A social group promoting the history and amenities of Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

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Friday, 24th  November 2017

 

“Who do the English think they are?”

 

Talk by Derek Taylor

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Littleworth Wood in full bloom

 

A small group of Society members gathered at the Snowshill Arms car park on Thursday 12th May 2016 to enjoy a seasonal walk in Littleworth Wood under the guidance of Jean Booth and Simon Mallatrott, Cotswold Voluntary Wardens and to enjoy the spring bluebells.  All came ready for cold unseasonal weather, expecting rain and cold winds, but no! The sun arrived just as we all did and shirt sleeves was the order of the day.

 

We departed the car park and after a short walk through part of Snowshill village, we approached the Wood after crossing open fields and pasture on its North East border.  The Wood lies predominantly on sloping terrain which means it is naturally well drained.  What was to become abundantly clear was that we had more than bluebells in store for us.  Littleworth in name does much to suggest a small unloved area of insignificant woodland.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The Wood is defined as Ancient Woodland and has thus by definition been a woodland since at least 1600 AD.  As Littleworth is managed Ancient Woodland this has enabled many indigenous and rare species of flora and fauna to survive and indeed in some cases to re-emerge (after lying dormant for many years) due to more recent coppicing and thus controlling light levels to the woodland floor.  Ancient Woodland is graded over many factors including the number of species found and protected - and to the obvious pride of our guides, Littleworth is rated very highly.

 

At the lower level of the Wood with slightly more cover and damper ground we were greeted by an abundance of Wild Garlic just into bloom with a carpet of green leaves and a noticeable pungent smell of garlic in the air.  We then zig-zagged our way up through the wood having many wild flowers and plants pointed out to us.  The wood is home to:-

 

    Early purple orchid                          Goldilocks Buttercup

    Wood Anemone                               Bluebells

    Wild Garlic                                       Primroses

    Cowslips                                          False Oxlip

    Wild Gooseberry                             Meadow Saffron

    Wood Sorrel                                    Yellow archangel

    Dog violets                                      Spindle

    Pendulous sedge                            Wood sedge

    Herb Paris

 

And yes!  We did see most of them including glorious bluebells dotted throughout the Wood.  The Meadow Saffron is a more recent victory of a re-emerging old woodland flower together with Herb Paris, which is only seen in a few woods throughout the country, but beware the leaves are very toxic.  The crocus-like large cup flowers emerge later in the autumn, similar to our garden variety.

 

As we left the Wood through an impressive newly installed gate (cleverly designed to incorporate part of the old stone stile) built by the wardens on the upper South East edge we tumbled down the hill across fields directly back to Snowshill and enjoyed glorious views back through the hills towards the Vale of Evesham.  Jean and Simon continued their insight and discussion into the management and tasks required to maintain this wonderful wood.  A lot of work reflects the need to “catch up” as the management of Ancient Woodland came to a halt in many places from around 1945 onwards.  Consequently with overgrowing, many woods became choked and low light levels resulted in many plant species disappearing.  Since ordered management was reintroduced around the 1970’s many Ancient Woodlands have, after much hard work, gradually returned to their former glory.  Littleworth Wood itself is a shining example under the control of the Cotswold Wardens and National Trust.  

 

Coppicing the hazel helps to open the canopy to encourage dormant plants to re-emerge.  Wild deer, nowadays in much larger numbers, cause damage to new shoots, so the coppiced tree must be protected for 12-24 months with fencing whilst it grows back.  One large old trunk or branch may be left in place as a “standing stick” for insect habitat.  The woodland now has an excellent outlet for the coppiced hazel.  The “Brash” is made into faggots and given to The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who use them as a natural solution to helping shore up and stop erosion of their water banks and help them in their project to protect habitat for the water vole.  As an added benefit, with reduced soil erosion and land slippage the water is now also running much clearer.  Remaining branches are kept in discreet piles in the Wood to attract local beetles, insects and wildlife including families of wrens whilst it breaks down naturally over time.

 

We enjoyed our pub lunch on return and thanked Jean and Simon for such an enjoyable walk.  We all commented on how much more pleasure we had gained on the walk with the benefit of their extensive knowledge.  The total hours they have spent as volunteers is incalculable so please do visit the Wood throughout the season and you will not be disappointed.  It is another gem within this wonderful landscape in which we all live.

 

Report by Nigel Surman

An Early Purple Orchid

The way home

The group ready for their lunch

Bluebell walk in Littleworth Wood