In centuries gone by, you had to be very wealthy to look on woods as we do now, and see them as only a place of pleasure. Instead, they would have been where you gathered firewood, nuts, and berries; let your pigs forage; collected herbs and plants for your medicines; feared to travel alone; and where, because you knew little of the wider world, you believed strange sprites and spirits lived and connived. Woods, which were much more common than now, defined many of your practical needs, and flights of darker imagination.
Today, those needs are gone, met by hands and industries far from your home; and we know better than to believe the legends, and all the other tales of fairies and old wives. But, if those mysteries have gone, others have replaced them. Today, for many urbanites, the woods hold a mystery born of ignorance. We know there are no goblins and elves; but we do not know what the trees, plants, and wildlife in them actually are, how they live their lives, and what they can do. We can, like the titled of former times, take pleasure in woods, ride and chase and play in them, but we have lost much knowledge of them. What is that tree called? Are those berries edible? And will that fungus cure me or kill me?
We can, in other words, read a map, but we cannot read a wood. For too many of us, "pollard" is merely someone's surname, and "coppice" a funny word applied to housing developments whose builders want to evoke a rural tone. And, because we are so used to treading paths of stone rather than seasonal tracks, we are apt to misread woods when we do try. We think moss a sign of the original wildwood (none of which actually remains), and that any forest with a tree more than 30ft tall must be ancient. And some of us, under the bizarre tax regime which only ended recently, thought of broadleaved woods as land that had lain fallow for far too long, and so should be cut down, cleared up, and planted with something valuable, like larch or spruce or some tree harvestable on an industrial scale.
And so, in the first 70 years of the 20th century, as the sympathetic management of broadleaved woods faded away, and farmland and profitable conifers replaced them, we saw our woods shrink, fade, and disappear. Then, one day in 1972, a man called Kenneth Watkins, the retired owner of an agricultural machinery company, decided to do something about this. He, and three friends, founded the Woodland Trust. That October, it bought its first woods, and, for several years, Kenneth and his wife Mary ran this amateur outfit from their home. Today, it cares for more than 1,200 woods, employs more than 250 people, works with landowners to help them restore woodland, and has planted in excess of 11 million native trees.
For the second part of our "Wild Britain" series, we have worked with the trust to produce a guide to 50 of their most fascinating woodlands. We hope that you enjoy the stories of them, the species they contain, and that you will be inspired to visit, free of charge, and maybe join the efforts to continue the work of saving – and expanding – Britain's woods.
London & South-east
Blackbush & Twenty Acre Shaw Woods
Cudham, Greater London
Here, in this wooded valley in the London borough of Bromley, you can walk the ground where trod Charles Darwin, who lived in nearby Downe House. Among the plants he studied in these two woods, both of which have some old, characterful trees, is the rare autumn gentian, which is still here. The unusual man orchid, and five other orchids, grow in the small grassland area which is now being managed by the trust to see if the very rare Kentish milkwort can be tempted back. The woods are good for butterflies, and excellent for badgers.
Redbridge, Greater London
Wood notable for 12,000 pollarded hornbeams, a pond, small area of heathland, and its age. A sign of this are plants such as the butcher's broom, a member of the lily family that actually looks more like dwarf holly, and whose spiky leaves were used to scrub butcher's blocks. On the heath is lousewort, a small, pink-flowered semi-parasite on grass. Some 940 species of insect have been recorded here, among them the goat moth, whose larvae live inside trees for up to five years before emerging. The wood is a remnant of royal hunting forest, and the trust has recently bought and added 53 adjoining acres.
Near Canterbury, Kent
A national nature reserve which has three major habitats: high forest, coppice with glades and rides, and heath. On the latter are the nightjar, the gaping-mouthed bird whose churring sounds like a distant moped. Other birds here are the hawfinch, all three species of woodpecker, nightingale, and, in some summers, the golden oriole. The 30 species of butterfly include the heath fritillary, which was on the verge of extinction 40 years ago. Habitat management, especially coppicing trees such as happens here, means it is now recovering in Kent and Essex where, despite its name, it prefers woods.
Brede High Woods
Near Battle, East Sussex
The trust's largest ancient woodland is so varied that visitors often say it is like 10 different woods on one site. The birds range from the nightingale, warblers, and woodcock, to buzzards and the insect-hunting hobby. Among the plants are the rare green-flowered hellebore and lesser centaury; there are badgers, fallow deer, and dormice; and the huge number of insects present include the silver-washed fritillary butterfly, the wonderfully named marmalade fly, and a leaf beetle that's so rare that it was thought to be extinct. The woods are also a British stronghold of the wild boar.
The odd shape of this site betrays its history, much of it being parcelled up 100 years ago as plots for building which, because of planning and access complications, never happened. The trust bought many of the plots, and now manages this large section of Weald wood, which has oak, birch, hornbeam, field maple, wild cherry, ash, and hazel. There are open rides and rough fields, which account for the site's 29 butterfly species; eight species of orchid, including fly and greater butterfly; and the rare elongated sedge beside one of the two ponds.
Take a train on the East Grinstead line, get out at Woldingham, and you'll suddenly find, no more than a few miles over the Greater London border, that you're in an old Surrey landscape high on the North Downs. The hedgerows start no more than 60 metres from the station exit, and there is chalk grassland in shallow valleys where common, bee, fly, pyramidal, and greater butterfly orchid grow, and stripe-winged grasshoppers buzz. In Great Church Woods, once owned by Sir Adrian Boult, are veteran beeches. All this, plus roe and fallow deer, 25 species of butterfly, and rare Roman snails.
Chesham Bois Wood
Classic Chilterns wood, with beech trunks as straight as naval gun barrels. It may look as if it has been here forever, but only a small part is ancient, the rest being planted in the past 150 years to keep the local furniture trade supplied. This is one of the prime places to see the edible dormouse, which looks like a small grey squirrel without the ear tufts. It was introduced by Lord Rothschild in 1902, and escaped. It sleeps at least half the year, and has a liking for the loft spaces of homes, where it can make quite a racket.
Near Stoke Lyne, Oxfordshire
A real local landmark, standing proud on a rise from an otherwise flat landscape. Oak and hazel woods have stood here, and been managed, for centuries, and in the 1950s around half of it was planted with a broadleaf-conifer mix. The trust has been weeding out the conifers and restoring the wood to its original character. An avenue of ornamental Corsican pines runs through the site, and tawny owls are resident here. This is our native "hooting" owl. It is smaller than most people think, being about the same size as a wood pigeon, and very loyal to old territories.
Near Bicester, Oxfordshire
Small, interesting hillside remnant of the Bernwood hunting forest which once covered 400 square kilometres. New planting on part of the wood since 2003 shows how quickly trees can be established, with some ash now more than 7ft (2.1m) tall. Rare black hairstreak butterflies – a species that is only on the wing for three weeks a year – are here, as are muntjac. These, also known as barking deer, are about the size of a Labrador. Since escaping from Woburn Park in about 1925, they have bred so fluently that they will soon become Britain's most common deer.
Wormley Wood and Nut Wood
Near Hertford, Hertfordshire
A national nature reserve with a large expanse of ancient woodland notable for its knarled old oaks. Wormley was mentioned in a sixth-century document. Birds include hawfinch, redstart, and woodpeckers, and there is a pool and stream. It is a good site for honeysuckle. Conifer planting of the 1980s is now being removed to make way for the restoration of broadleaved species such as hornbeam. This, a wood so hard it blunts carpenters' tools, was often used to make charcoal. It was also shipped to London as a firewood, for it burns well with a particularly bright flame.
Near St Albans, Hertfordshire
Here, not all that many miles north of London, the trust is creating Britain's largest new native forest: 850 acres of broadleaved trees on what were formerly fields. The plan is to plant 650,000 trees in 12 years (90,000 of which are already in place), and lay down wildflower meadows. miles of footpaths and bridleways. The richness of the resulting wildlife can be judged by a site survey done before planting. It found four species of bat, pygmy shrew, common lizard, plus birds such as the kestrel, buzzard, hobby, and lesser spotted woodpecker.
South & South-west
Upper Barn Woods
Near Fisher's Pond, Hampshire
Another former hunting forest – once ridden by the bishops of Winchester – this is clearly ancient, as shown by the 11 species of fern and other indicator plants. Among them is Solomon's seal, whose small, rather fleshy, white flowers, hanging from the underside of an arching stem, put old country folk in mind of a sow's teats, and so that was what they called it. There are buzzards, sparrowhawks, claques of long-tailed tits, and also the silver-washed fritillary, the largest butterfly of its kind in Britain, which can often be seen feeding on bramble nectar.
Near Westbury, Wiltshire
One of three trust woods in the area, it is mainly mature oak plus some broadleaved species and Norway spruce planted 40 years ago. Its great value is as an insect site, with the Duke of Burgundy and silver-washed fritillary among the butterflies. There are more than 300 species of moth, including the narrow-bordered bee hawk, an alarming sight to anyone who mistakes it for a large bee. Here, too, is the scarce small eggar moth, a strangely coloured species with reddish-brown forewings. Open glades and rides are maintained to give these insects the habitat they need.
Near Shaftesbury, Dorset
This large wood on a hill, surrounded by pasture, can be seen for miles around. Apart from wonderful views over the Blackmore Vale, it also has probably the oldest thing in Dorset – a few coppice stools of small-leaved lime. This tree, now rare in many places, was the commonest tree of lowland England in prehistoric times. Among the many butterflies here is the white admiral, a species now recovering from decline. Most butterflies have struggled as less coppicing has meant shadier woods, but the white admiral has benefited because honeysuckle, its larval food plant, has thrived.
Steeply sloping wood above Taunton Vale, with grassland at the southern end of the site. Much is done to encourage butterflies here, especially the Duke of Burgundy, a species notable for the fact that the female has two more functioning legs than the male, which has only four. There are rare trees here, including the small-leaved lime, and a huge wild service tree – both signs of ancient woods. The service has a fruit which, once frost-bitten, is edible. Richard Mabey says in Flora Britannica that its taste has "hints of apricot, sultana, over-ripe damson, and tamarind".
Little Doward Woods
Near Whitchurch, Herefordshire
This wooded escarpment along the River Wye has archaeology such as a hillfort site with Bronze Age barrows. Its attractions include the nationally scarce whitebeam, other ancient woodland, rare flowers including the dark-red helleborine, and limestone caves. Within these caves roost greater and lesser horseshoe bats, both so-called for the shape of their face. The latter are among the world's smallest, never weighing more than nine grams, and with a body length barely making 5cms. The caves provide an important shelter for this species which is very vulnerable to insecticides.
Near Cusop, Herefordshire
A hill woodland site with birch, wych elm, sweet chestnut, hazel, and sycamore trees, but with old oaks predominating. Otters can be found on the river (and have been seen catching frogs), and there are pipistrelle and noctule bats, the latter being the golden brown species which is oftenseen out hunting before dusk. Their preferred summer roosts are in old trees, and, at a site in Yorkshire, 234 were found in one old pollarded beech. Also present in the wood is the pine marten, which is the size of a small domestic cat and may now be recovering from the persecution which drove it from the lowlands.
Fordham Hall Estate
Near Colchester, Essex
Around 500 acres of ancient hedgerows, marshland, streams, ponds, two stands of cricket bat willow, and one of the most ambitious of the trust's schemes: turning former farmland into woodland. The River Colne and the site's other waters are also the location for releasing 300 water voles captured on the site of the new London Gateway deep-sea terminal. Water voles are now beginning to recover from the crash which saw their numbers go from 7,000,000 in 1990 to just a million eight years later. They eat food equivalent to 80 per cent of their body weight every day.
Swan and Cygnet Woods
Near Stock, Essex
The old Swan Wood is ancient, and has slopes, streams, ponds, and pollarded trees. Cygnet is a new wood, partly colonised from its older neighbour, but also with new planting. Recently, native dormice (as opposed to the much larger edible kind) were discovered here. This species – which is like a chubby, golden-coated mouse, but with a fur, rather than scaly tail – has lost much of its habitat in the past 100 years. But it has found its way here, nesting boxes have been put up, and they are being used.
Great Glemham, Suffolk
Here is another restoration project where the trust is turning farmland back to what, centuries before, was woodland. Since 1990, more than 60,000 trees have been planted, and there is now 148 acres of new native woodland with some specimens more than 18ft (5.5m) tall. There are pockets of old woods, ponds, and wildflower meadows which have a good range of plants. Among them are ladies bedstraw, meadow saxifrage, white campion, and salad burnet. The dark pink flowered betony, often mistaken for orchids by the uninitiated and one of the most versatile of medieval medicine's cure-alls, also grows here.
Near Needham Market, Suffolk
An old wood, as detectable by the woodbanks, old ash and field maple pollard stumps, and a rich flora which includes orchids, nettle-leaved bellflower, broad-leaved helleborine. There are other indicators, among them wild pear trees, the rarest of our natives whose fruit is inedible, and wood so dense it barely floats. Among the birds is the woodcock, the dumpy, long-beaked and furtive skulker in leaf mould. Its call can sound like a mildly miffed frog, and an alarmed female is capable of carrying her chicks between her legs, in her claws, or even flying with them on her back.
Near Sawtry, Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire is England's least-wooded county, but this site is a terrific exception to the farmed and fenned flatlands. It is believed that trees have been on this site since the last Ice Age, and the wood was certainly mentioned in the Domesday Book. The oak and ash trees, and wide rides are excellent habitat for the black hairstreak, white admiral, and white-letter hairstreak butterflies. It is also a good place to hear warblers, and maybe see the marsh tit, a bird only distinguished from the willow tit at the end of the 19th century.
Stoke Albany, Northamptonshire
A wet ash and field maple wood, with ride maintenance and coppicing still extensively carried out by trust volunteers. The result of this is a fine flora, including the exotic-looking herb paris, wood sorrel, yellow archangel, early purple, greater butterfly and bird's-nest orchid, and broad-leaved helleborine. The under-storey has crab apple (whose fruit make a superb jelly), and spindle. The shocking-pink berries of this shrub are not a lot of use in the kitchen, but the branches of spindle grow so straight and uniformly rounded that they were used to make skewers, pegs, and even knitting needles.
Near Tattershall, Lincolnshire
Ancient alder-dominated wet wood whose site includes what used to be RAF Woodhall Spa during the war. This was the home of 617 squadron – The Dambusters – the remains of whose air-raid shelters can still be found in the woods (they were well spread out to minimise damage from bombing). Today, thanks to work by the trust, some 20 of these, and other old brick structures, are home to pipistrelle and natterer's bats. The site, some of which has been replanted by the trust, has other valuable species present, such as longhorn beetle, garden warbler, turtle dove, and bullfinch.
Near Loughborough, Leicestershire
Hilly wood pasture with views over the surrounding hills and the national forest. Wood sage and figwort can be seen from the good paths. The site also contains Wood Brook, whose spring-fed waters are sufficiently clean to be home to stone loach, that great medieval delicacy lampreys, and the white-clawed crayfish, our only native species. This white-clawed variety is far less common than it used to be, mainly due to pollution and the alien signal crayfish, which was brought to Europe by a misguided Swedish biologist. It carries a disease to which it is resistant, but against which our native species has no defence.
Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire
Part of the ancient hunting forest of Charnwood, and one of the highest woods in the Midlands. It commands – and, for once, the word is justified – spectacular views over the River Soar and Trent Valley. Within the dry stone walls so characteristic of the area are two belts of oak, beech, holly, and sycamore. Extra planting by the trust in 1995 added more ash, field maple, birch, and oaks to the woods, but an area of grassland has been retained. Among the trees is rowan, once widely planted beside houses to protect against witches.
Near Unthank, Derbyshire
Here, just 10 miles from both Sheffield and Chesterfield, is this ancient woodland covering the valley sides of a small stream on the edge of the Peak District National Park. It is a secluded place, and oak is the dominant tree, with some specimens more than 200 years old. Conifers were planted in the late 19th century, but today only larch remains. High summer brings meadowsweet, and its almost sickly smelling flowers, into bloom. More useful are the flowers of elder, from which commercial cordial is increasingly being made.
One of a group of three woods on a sandstone escarpment which gives great views of the Welsh borders and the western Pennines. A valuable site for bats, Snidley has high numbers of common and soprano pipistrelles, plus brown long-eared and myotid. The heath contains bilberry, one of our very best (and most nutritious) wild foods. Bilberry is native, and although the fruits are smaller than expensive, imported blueberries, many who have tried them think they have more flavour. According to Flora Britannica, the pie made from them is known in Yorkshire as "mucky-mouth" pie.
Hyning Scout Wood
Near Warton, Lancashire
An ancient wood of ash, oak, sweet chestnut, and sycamore, a 16th-century import into Britain which is so settled here it self-seeds relentlessly on any wasteland or railway embankment. Sweet chestnut was brought here by the Romans and some of the trees here are typically stout, for this species can often have girths of 25ft (7.6m) or more. This is one of the places in mainland England where the red squirrel hangs on. There are about 140,000 in the UK, as opposed to 2.5 million of the alien, more free-breeding, disease-resistant grey variety.
Bilton Beck and Rudding Bottoms
Near Harrogate, Yorkshire
Steep, ancient woodland sloping down to the River Nidd with small cliffs, springs, wet flushes, a former flax mill now a house, and the 30ft high stone Nidd viaduct. The wood is almost a catalogue of wild trees: oak, sycamore, field maple, elm, wild cherry, ash, beech, rowan, larch, pine, spruce, plus holly, alder, hazel, and willow. Birds include dipper, kingfisher, and grey wagtail, and there are mink. These highly intelligent mammals (in tests they score better than some primates), were brought to Britain in 1929, escaped, and spread. They spend 80 per cent of their time in dens, sleeping, eating, and grooming.
Near Grewelthorpe, Yorkshire
A wood and gorge sufficiently inspiring for Turner to want to set up his easel here, Hackfall is a curious mixture of the wild, and the 18th-century efforts to "improve" nature with grottos, waterfalls, and rustic temples. Almost the whole wood was felled in the 1930s, but it has since regenerated naturally. Now it hosts all three British woodpeckers, woodcock, dipper, kingfisher, and common sandpiper. Its plants include twayblade, herb paris, and toothwort, a parasite on trees. There are otters too, showing how well they are recovering from the river pollution and hunting of times past.
Scar and Castlebeck Woods
Harwood Dale, Yorkshire
Steeply wooded valley, through which gurgle the streams and small rivers that run off the moors. There is a rich ground flora, mosses and ferns (including the rare hay-scented buckler fern), and also 21 nationally scarce insects. Among the birds are owl, woodcock, pied flycatcher, and heron. The waters are also a hunting place for kingfishers, whose numbers fluctuate widely in the UK. They are short-lived (usually a single breeding season), and the attrition rate of the young is high. Many are pushed out of the nest before they have learnt to fish.
This woodland on the steep sides of a rocky valley, through which flows the Hart, is one of the few places in England where you can see both red squirrel and otter. There are cliffs of millstone grit, and below them at one point is a Grade II-listed grotto. This is a natural cave which has been adopted by bathers, and linked to the river's edge by a tunnel. There are landscaped paths, and the trees here are a mixture of oak, beech, cherry, lime, sycamore, and some conifers planted in the 1930s and 1950s.
Irthing Gorge Woodland
Near Hexham, Northumberland
A long, thin, ancient wood on the tall sides of a deep gorge carved through the moor by the swift waters of the River Irthing, at whose head is Crammel Linn waterfall. There are red squirrels, badgers, and hen harriers are often seen here. Four miles to the south is Gilsand, one of the north's most popular 19th-century spas. Walter Scott came here to find a wife – and succeeded. The trees are mainly ash and birch, with yews up to 10m tall on the cliff edges. The trust is planting native trees on adjoining grassland to extend the wood.
Near Ordley, Northumberland
Secluded wood on the sides of a gorge made by the Devil's Water. There is a path to a flower meadow, and plants include pignut, a delicate umbellifer, whose roots taste of hazelnut. It is only found on old grassland. The woods are mainly oak and ash, but there are stands of alder on wetter ground. This was used in the past to make clogs and charcoal, and these days to make the backs of brushes. It is also strangely attractive to woodworm, and some people keep a block indoors so the worm will infest that, rather than their furniture.
Great Knott Wood
Near Windermere, Cumbria
This woodland is on the south-west shores of Lake Windermere, with its hard sandstone outcrops. It was managed in times gone by to produce oak bark for tanning, charcoal for iron-smelting, and bobbins for the Lancashire cotton industry. The Bobbin Mill is now a museum and heritage centre. In 1958, almost three-quarters of the wood was cleared and replanted with conifers such as Norway spruce, sitka spruce, and larch. Its native trees include sessile oak (the ones with stalkless acorns), ash, birch, beech, and yew. The Woodland Trust plans to gradually replace most of the conifers with native species.
Near Brampton, Cumbria
Peaceful ancient wood with easy-going paths through the beech and oak, many of which are more than 100 years old. It was oak from this wood which was reputedly used to build the roof of York Minster. There are roe deer, birds such as woodcock, tawny owl, coal tit, and redstart, and the site has in excess of 200 flowering plants, including the marsh cinquefoil. Unfortunately, the plantlife also includes rhododendron ponticum, an alien which may look fetching for a few early summer weeks, but which is highly invasive, especially on upland sites such as Snowdonia and the western Quantocks in Somerset.
Near Burnside, Cumbria
The pure waters of the River Kent, which flows through this ancient wood, attract otter, common sandpipers, our native white-clawed crayfish, and that perky little bird, the dipper. This, the only passerine to walk and dive underwater (which it does for insects), gets its name from its habit of standing on a rock and flexing its legs up and down. The wood is a good place to see red squirrel, and also roe deer. It's more notable plants include Solomon's seal, pignut, and wild daffodils, which bloom later than the forced-on garden centre variety.
Near Dunbar, East Lothian
This wood is a mixture of some broadleaved species (mainly beech, sycamore, sessile oak, birch and ash), with conifers, planted from the 1950s, such as Norway spruce, Douglas fir, European larch and Scots pine. Rhododendron is present, and spreading, and Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica has an interesting take on this invasive shrub, suggesting that, in Britain, it may be reclaiming territory it occupied before the last Ice Age. Otters can be seen in the local burn and the lake on the site's northern boundary. Roe deer, hare, vole, badger, and bats are also present.
A horseshoe-shaped site within the town, freshened by the North Esk river, and the Loan Burn. Apart from the usual northern broadleaved trees, there are Scots and Corsican pine, and Norway spruce. In the wetter parts, there are thick stands of butter burr, the winter-flowering plant whose large, soft leaves were used to wrap butter. Along the burn feed grey wagtails, one of the few British birds known to occasionally feed the chicks of other species (in their case, dippers) – either because they have lost their own nest, or they realise the dipper chicks have been orphaned.
Loch Ness, Highland
One of the few places along the edge of the loch where you can get off the road and into woods. The site is made up of more than 400 acres of woodland on a steeply sloping, craggy promontory on the loch's northern shore. The trees are mainly birch, with oak, alder, aspen, wych elm, and, near the water, hazel woods rich in lichens. Here also grows juniper, the shrub whose berries flavour gin. The drink is well-known as an abortifacient, and pills made from juniper – and called "The Lady's Friend" – were discreetly advertised until a few years ago.
Crinan, Argyll and Bute
This classic ancient Atlantic oak wood towers 100 metres above the village of Crinan and its canal. The place is soaked in history. There are two prehistoric forts, and remains of more recent homes here. And, from the woods, there are views west across to the Isle of Jura (where George Orwell lived), north to Mull, and of the 12th-century Duntrune Castle. The moist climate, giving such places the fanciful claim that they are "Scotland's rainforest", produces a remarkable array of ferns. Birds include the buzzard, now our commonest bird of prey.
Near Brig o'Turk, Stirling
Often described – and with much justification – as the highlands in miniature, this site has a huge variety of habitat. In the hills you might see a golden eagle, and, on Loch Venacher, it might be an osprey, or goosander. In the woods, once a royal hunting forest and thought to contain one of the largest collections of ancient trees in Scotland, there are black grouse and the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. Here are also ptarmigan, the defining bird of the highlands, and red deer. And the marsh area is sometimes visited by otters.
Near Carrbridge, Highland
Just 23 miles south of Inverness you'll find this site of mainly mature Scots pine with some birch. Two areas which were formerly a lodgepole pine plantation have been cleared to allow the native trees to regenerate. There are also rowan, downy birch, goat willow, juniper, and aspen, one of our shortest-lived trees which normally dies before it gets to 50 years of age. Here live red squirrel, roe deer, and birds such as crested tits and crossbills. There is also a rich growth of moss, plus marshes and streams. Insects include the rare narrow-headed ant.
Ledmore and Migdale
There are three sites here under trust management: Ledmore oak wood, Spinningdale Bog, and Migdale Rock. This is one of the most northerly ancient woodlands in eastern Britain, and the site has many signs of human habitation, including cairns and abandoned crofts. The bird life is especially rich, and includes osprey, black grouse, peregrine, hen harrier, tawny owl, and buzzard. Capercaillie have recently been spotted. Also on the site are wildcat, an animal threatened more by hybridising with feral cats than habitat loss. Among the plants are creeping lady's tresses orchid, and rock cinquefoil.
Near Llanidloes, Powys
An ancient valley-side woodland near the headwaters of the River Trannon which was bought by the trust thanks to a generous legacy from a keen birdwatcher. The trees are mainly sessile oak and birch, with some rowan. There are several streams that cut through the site in deep gullies. There are good amounts of bilberry here, plus the inevitable bracken, brambles, and gorse. The birds include wood warbler, pied flycatchers, and redstart. There are also ravens, which are a little bigger than a buzzard and have one of the largest brains of any bird.
Coed y Felin
Near Mold, Clwyd
A super example of one of the trust's Woods On Your Doorstep project. Here, as elsewhere, local volunteers have helped create a new native woodland on a relatively flat area on the edge of a steep valley. The planting here, done in 2000, was of a number of broadleaved species, and the paths laid down lead to fine views of Moel Famau, the highest peak in the Clwydian range of mountains. There is a rich flora, with good ferns and mosses, and it is the only site in Wales where grows the rare Deptford pink.
Coed y Gopa
Near Abergele, Conwy
Beech, pine, ash and larch woods, plus limestone grassland with good views over Abergele and the coastal plain. There is flower-rich grassland, with such plants as mouse-eared hawkweed, the late winter flowering stinking hellebore, harebell, and common rock-rose, familiar to any gardener as the helianthemum. Old lead mining has left its mark with a deep, narrow gorge, and there are natural caves which are an important hibernating and roosting place for a significant population of lesser horseshoe bats. They can often be seen foraging up and down the wood's wide rides.
A recently planted wood in the attractive Faughan Valley, which shows just how quickly species can move in. Already merlins, kestrels and treecreepers are here. Buzzards, otters, and red squirrel are nearby, and will surely arrive soon. The site also has a superb wildflower meadow, where grows red campion, meadow buttercup, lesser knapweed, ragged robin, poppy, cornflower, and ox-eye daisy. This last species, driven out of agricultural pasture in recent decades, has become a very swift coloniser of roadsides, motorway banks, and any unimproved grassland. Wooden seats and several quaint stone bridges have been installed.
One of Northern Ireland's rare ancient woods, there is record of this as far back as 1599. Here, on this site of oak, hazel and holly woods, and wetland, are sparrowhawks, buzzards, water rail, cuckoos, otters, herons, and the Irish hare, which, in common with all hares, does not, as most people think, live in burrows, but hunkers down on woodland edges when it is not in the fields. Flowers, especially in the wetter areas, include the ragged robin, a plant which is going through something of a passing fashion with the builders of show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.
The help of the Woodland Trust, and its staff around the country, has been vital in compiling this guide. For more information about the many Woodland Trust sites, and their location, plus the work of the trust and how you can join it, go to the Woodland Trust website at: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk