There are 2 sections of woods (referred to below as Wood A and Wood B) that in the past were fenced off from the public, in some cases with boarded fencing so that nobody could even see inside. The narrow corridor between was known as Colditz alley by the gardeners.
These areas lie between the Southern azalea section of the Flower Garden and the Deer Enclosure or Wilderness. Current Park Management - Graham and Michael - could see no reason why they had been handled in this way and have made a change of policy.
Wood A is open to the public
This area, nearest to the Vanbrugh Gate and skirted by the path which leads down to the larger deer-viewing point, has been cleared of all invasive species (e.g. sycamore, robinia or false acacia and the dense clumps of holly). This has let in much more light. As a result, daffodils and bluebells are already coming through-previously present, but held back by the lack of light. It remains to be seen whether these bluebells will be the native or a hybridized version with the more invasive Spanish bluebell. I think that this year we should survey both the woods and the Nature Trail, to establish just what is growing.
In November 2014, the dig-in team planted 500 wood anemone (frequently found in ancient woodlands), 300 winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis - which has a bright yellow cup shaped flower at a height of 10cm), and 1000 snow drop bulbs. These have yet to appear, so fingers crossed.
The area is proving so popular with children (den making being high on the agenda) that one has to accept that some trampling will go on.
The Park team, who did the initial thinning, has now also planted various trees and shrubs in the area.
• Mountain Ash/Rowan Trees (Sorbus aucuparia), which will have good berries for the birds.
• Spindle trees (Euonymus europea), which will provide food for various moths, the flowers are rich in nectar, they have bright orange fruit in autumn and leaves of a lovely autumn colour; the white wood was used to make spindles in the past.
• Silver birch trees (Betula pendula) in groups.
• Goat willow/Great Sallow/Grey willow/ common pussy willow (Salix caprea), which provide early pollen and nectar for bees and foliage eaten by the caterpillars of some moths.
• Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), a low-growing shrub which likes partial shade. It is hardy and gives bright berries in the autumn.
• Oak trees (sp. Quercus), have not yet been planted because it is hoped that some may appear of their own accord. If not, Michael has a supplier in mind.
At the deer viewing point all the scrub has been tidied up and native hazel trees (Corylus avellana) planted. The hazel will be coppiced annually to provide stakes for the vegetable garden in the Queen’s Orchard. The hazels are under-planted by a variety of ferns. In due course, there will be new benches made from the wood of the cedar tree that came down in the Flower Garden last year. The wood has to season for another few months before it is workable. This is now a lovely sunny area and much the best place to view the deer.
Wood B will be open to the public during the Drop-in sessions
The vegetation in this area has been thinned to let more light in, but it remains more-densely wooded than Wood A. It has deep soft leaf-mould underfoot with a slight path through it. There are no plans to make a formal path.
The wooden fencing all round it is being replaced by a wire fence to give better visibility. A Hazel hedge will be planted along this boundary which is good for wildlife. To the East of the deer viewing point (the one nearest to the Blackheath Gate) the bed has been cleared to give more visibility and to reveal an ancient horse chestnut where a young and vigorous tree has sprung from the roots and stands parallel to the original 300 year old tree (it is the same tree). This is known as a phoenix tree.
The fencing behind long pond has been moved 2 metres backwards into the deer enclosure, thus allowing a safe path across the area from the corner of the Nature Trail and into Wood B. It will also allow the volunteer gardeners to work more easily around the pond area, which has been difficult to access previously. I believe the FSC will make use of this area too. The long pond is now being fed with rainwater from both sides of the roof on the Wildlife Centre.
Lots of birds live in Wood B and the area won’t be disturbed frequently-maybe an hour a month for those who wish to visit the Drop-in and be escorted in. Plans have yet to be finalized.
It is certainly the case that the Great Tits that frequent the area are getting quite tame and if you stand by the wire fencing between the two woods, they will come to feed from your hand if offered meal worms or shelled sunflower seeds.