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A walk through Pepper Wood

Local Media Volunteer Anstice Hughes reveals how Pepper Wood in Worcestershire is thriving thanks to hands-on support from volunteers for over 30 years.

Take the road out of Bromsgrove from Catshill to Dordale, passing through the charming village of Bournheath (if you can resist the temptation to stop at a country pub!), and you will soon come to Pepper Wood.

A small free car park on the right hand side of the road marks the entrance to several waymarked trails for walkers, while the bridleway is passable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Just a few steps into the wood and you can wander for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet, the sound of birdsong unsullied by traffic noise, the beauty of bluebells or the scent of fallen leaves.

Pepper Wood is a remnant of Feckenham Forest, an ancient royal hunting ground that once covered much of north Worcestershire and Warwickshire. A wood has certainly existed here for 450 years. Formerly known as ‘Pyperode’, it is now designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the gems of wildlife it contains, and provides 130 acres of ancient semi-natural woodland for all to explore and enjoy.

It was bought by the Woodland Trust in the 1980s as a Community Woodland to be managed by local volunteers, which they have successfully done since 1981. The volunteers work to maintain the trails, public bridleway and car park and manage the woodland by coppicing about a quarter of the wood on a rotational basis and controlling invasive plants such as bracken and brambles. The work is largely self-financing through sales of wood products such as bean poles, firewood and charcoal.

An exceptional diversity of tree and shrub species

This small woodland features a wide diversity of trees and shrubs, although few trees here are older than 60 years because of tree felling during the Second World War. There are oaks, birches, limes and alders, while the woodland floor is covered in bluebells in spring. Some more unusual species such as the wild service tree, spiked wood sedge and violet helleborine have been found.

It’s a good place to see deer, squirrels and woodland birds, as well as fungi in autumn, while the rare White Admiral butterfly has been recorded, and Great Crested Newt eggs have been seen. Patches of wild lily-of-the-valley seem to be increasing.

Pepper Wood

As woodland ages, species diversity can decline, so the Woodland Trust’s policy is to continue the coppicing (cutting down mature trees to encourage the growth of new shoots) of certain areas on a rotational basis. Each coppiced area is surrounded by stands of mature trees to preserve the visual aspect. A few of the older trees will be left to age as an important habitat resource, as are naturally occurring dead trunks and logs, home to thousands of invertebrates.

Planning the management of a wood is something that has a very far horizon. How we want our woodlands to look in 50 or 100 years’ time needs action to be taken now. All who volunteer have the great reward of knowing that what they do will benefit generations to come, because the seeds of tomorrow’s woodlands are germinating today.

There are about 20 or 30 volunteers at present but people come as and when they can, so the number working on any one day varies from just a few to a dozen or so.

All are welcome, whether they are old or young, regular or intermittent. What unites the group is the willingness to put in a few hours a week on a project that benefits the whole community. The rewards are the pleasure of working outdoors, getting close to nature, making friends, learning more about woodlands and the sense of pride in this special place. No specialised knowledge is required. All that is needed is a basic level of fitness and a sense of humour - and a willingness to share cake might also come in handy!

If you are interested in getting involved at Pepper Wood or finding out if there are any other group opportunities nearer to where you live get in touch volunteering@woodlandtrust.org.uk