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Habitats and wildlife

Why ‘Brede High Woods’ rather than Wood?

Far from being a single wood, it is a mix of habitats – ancient woodland, conifer woods, and more open areas such as heaths and grassland.

Carpets of bluebells in spring, butterflies attracted to colourful wildflowers in summer, and vivid autumn leaves matched on the ground by fungi which last into the winter. The woods are rich in mammal life too: bats, badgers, fallow deer, and maybe a glimpse of the wild boars which roam the woods!

Access to Brede High Woods (PDF, 1MB)

Introduction to Brede High Woods wildlife (PDF, 1.5MB)

Ancient woodland

If a woodland is ancient this means the area has been wooded for hundreds of years with native broadleaved trees. Hornbeam, sweet chestnut and oak are common in the ancient woodland.

You may notice that the hornbeam and sweet chestnut have multiple stems branching from a stump. This is because the trees used to be regularly chopped near the base to provide wood for charcoal production and they resprout in the distinctive way. The practice of cutting trees near the base so that many stems branch from the stump is called 'coppicing'.

Some plants are rarely found outside of ancient woodland and in Brede High this is true of the wood anemones. (In spring, carpets of these pretty white flowers can be found south of the reservoir in Rafters Wood). The ancient woodland is also a good place to spot wild service trees, and early dog violet. Within the woods there are streams, springs, pools and seepages. These support water-loving flora and fauna such as sphagnum moss, dragonflies and great-crested newts. Wood anemones are rarely found outside ancient woodland

During the 20th century, some of the ancient woodland was replaced with conifer trees, planted for their timber. These areas are called Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). PAWS are a focus for conservation in Brede High Woods and in other Woodland Trust woods.

Restoring ancient woodland

Secondary woodland

A woodland that has formed (or been planted) on land that used to be non-wooded is called a secondary woodland. It is usually less rich in biodiversity than ancient woodland. This is because some plants are very slow to spread into new woodland and instead remain in the ancient woods. Also, the dense shade cast by conifer plantations suffocates wildflowers below.

At Brede High farmland and pastures had once existed between the ancient woods. From the 1930's to 1960's, this land was planted with broadleaved trees such as oak and beech as well as non-native conifers such as Norway spruce and Japanese larch, creating secondary woodland.

The secondary woodlands still bear remnants of the landscapes which existed beforehand – for example, hops can be found twining up the trees – probably remnants of the hop garden that used to grow here.

Although conifers may be bad news for most wildlife, they are a great place to see crossbills which prize open the cones using their specialized bills, to extract seeds.

In some areas, heathland species such as gorse and heather are still clinging on. Even bluebells, usually confined to ancient woodland can be found along the path that runs through secondary woodland, from the car park to the reservoir.