I’m one of the volunteers for ancient woodland, Ashenground and Bolnore woods in Mid Sussex.
Our conservation work around the woods, including the restoration of a woodland meadow, has just won an ‘Outstanding’ award from the RHS. We are so happy to see that the woods and thriving meadow has won the award too!
Boosting habitats on the margins of the woods and within them creates vital areas for butterflies, moths and other insects that depend on the woodland margins. However, thinning scrub has to be carefully managed, to aid smaller creatures who are dependent on the scrub, hedgerows and glades connected to this dappled habitat, such as the dormouse, whose potential risk of extinction in the UK is now of even greater concern.
We are also mindful that any hedge trimming does not occur during nesting season. Bird populations that thrive in woodland areas are no longer doing so, as highlighted by a recent report released by Defra, National statistics: Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970 to 2023 (7th November 2023), their statistics show that the “woodland bird index was 37% below its 1970 value” please find links to this information below.
Our volunteer conservation activities are in line with a Friends of Ashenground and Bolnore Woods (FoABW) Conservation Management Plan. We meet monthly to improve biodiversity by mowing meadows and glades (after flowers and seed ripening), coppicing amongst the trees and ensuring that ivy and brambles are not stealing too much of the light below and through the canopy, by carefully cutting some of it back.
This year, in Pond Meadow there was a noted increase in the number orchids and wildflowers, which attracted more butterflies and insects for children to find when we organised a children’s bug hunt in August.
We also try to maintain clear paths through the woods with woodchip and tidy edges, hoping to prevent erosion and to discourage impromptu paths that will lead to heavy treading on precious woodland soil which holds next year’s spring flowers, such as native bluebells, wood anemones and wild daffodils. We also litter pick (unfortunately, filling 1-2 bags each volunteer session) and we keep the information boards up to date.
In Sussex we are fortunate, we have more wooded areas than many other parts of the country (approximately 6% as opposed to the national average of 2,5%). However, this is still abysmally low, the State of Nature Report in September shows that "the UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth" and after 50 years of data gathering by thousands of skilled volunteers, UK's wildlife is shown to be in devastating decline.
In regards, to trees, hedgerows and woodland, the Woodland Trust preempted this report in the summer by producing their own report: Trees and woods: at the heart of nature recovery in England, please find the link to this valuable information below and if you have a local woodland group why not get involved?
Spending time in nature, especially with community activities to improve your local area can be beneficial for us as well as our environment.
Here is Sussex, there is a wonderful initiative to link public and privately owned woods, in a network of wellbeing, both for the woodlands and the people who live near them. To find out more about The Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs project, The Woodland Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Action in Rural Sussex and Small Woods have written about this jointly supported project. I have included a direct link to them below.
People's Trust for Endangered Species - The State of Britain’s Dormice 2023
National statistics: Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970 to 2022:
Woodland birds in quickening decline in UK, with risk of extinctions, say experts:
State of Nature, the most comprehensive report on the Uk's current biodiversity:
Trees and woods: at the heart of nature recovery in England:
The Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs:
Friends of Ashenground and Bolnore Woods: