air is blue as a child’s eyes
It smells like leaves and woodsmoke
Touches me gently and lifts my hair
Everything tastes of apples
And the trees sigh softly for the passing year
While a daytime owl swoops into them

A red tractor is turning earth, so newly
The seagulls haven’t got here yet
It looks like chocolate, glossy, plain at first
Then milk as the air dries it, sweet and rich
By the time I come back the message has sped
Through the air: here be worms,
And the gulls, rooks and pigeons follow the red fire

In my young days I thought I feared flying
Then when I dared, I found I loved the air
The rush to take off like the rush to love
Holding the controls of a small plane
Following the river like a bird
Or in a jumbo, in everlasting sunlight
Clouds making featherbeds out of the air

The breath of life, of course, we love oxygen
But it is also what rusts and corrodes
Combusts and burns and breaks us down
We need anti-oxidants to keep us breathing.
Our autumn pears and apples last till spring
By keeping out air as well as warmth
Without air we can’t live, but can’t die either.

And when I die, what do I want to be?
Earth and water, under with the worms
Or fire and air, burning in my flames?
I would like to be part of the chocolate earth
Form the structure of an owl’s wing-feather
Run in the stream towards the salmon-filled sea
And rise like woodsmoke in the autumn air.


What Villagers have been saying about this story . . . most recent comments first


HAVE YOUR SAY . . .

What do you think? Share your views by typing in the box below.

Name:

Email:

Location:

Please enter the word you see in the image below (this keeps the spammers away):


Return to Front Page

sidebar