Discover the fascinating ancient art of coppicing as we visit Priory Grove in the Wye Valley. Site manager Rob Davies tells us all about the management technique practised for centuries by people who lived and worked in the wood.

Coppicing continues here on a small scale, balancing timber production with maintaining space for wildlife. The process has enabled people and nature to successfully develop and evolve in tandem.

We also meet Joe who runs the community interest company carrying out the coppicing. He explains more about the process and the company's aim to help locals understand sustainable woodland management, as well as encouraging young people into the industry.

Also in this episode, find out:

  • how an unfortunate end for ash trees resulted in a fantastic sea of wild garlic
  • the team’s efforts to encourage dormice, bats, pine martens and other wildlife in the wood
  • which tree to identify by likening the trunk to elephants’ feet!

Listen to the podcast now on iTunesLibsyn or Soundcloud.

You are listening to Woodland Walks, a podcast for the Woodland Trust presented by Adam Shaw. We protect and plant trees for people, for wildlife.

Adam: Well, today I am off to Priory Grove, which is next door really to the River Wye near Monmouth in Wales to meet the site manager Rob there who's gonna give me a bit of a tour. It's predominantly made up of ancient woodland and provides a wide range of habitats for wildlife. Things like roe, fallow deer, they're known to forage throughout the area, and a wide variety of bird species, including the tawny owl, sparrowhawk, and the great spotted woodpecker, which can all be seen on the wing here. All very exciting and I’ve just got to find it and find Rob.

Rob: Hello, I'm Rob Davies, site manager, South East Wales.

Adam: So tell me a little bit about where we are and why this is significant.

Rob: This is Priory Grove woodland. It's quite a large site on the outskirts of Monmouth, but nobody really knows what its history is. It's it's called Priory Grove, presumably because it was attached to one of the monastic estates round here. And that probably accounts for its survival as one of the one of the largest ancient woodlands next to Monmouth. And it did retain a lot of its coppice woodland, which is quite important for biodiversity.

Adam: Right. And what we're, I mean, we're standing by some felled, are these oak?

Rob: These are oak. Yes, oak, oak in length.

Adam: So why why have these been felled?

Rob: This is part of the coppice restoration programme, so coppicing on this site has been a management tool that's been used for hundreds if not thousands of years in this area and it's used to produce products like this, this oak that will go into timber framing and furniture and all those good things. And also, firewood is part of the underwood and the the the hazel and the the the understory coppice. So products for people and in the past it was used for all kinds of things before we had plastic. But it's still very useful, and so because it didn't cease until recently on this site, the animals and plants and the fauna that relies upon this method that have evolved with it essentially in the last 10,000 years or so since we've been managing woods in this way, still are present here on this site or in the local area. So if you continue the cycle you continue this interaction with the wildlife and you can help to reverse the biodiversity declines. So it's very holistic, really this management technique. But it does mean that to make space for the coppice regrowth, because trees don't grow under trees, you know it needs the light. The light needs to be there for the coppice to come up again. You have to take out some of these mature oaks that were planted 150, 200 years ago, with the intention of being used in the future. So we're planting things and we're carrying out the plans, we're bringing them to fruition, what people enacted a couple of hundred years ago.

Adam: It it's interesting, isn't it, because it it it is an ancient woodland, but that doesn't mean it's an untouched woodland, because for hundreds of years it's it's been managed. Man has had a hand in this and not only that, commerce has had a hand in that, so often I think we think of these things as a dichotomy. You have ancient woodland, nice, pristine sort of nature, and then you have sort of horrible invasive commerce. Actually, I think what's interesting about this site is that there isn't that dichotomy. They both work in tandem, is that fair?

Rob: That's right, it's a false dichotomy. So the reason these woods have survived is because they were used for people, and because of the way they're managed, coppicing and thinning is quite a sensitive technique, it allows space for nature to be present and to develop and evolve in tandem, so they're not mutually exclusive.

Adam: Yes. So tell me about coppicing is an important part of this site, tell me a little bit about what you're doing at the moment with that.

Rob: Yeah, so we've had a grant actually from the Wye Valley AONB from, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to to do some coppicing work on stands that were coppiced about 20 years ago. So we're continuing that cycle. And we've been working with a company called Wye Coppice Community Interest Company, Wye Coppice CIC, and they're quite developed in, in the Wye Valley area. And we formed a good relationship with them and through them we've been able to do half a hectare of coppicing up on the other slope higher up in the site there. If you like we can go up and meet Joe?

Adam: That would be wonderful. Yeah. You you lead on I will follow. Well, you can hear from this I'm a bit out of breath, we've claimed, OK, I'll be embarrassed to say it's a hill, a small incline, but we’ve come across this stand of of felled trees. So just tell me a bit about what's going on here.

Rob: Exactly. So all these stumps you can see scattered throughout the stand. This is the coppice, so it's cut down to just above base ground level there now and it will just regrow. So it's kind of a natural defence strategy that we're just exploiting. So it's it's been used to, it's, you know, since it evolved things like hazel especially, it‘s used to being browsed off by animals, the animals move on and then the tree just comes back. So it's like a phoenix strategy it comes back, back up again. We're just exploiting that. So we'll cut the tree to base and then we'll protect the regrowth from the browsing animals and then the tree will come again.

Adam: Right, and this is the work done by Joe?

Rob: Yeah, this yeah so this is the work done by Joe Weaver. Joe's just down the end there actually if you want to come and meet him.

Adam: OK, let's go have it let's go meet him. Ohh I’ve got stuck. OK, so Joe, this is all your handiwork.

Joe: It is, yes.

Adam: Tell me a bit about what what it is you do then.

Joe: So I run Wye Coppice CIC, we’re a coppice contracting company and working with Woodland Trust, Natural Resource Wales and Wildlife Trusts throughout the Wye Valley and we're embarking on a project to restore areas of the Wye Valley to restore, do a coppice restoration project for for various organisations throughout the Wye Valley. The what you see, what you see here is about 1 1/2 acres of cut down trees with 7 or 8 standards.

Adam: What are standards?

Joe: The standards are the trees that we've left behind, so, so they're the large, they're the larger trees.

Adam: Oh, I see right. So you wouldn't be coppicing, these are very well established big trees, you don't coppice trees like that, you coppice quite small trees, don't you?

Joe: Yes, so all the small diameter understory trees we've cut down to ground level and and they will, they will resprout and grow back again. We can then come back in 10 years and recut them and have a healthy supply of continue, a continual healthy supply of pole wood.

Adam: And yeah, so what you're trying to get with coppicing is sort of quite it's quite small diameter wood, is that correct?

Joe: Yes, generally speaking, so this is a restoration project you can see this first cut is fairly large diameter. And so most of this will go to make charcoal but generally speaking after 10, maybe 15 years of growth, we'll have poles about sort of thumb size and maybe up to about 50 pence diameter.

Adam: Right. And that's ideal size, is it?

Joe: And that's a really good size for products like bean poles, hedging stakes and binders that go on the top of naturally laid hedging and then various other pole wood applications.

Adam: And and when you see a coppiced tree, evidence that it's been coppiced, there's, I'm trying to look over there, is is this where you see lots of different branches actually coming out from the stump in the ground? That's evidence that's been coppiced, cause it not just one thing grows, lots of them?

Joe: That's right. So you can, if you have one birch tree standing up, for example, you can cut that down to the ground, and when you come back in a few months’ time, you'll notice about 5 or 6 shoots coming from that one stump at the bottom of the ground. So if we can protect that from deer browsing and rabbit browsing, then those stems, those five or six shoots will grow up into individual stems that we can then use use in pole wood products.

Adam: It's odd, isn't it that that happens, though, that you chop down one sort of main stem and you get four or five coming back, that's sort of an odd natural thing to happen, isn't it?

Joe: It is. I think it's the tree's response to the stress of being cut down. So it sort of puts out a lot of it puts a lot of energy into regrowing new growth to try to survive because essentially these broadleaf species, trees, they're they're forever growing, you can cut them down they'll regrow, cut them down again, they'll regrow again. So it's a constant cycle of of regrowth.

Adam: Yeah it's it's like sort of, you know, thumbing their nose at you isn't it, going well, you cut me down well I'm gonna come back fivefold. You know, that's it's a sort of really funny response.

Joe: Indeed. But we can reap the benefits of that.

Adam: Yeah no, no, it's, I get, I get why that's good. And coppicing itself, that, and that's an ancient art, isn't it?

Joe: It has, certainly here in the Wye Valley it was practised at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to produce charcoal to power the Industrial Revolution until coal was iintroduced and so it happened for hundreds and hundreds of years here.

Adam: Right. So you think, do you think I mean there's no need for you to be an historical expert on the history of coppicing, but do you think that's the first big sign of it happening, sort of Industrial Revolution time?

Joe: Certainly around here it is yeah, and there's some of the coupes that we've cut, some of the coppice areas that we've cut here, we've found evidence of charcoal hearths. So you can see flat areas with bits of charcoal sort of sliding down the bank.

Adam: So that would be ancient sites in here, well, ancient, I mean, a few 100 years old of them actually making charcoal in this woodland?

Joe: Yes, in this woodland, throughout the Wye Valley all the way throughout the Wye Valley here, yes.

Adam: Amazing. Now so your company, it's not just a traditional sort of private business, it is a a different sort of form. Just explain how that works.

Joe: So we run a community interest company and that allows us to access grant funding if we need to. Essentially, we're run as a private business, but we are able to do community outreach work as well and that's part of what we do is to try to educate people about sustainable woodland management.

Adam: And how did you get involved in all of this then? Did you grow up as a boy going I want to chop down trees to make fences.

Joe: No, I didn't. I was walking in the Dolomites, I saw two stoats fighting and thought woodland life is for me *laughs*.

Adam: Ok, well, fantastic, never heard that, so inspired by the the battle between two stoats and the and and the Dolomites. That's fantastic, but a hard life, I would have thought to run a business to, I mean it's physical work anyway, but that's my perception from the outside, is it hard work?

Joe: It it can be very difficult, it does have its benefits. Obviously it keeps you fit and it gets you outside but yes, it is a hard life and and you know it's it's quite a technical job as well and the training is expensive so we're trying to introduce a training programme as well through through our through our business Wye Coppice to try to get young people interested in woodland management.

Adam: And do you find that people sometimes don't understand or or perhaps disagree with the fact that commerce and nature can be actually mutually beneficial? Do you find that an issue at all?

Joe: Yes I do. Yes, and we're we're we're always willing to stop and talk to dog walkers especially. Shortly after COP26, we had two dog walkers come past and shout at us for chopping the trees down, after sitting down with them and having a cup of tea, they bought a bag of charcoal off us.

Adam: Right ok very good there we are. You're bringing them round one by one, one by one, those customers are coming over. Well brilliant and we've had not a bad day. I thought I might have to put my wet weather gear on, but it's been it's been OK. Anyway well, that's brilliant thank you very much. That's been really interesting.

Joe: Thank you.

Adam: So we've got this stand of trees we're looking at Rob. A couple couple of oak. Did you say that was a lime?

Rob: That's a lime yeah.

Adam: That's the lime, that that one with lots of ridges in it is that the lime?

Rob: That's it, yeah.

Adam: That's the lime. So why have you left these trees? Is there particular reasons you didn't take these ones out?

Rob: Yeah. So these as you can see, these are all mature trees and so you don't take these decisions lightly. So when we coppice this sort of half a football field area here, there were thirteen of these big mature trees, trees you can barely get your hands around as they're so large, taken a couple of hundred years to grow, so you’ve got to be quite careful and quite selective, although you need the light. There's an old adage about oak trees, it goes something like this that to fell an oak tree you need three things. You need a good eye, a sharp axe and a cold heart because these trees, you know they've been grown and nurtured and developed, and they're impressive life forms. And so it's not something you do without considering it very carefully so so you can see a couple of trees in here which are a couple of oaks, good size, but they're full of ivy, very dense ivy and that's very good for wintering bats. For hibernation, or for potentially summer roosting.

Adam: So the bats would live just amongst the Ivy, they'd sleep amongst the ivy?

Rob: Yeah when it gets as dense as this, when it's really all knotted, entwined, there's lots of gaps behind it. You could stick your hand in and find little cavities and several species of bat, especially pipistrelle, they they will hibernate over winter in this kind of growth. So you really don't want to be disturbing this.

Adam: Right. And and what what's, is there something specific about lime that wildlife like is there any particular wildlife?

Rob: Well, it's good for bees. It's good good good pollen.

Adam: You get beehives in there? Oh I see, the pollen itself is good.

Rob: They like the flowers. Yeah yeah it produces lots of the small leaved lime it produces lots of good flowers and and it will attract aphids which is actually a food source for for dormice in the summer. So they they feed on the feed on the lime sap, you know if you park your car under a lime tree, you'll get this very sticky kind of substance coming off it.

Adam: Yes, yeah, yeah. Of course it does. Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Rob: So that attracts aphids, attracts the dormice, it's good for insects who like nectar as well. So it's a it's a very valuable tree and and you know

Adam: So interesting it's it's not valuable commercially, it's valuable for nature.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And it's quite it's quite a special tree in the in the Wye Valley, it doesn't occur much outside this area naturally, and it's kind of an ancient woodland indicator in this part of the world, perhaps not officially, but it's a.

Adam: OK. Any other trees we’ve got here?

Rob: Yeah. The rest of the trees, then are beech.

Adam: Right and you've kept those why?

Rob: Yeah, because you can see if you look at this one here, it's got quite a few cavities in it at the base at the top, beech tends to do that. It tends to take, form little cavities, rot holes and ways in, and that's ways in for fungus and then they eat out and hollow the tree. So the potential for harbouring bats again is very high in these trees. Without sort of going into them, doing some invasive exploration, you can't tell, but it's it's very high potential for bats. So again, bats, all species of bats in this country are protected under law because they've had massive declines like a lot of woodland species. And so we'll do everything we can to retain that habitat.

Adam: It's it's the Field of Dreams, philosophy. You you build it and they will come.

Rob: Yeah, yeah. This as long as it stays there, it'll always be valuable as habitat and so at least then, there are future sort of veteran trees within this stand.

Adam: It is interesting you you've already, I mean, we've only done a short part of this walk so far, but you talked about whoever was managing this woodland 100 years ago knew what they were talking about. And I think that's fascinating that we don't know who that person is or who who they, who those people were. And in 100 years time, people won't know who you were p.sumably, but the the evidence of your work will be here. They'll go yeah, that was a good bloke who did all this and left us with something.

Rob: That’s it, you you don't plant trees for yourself, you plant trees for the future generation so you know, I won't see the oaks I plant develop. I'll be dead long before they mature and it's the same for the person who did this. But you can see the ones we took out, the ones I took out and selected were tall and straight. And that means that the coppice is well managed, because there was enough light for the hazel in the understory to come up straight away. If you cut hazel to the ground and you protect it, in a couple of years, it'll be way above six, eight foot and it'll just continue to get higher and higher over the next few years. And what that does is it shades the stem of the oak and it prevents side branching. So you get this very tall initial first stem. And that's what you're looking for. And that's what these trees had. So this would have clearly been cared for and these trees have been selected, they were on a journey from the moment they were planted.

Adam: OK. And just on my journey of education about trees, how do, what, they’re beech, I wouldn't be able to spot that myself, what tells you they’re beech?

Rob: It's a smooth trunk. If you look at this one here now you can see I always think of them as sort of elephant legs. They're grey and they're tall and they're smooth and they quite often have sort of knobbly bits on the base like an elephant's foot. And if you go through a stand of pure beech, it looks like it looks like a stand of elephants’ feet, really tall, grey stems and these big huge buttress roots.

Adam: Fantastic. I am never going to forget that and I will always think of elephants when I look at a beech, a brilliant brilliant clue. Thank you. Right. So where we off to now?

Rob: We'll walk around so you can see the top of the coupe and just see the extent of it and and then we'll walk back down perhaps and have a look at this oak.

Adam: Brilliant. Well we’ve come to the, over the brow of the hill and along this path, there's a tiny little path for me to walk, and on either side there's a carpet of green. And I think I know what this carpet of green is. Rob, what is it tell me?

Rob: This is wild garlic.

Adam: Yeah. This is the time of year, is it?

Rob: Yep, you can see the flower heads. Ramsons it’s also called, it's just about coming into flower now.

Adam: Sorry they're called what?

Rob: Ramson.

Adam: Ramson. Is that the flower itself is called ramson, or is that?

Rob: Well, just the plant.

Adam: We call it wild garlic but it's it's real name is ramson?

Rob: Well some people call it ramson too.

Adam: Right OK. And I never, I mean I have never picked and eaten anything from a forest because I am sure I will kill myself, but all of this, I mean, I've seen loads of people do that, pick wild garlic and it's, I mean there's there's acres of the stuff here.

Rob: It can it can yeah any kind of wild plant comes with the caveats that you need to know what you're doing.

Adam: Yes, which which I don't.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny yeah, this site is quite well known for its ramsons, for its wild garlic carpets. This this is in response to something here, quite a sad thing actually. We're right next, you can probably hear the road noise there, we're right next to the main road from Monmouth into the Forest of Dean, Staunton Road there, and unfortunately, a lot of the trees along the road edge were big, big, mature ash trees. And they all had dieback and they were all dropping limbs and about to crush a car. And so, you know, we take that very seriously in terms of health and safety so the trees just along the road edge, we left the ones in the wood, just the road edge trees we had to do something about them, so they’ve either been reduced or felled and what that's done in this woodland where in the last 60 years, you have had very little management, like most woods, post war, very little has happened. So it becomes very high, very closed canopy, very dense. And what's happened, because of the ash felling is, you've got this pocket of light here and the ramsons have immediately responded to that. So this wasn't here last year. This carpet like this.

Adam: What so this is this is brand new?

Rob: This is brand new. It was the odd plant coming up every year, patches of it.

Adam: I'm shocked because this looks like something from the Wizard, if this was yellow, this would be we’d be in the middle of the Wizard of Oz set here, the yellow brick road. It just I mean it it's just a beautiful, winding, lush, dense path of wild garlic. It looks like it's been here forever.

Rob: And in a sense it it was. It was just waiting for the opportunity, waiting for that temporary disturbance caused by the ash felling. And so like with the coppicing, that's what we're trying to recreate essentially, is these temporary pockets of disturbance where you you break up the canopy, you get this flush of greenery and then until the trees recover it and regrow again. So you don't want this homogeneous block of woodland really. You want, you want variation, because that's the key to success for, for wildlife and biodiversity, different niches, different ages. If you look closely, you can see it's not just the garlic either. You can see wood anemone, you can see greater wood vetch, you can see little violets. So, you know, quite quite a lot of species are now taking advantage of this temporary light that the ash felling’s produced.

Adam: It is a nice positive message, isn't it? Because ash dieback has been a real tragedy. But even in the midst of problems there are opportunities which nature comes back with, it’s an optimistic sign.

Rob: There is and so this as I say, you know these these trees would have coppiced without us because you know when animals browse them, they they they they come back after that so all we're doing is sort of recreating these natural processes through the management of the woodland. A once in a lifetime storm might have knocked these ash out or a hurricane, something like that, could have felled the whole area and then temporary open space, the plants capitalise and then the wood comes back again, so we’re just just mimicking what nature does anyway.

Adam: I'm going to take a photo of this, put it on my Twitter feed. It's fantastic. So we've just taken a little stop on this path of wild garlic. So over to the right is well, I thought it was a bird box, it’s a large bird box. You tell me it's actually something very specific.

Rob: Yeah, this is a pine marten nest box cause there was there has been a big release of pine marten. Pine martens are native to this country. It's kind of like a large weasel that lives in the trees. That's a really bad way of describing it, but it's a it's a mustelid. It's a large, impressive, intelligent animal and they were sort of pressed to persecute, to extinction, with persecution in the past. But they're very important in these woods for regulating, you know, the biodiversity, they, they prey on the grey squirrel especially, and they'll regulate bird numbers like any predator does. So it's it's great to see them coming back and it's a success story actually, because a couple of years ago now there was a release programme where captive animals were put into the Forest of Dean which is just over that direction. And so we put up some boxes and monitored them and pine martens are moving back into this area now. Whether they’re using the boxes or not, we're not entirely sure, but they are moving in, so it's a, it's a really good story. So we'll do whatever we can to sort of encourage them because we've we've lost a lot of this old growth woodland that we're trying to protect and so they haven't got the nest cavities, so temporarily we'll provide this habitat.

Adam: And over the other side of the little dip, there's another pathway and it looks like the bank has been cut away and it's very black so that it doesn't look quite natural. What's going on there?

Rob: Well the the track that's been put in there is exposed, an earlier industry, so that's that's a charcoal platform. See what is it about five, five metres in diameter. Sort of sort of circular and very, very thick layer of charcoal. A huge fire has been there, but that's that's lots and lots of fires, one on top of the other.

Adam: So this is this is not current, this is probably a couple of hundred years old?

Rob: I think the last burn in this woodland would have been before the Second World War.

Adam: Oh right, so not that old.

Rob: Well, I mean, if they were still burning, they would have had the odd one, but this probably dates to sort of the the height of the the periods of the the late 19th century. So this here, it's been buried and forgotten about. But it shows you as Joe was saying earlier, at one point this was a managed wood and quite a few woods in Wales if you look on the maps you'll see things like coed poeth, which probably roughly translates as sort of hot wood or or burning woods, very roughly, probably, which gives you, may may give you an indication that these woods were worked and if you came here, you would have probably seen people living in the woods with the charcoal, tinner and charcoal workers, especially in the the 19th century, would have moved in in the summer to do the charcoal production with their families.

Adam: Just living in a tent or something?

Rob: Living in on site yeah, because then you know you don't want to move products, move things twice. You know, it's it's an economic, so you bring your family in, you produce your product, and then you come out with it at the end of the season so it's very peaceful here today. You can hear the birds. It's great for wildlife, but it would have been a managed landscape and we're trying to introduce a little bit of that. Obviously not people living in the woodlands anymore, but there's space for both here within this woodland, a bit a bit of coppicing a bit of management and reserve areas.

Adam: And I mean, I I hadn't quite noticed it while we were walking, but now we're we're standing here on this green carpet, there is an overpowering smell of garlic, it’s quite extraordinary. It's very fresh, you know, sometimes when you're in the kitchen and the garlic it's it's, it's not fresh, it's pungent, but this is, you know, it's mixed with the sort of cool air, it's a really lovely smell.

Rob: It’s making me hungry, actually.

Adam: Yeah yeah, yeah, yeah. Well I was thinking whether I should pick some for dinner.

Rob: Chop some up. Pasta sauce. It's lovely with that.

Adam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, lovely. And and there's another one amongst this wild garlic, it's clock, what was it?

Rob: Yeah, this one here, it’s the town hall clock or moschatel as it’s known.

Adam: Town hall clock that's it. So just, what's the what's its proper name?

Rob: Moschatel. Well, that, that's it's another acronym, ah pseudonym really it's moschatel.

Adam: Moschatel.

Rob: Or town hall clock. I forget the Latin actually, to my shame.

Adam: Is moschatel the Welsh word for it, or it's not

Rob: No, it's not. It's a general general word, just a colloquial local term.

Adam: And why is it called the town hall clock?

Rob: Look you can see these four, the flowers have four sides to them, like an old town hall clock would.

Adam: Right, lovely. It's really quite, quite a rich path we're wandering down.

Rob: You see the the bluebells are out look just now, if you look up into the wood there you can see them. In Welsh they're called clychau'r gog, which is the cuckoo bell.

Adam: Wow. Cuckoo bell.

Rob: Because it comes out when the cuckoo comes. Apparently, the grant paid for like a fence, contractors to fence off that, this boundary here, stop the deer coming in from the Dean. To stop the wild pigs actually, pigs are a

Adam: You get wild pigs here?

Rob: They’re a nuisance round here, yeah.

Adam: Wild pigs?

Rob: They call them, they’re not really boar, because a boar will produce like, I don't know, maybe a litter of six, and these pigs will do 22.

Adam: Right. Blimey. And how big are they?

Rob: They look like boar.

Adam: So and boar can be quite violent, can’t they, quite aggressive.

Rob: Yeah, they’re sort of half breed, half pig, half boar. They’re big animals, got a cute little stripey piglets, just like a boar does. But they, you know, they're exponential in their reproduction, so they're

Adam: And and they're around this wood?

Rob: They’re here.

Adam: So do they cause a problem with eating or do they nibble on the new trees and stuff?

Rob: Yeah, yeah, well, they sort of rootle, I mean you want boar, because they were here originally. You want boar, like the deer, you want them in sustainable numbers, they’re all sleeping now.

Adam: Do they come out at night?

Rob: They only come out at night yeah.

Adam: I'll have to return.

Rob: Yeah. I mean you'd see them if you went up to the top path up there.

Adam: We haven't done a night podcast. I think we should do some bats and.

Rob: You can do bats, if you wait, while you're waiting for the badgers to come out, you can do the bats. There's a few sites around here where you can watch them.

Adam: OK, well maybe

Rob: I'm sure there's other Trust sites where people know.

Adam: Maybe I'll come back.

Rob: One summer when I was doing my bachelor’s degree, I was working in Llanelli in like a, just a café just to get some money. I was working with the local girls there, I’d been out surfing in Llangennith on the Gower the day before and I was like just telling her how the seals came in because they chased the mackerel in just beyond the surf line and I was sitting there and the water just boiled with the stench of of fish and mackerel and I looked around and two seals popped up and they were driving the mackerel into the back of the waves to hunt them. I was telling her this and she was like, what, you're telling me there’s seals in the water here, in Llanelli, where? I said just in the Gower. Seals? Like seals seals, like live in water? I said there’s seals there, yeah, they’ve always been there, we just don’t value what’s around us.

Adam: We don’t notice it.

Rob: We don’t notice because you can’t see it, you don’t see it, yeah.

Adam: It's interesting, isn't it, Attenborough has done a series recently on the UK and you go, you don't have to go to Africa or Latin America to see these things.

Rob: There you go. I was in West Wales last week in Aberaeron, and you can see bottlenose dolphins. Increasingly under threat there’s that number of point but yeah, but they’re there. You can see the seals, you can see them all around us, yeah. This is doing well.

Adam: Well, I'm going to have to leave our little trip down the Wye Valley with some rather unexpected chat about seals and bottlenose dolphins and a promise to return one dark night to meet some bats. Until next time, happy wandering.

Thank you for listening to the Woodland Trust Woodland Walks with Adam Shaw. Join us next month, when Adam will be taking another walk in the company of Woodland Trust staff, partners and volunteers. Don't forget to subscribe to the series on iTunes or wherever you're listening to us and do give us a review and a rating. And why not send us a recording of your favourite woodland walk to be included in a future podcast? Keep it to a maximum of five minutes and please tell us what makes your woodland walk special or send us an e-mail with details of your favourite walk and what makes it special to you. Send any audio files to We look forward to hearing from you.

Discover more

New to the podcast?

Don’t miss our previous episodes, including:

  • England’s largest new native wood at Heartwood
  • Loch Arkaig, an ancient Scotland pine forest
  • how trees are making a difference on a Nottinghamshire farm
  • the urban woods and trees of Leeds
  • Joyden’s Wood, a tranquil ancient wood close to London
  • the Trust’s largest site in England – Smithills Estate
  • the ambitious Northern Forest planting project 
  • the new young people’s forest at Mead
  • a tour of our president Clive Anderson's garden
  • top tips for autumn tree ID
  • the rainforest of Devon's Bovey Valley Woods
  • how to read clues in nature with natural navigator Tristan Gooley
  • special tree-themed interviews with celebrities including Dan Snow, Alastair Campbell, Adrian Chiles, Elaine Paige and Kate Humble.

Listen now on iTunesLibsyn or Soundcloud.

Get involved

Please subscribe to the podcast if you want to hear more woodland adventures and don’t forget to rate us or leave a review!

I am keen to hear from you as well – so if you have a favourite woodland walk, do tell me about it in a short email. If you can, make a 5 minute or so recording of your own walk and we may feature your woodland walk in a future podcast.

I’ll be off on another woodland walk soon. Hope you can join me.

Visiting woods

Go exploring

Primordial landscapes, tangled branches, breathtaking wildlife and miles of woodland trails. From the countryside to cities, we care for thousands of woods throughout the UK, all free to visit.

Find a wood near you