What is it?
As well as being home to trees such as oak and ash, wildlife-rich woodland encompasses some very familiar wild flowers such as the bluebell and wild daffodil. Sussex is an exceptional county for its woodland because not only is it one of the most wooded areas in the country, it also contains some of the most species-rich. Much of this diversity stems from the network of woods and hedgerows that cross the county, the size of many of the woodlands themselves, and also from the diversity of management approaches that have been followed in the past. These include, for example, grazing, and coppicing.
Why is it special?
The very best woods are known as ‘ancient’ because they have a long recorded history of being wooded sites, this longevity giving time for some of the county’s scarcest plants and animals places to survive during a time when the countryside round-about has changed so much. The biggest threat to woodland wildlife is often lack of management with those species that thrive in old trees, sunny clearings or in a dense understory most at risk. Amongst the most iconic species found in woodland are the rare Bechstein’s bat, the secretive dormouse and the increasingly scarce nightingale.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust owns significant areas of woodland, including some of the most important woods in the country. Ebernoe Common, for example, has a very long history of almost uninterrupted grazing which helped to create a mosaic of clearings interspersed with a dense understory and ancient trees.It is one of the most species rich sites in Sussex.
How do we manage it?
The history of a wood is the best guide to the most appropriate management to implement in woodland with grazing and coppicing two of the main approaches followed on Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves.In some very particular situations, a conscious decision has also been made to ‘leave alone’ so that natural processes can take their course.
In those woods that are coppiced, volunteers play a pivotal role, cutting patches of hazel and selling the beanpoles, hedging stakes and firewood. Each year, a new area of woodland is cut and regrows behind a temporary deer fence so that after a period of 8-10 years, the rotation has returned to where is started. This process of regular disturbance creates an ideal environment for many scarce and declining species.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust’s woodland nature reserves have interest throughout the year with woodland plants such as bluebell and wild daffodil at their best in the spring. Woodland birds and butterflies are present throughout the summer while fungi and changing leaf colours are at their best in the autumn.