Woodlands are good for the soul
says Stephen Moss, TV producer, author and president of Somerset Wildlife Trust.
From bluebells to butterflies and woodpeckers to wrens, our woods and forests are home to an extraordinary range of creatures. That’s because they are a truly three-dimensional habitat: existing on every level from beneath the soil to the very top of the tree canopy, providing countless opportunities for organisms to thrive.
But woods are very special for people, too. And that’s hardly surprising, for until comparatively recently Britain was an island of trees, blanketed with woods as complex and intricate as any city; their ancient trees the equivalent of cathedrals or skyscrapers.
Woods and forests are, not surprisingly, deeply rooted in our culture: from Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Wind in the Willows, part of our souls rests amongst the trees.
Woodlands are one of the jewels in the crown of all our wild places. They are without question the richest habitat for wildlife in the whole of Britain, simply bursting with life if you know where to look for it.
Somerset Wildlife Trust is doing fantastic work helping regenerate traditional woodland at Thurlbear Wood Nature Reserve, off the A358 just east of Taunton.
For this and next winter, a hectare of land an area the size of a football pitch is being coppiced in the traditional way, with the wood used to create hurdles and rustic chairs. It may seem counterintuitive, but cutting back the trees in this way lets light reach the woodland floor, benefitting many of our spring flowers including bluebells the nation’s favourite wild flower.
Birds such as the blackcap and willow warbler benefit too, as more light and warmth brings more insects on which they and their young can feed. And the new habitat is also ideal for woodland butterflies, including the common speckled wood, and less familiar species such as fritillaries.
Last spring I visited the site and listened to a nightingale singing in broad daylight pouring its song out for what seemed like hours on end. It was a truly unforgettable experience, which reminded me just how important our woods are, not just for wildlife, but for our souls too.
Incredible to think that such an astounding musical performance is available free of charge for us all to enjoy, if only we seek it out.
Please make a donation today to help Somerset Wildlife Trust to keep the county’s woodlands alive with wildlife and special for people for years to come.
Donate by text
If you would prefer to donate to our woodlands appeal using your mobile, you can do so by texting LEAF20 and the amount you would like to give to 70070. For example, to donate £20, text 'LEAF20 £20' to 70070.
Five great woodlands for….
Great for bluebells
Longwood reserve, part of the Cheddar Complex SSSI, at the head of Cheddar Gorge is well worth a visit in late spring to experience one of the best displays of bluebells in Somerset. The steep sides of this wooded valley are carpeted with colour, with many other species of woodland flowers, birds and animals on show. Click here to download a printable handout for Longwood reserve.
Great for history
Limestone quarrying and burning was a major operation in the area around Thurlbear Wood, on the edge of Taunton, in the 19th century. The wood contains three small quarries and a limekiln as well as shallow limestone workings in some areas. The majority of the lime was (after burning) spread on the acid ground within the newly enclosed fields on the Blackdown plateau to improve them for agriculture. Click here to download a printable handout for Thurlbear Wood.
Great for spring flowers
The ancient iron age hill fort reserve of King’s Castle Wood is a peaceful haven packed with wild flowers in spring and summer and just a walk away from the beautiful historic city of Wells, the smallest city in England. Take your wild flower guide and look out for dog’s mercury, solomons seal, spurge laurel, wood goldilocks, herb paris, meadow saffron, toothwort and common gromwell. Click here to download a printable handout for King's castle Wood.
Great for butterflies
Great Breach Wood in the East Polden Hills has an extensive network of woodland glades and rides. Spring butterflies, such as brimstone and orange tip, thrive in these warm and sunny flower-rich spaces. Click here to download a printable handout for Great Breach Wood.
Great for view points
Quants is located near the top of the northern escarpment of the Blackdown Hills. The views to the north over the Vale of Taunton towards the Quantocks and Brendons are spectacular. Before the trees come fully into leaf these views can be glimpsed in many places but are at their best from the southern edge of the reserve where it reaches a height of 800 feet. We have a great WildWalk for Quants, the guide includes a spotters guide of what you might see. To download the guide by click here.
To celebrate our woodland wildlife enthusiasts are being encouraged to walk through wild woods and record sightings of birds, bees, butterflies and more. To help get you started we have set up recommended WildWalks at Quants and Harridge Woods which are the focus of our woodland celebrations. However the great thing about WildWalks is that, even if you can’t make it to these events, you can create your own WildWalks around one of our reserves or Living Landscape projects. So please get out and explore the county’s incredible wildlife and let us know what you see as this is vital for our on-going conservation effort.
Download our great WildWalks for Quants and Harridge Woods here.
Download our WildWalks spotters guide for Quants here.
Download our WildWalks spotters guide for Harridge Woods here.
Photo credits: Thurlbear ©Matthew Marshall | mjmarshall.co.uk, Long Wood Reserve, Thurlbear ©Matthew Marshall | mjmarshall.co.uk,King's Castle ©Neil Watson, Great Breach Wood ©Bob Osborn, Quants