Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hargate Forest near Tunbridge Wells

On 20 December I walked in the frost in Hargate Forest south east of Tunbridge Wells. It is an extensive area of pine, broad-leaved wood and heath with some valley mires, streams and a gill. Well worth a visit at any time of year and free access as it belongs to the Woodland Trust.

The top picture is of a place called 'Butterfly Corner' as grizzled and dingy skippers are found here (in warmer weather).

The moss is blunt-leaved bog moss (Sphagnum palustre), very distinctive in winter due to its dark antheridia like the central boss of a flower. It is one of commonest bog-mosses in the Weald, but less and less of the wet woodland habitat it likes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Midwinter in Brede High Wood, East Sussex

A fitting celebration of Midwinter's Day was a walk round Brede High Wood with two friends and a dog. It remains very cold and there was deep frost everywhere.

As in the carol there was plenty of holly and ivy and, at one place, we saw "the running of the deer" as half a dozen wine-grey fallow fled through the coppice. In some places there had been much turning over of the brown, fallen leaves and we thought this must have been wild boar looking for acorns where the ground was not hard frozen.

Yesterday the final document was signed and the northern part of the High Wood transferred from Southern Water to The Woodland Trust, a move that should secure a well-managed future.

Over the centuries the wood has been used to fuel the iron furnaces and gunpowder mills; it has been divided up into farms; turned into a reservoir catchment area and planted for commercial forestry. Now it will be managed as a public amenity and for its wildlife - a new career, though there is no going back to the original wildwood, especially as we are not at all sure what this was actually like.

Managing for conservation is an anthropocentric activity and there is tension between the aesthetic and the scientific approaches. It is all far less simple that the commercial and economic imperatives that determined the way in which woods like this were used in the past.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Frost on the sheep pasture

For the last week we have had heavier, deeper frosts than, it seems, for a long time and the idea that we will be having generally mild winters looks a bit shaky. The picture above is of the fields east of Sedlescombe church.

Here in Sussex this cold is brought on an easterly breeze from mainland Europe and it does make for some beautifully crisp walking days.

Today I was in Hargate Forest near Tunbridge Wells and the clear, cold air was exhilarating. Somehow I always think that these cold spells are good for invertebrates, but if there is an abundance next year I might simply be ascribing it to the wrong cause.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holly cow!

This evening as the frost drew in again, there was a crashing and snapping in the hedge on the west of the garden. It was one of the bullocks in the next door field pushing through the hazel and thorn to browse on our green holly leaves.

Holly used to be an important fodder crop and there are still a few remaining wood pastures known as 'hollins' dotted about the British Isles, mainly in the north, though the famous holly tops on Holmestone Beach near the Kent/Sussex border may be a hollin.

George Peterken (1981) in his Woodland Conservation and Management says "Holly was once cultivated as a source of winter feed for livestock". He says further "Since wood pasture was fundamentlally a system for reconciling the existence of trees and grazing animals on the same ground, it is legitimate to regard hedges and hedgerow trees and surrounding pasture fields as a form of wood pasture."

As wood pasture is a UK HAP Priority Habitat I shall never look at our front hedge in the same way again.