The history of Walters Copse, Newtown Creek

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If you go down to the woods today it may come as a big surprise that they haven’t always looked the way they do now.

Walter’s Copse at Newtown on the Isle of Wight is a relatively small wood of 60 acres (24ha). But if we could go back several 100 years it would have looked quite different.

Walter's Copse was meadow land in the middle ages

Up until around 1800, most of what we know as Walter’s Copse was meadow land. Only the edges are mapped as woodland, and this is where some of our older oak trees can be found today.

In medieval times Newtown was farmed on an open field system so much of Walter’s Copse would have been ploughed with oxen. You can occasionally see the old ridges and furrows in small woodland clearings.

However the clay soils would have been very heavy and difficult to cultivate. Over time the ploughed strips were turned over to grazing. Then meadow flowers began to flourish and even today many of these can still be found in clearings in the wood.

Walter’s Copse gets some trees and becomes a copse

During the first half of the 19th century the meadows in Walter’s Copse were no longer grazed, and bushes and trees soon grew up. This change is clearly shown on old Ordnance Survey maps. Open meadows in 1810 became rough meadows by 1840 and then totally tree-covered by 1862. It has remained tree-covered ever since. We have owned the copse since 1970.

How we look after Walter’s Copse today

The ancient edges of the wood are composed of oak, ash and hazel and we either leave them untouched or manage them on a traditional eight-year coppice rotation. Red squirrels and dormice benefit from a good supply of hazel nuts. The cut hazel is used in hedge laying and to make bundles of faggots to help protect some path edges around the harbour from wave erosion.

The parts of the wood that have grown on those early meadows now include a network of rides which are managed to encourage a range of wildlife that reflects its changing history. The edges of these rides are cut on a varied pattern to let in light, and allow flowers and the many insects and butterflies that associate with them to flourish.

So do come down to the woods today.