Leigh Woods veteran tree walk
The southern part of Leigh Woods was formerly wood pasture and is home to a large number of veteran trees, mainly oak pollards. This area was historically part of the Ashton Court Estate, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), to the west. These two sites have one of the largest populations of veteran trees in the South West.
North Road entrance, grid ref: ST555730
Park in the lay-by on North Road. Walk to the site entrance, go through the entrance on the left, walk up the surfaced path to the blue trail way-marker. Just beyond the way-marker on the right, you will see our first tree of interest. This tree is a veteran oak pollard, approximately 400 years old.
Veteran oak pollard
Can you see how all the branches come from the same part of the trunk? Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches are removed promoting dense foliage and branches. Trees were pollarded for fodder to feed livestock and for wood. They were pruned at intervals of two to fifteen years, the pollarding cycle on this tree stopped long ago, so it is known as a lapsed pollard. One consequence of pollarding is, these trees tend to live longer than unpollarded trees. Older pollards often become hollow, so can be difficult to age.
Continue up the blue trail, following the surfaced path and blue way-markers. Turn right onto Valley Road and bear to the left of the National Trust reserve office, following the surfaced trail until the path starts to run parallel with the old parish wall. Here you will see a gap in the wall with a large yew tree growing in the middle of it.
This is one of the oldest trees in Leigh Woods, approximately 500 years old. Can you see how the trunk bulges out? have a close look and see what you can find. In the past the tree has swallowed a part of the wall. We have now removed short sections of the wall either side of the tree to give it more room. We put wood chip on the ground around this tree to protect its roots from passing walkers and cyclists. As this tree has not been previously pollarded or coppiced it is known as a maiden tree.
Continue along the surfaced path parallel with the wall, walk straight on through the pedestrian/field gate. Continue straight on following the path parallel with the wall.
Turn left through the pedestrian/field gate through the wall. Continue straight ahead, when you reach the bench on the left, ignore the left turn and continue straight ahead, you are now on the boundary track, follow the path round to the right passed a collapsed stone wall, continue forward on the right you will see a low and wide veteran Oak tree in a clearing, this tree shows a stags-head shape at the top of the trunk.
As trees become old, they retrench or "grow down", this means they start to loose their crown and form a secondary crown lower down. Once the new crown is established, the trunk above it and the old crown die back, this typically forms the stags-head shape you can see on this tree. This tree also has a hollow trunk, hollowing of the trunk may help the tree to live longer, by releasing minerals which were "locked up" in the trunk for the tree to re-use. Veteran trees create valuable habitats.Can you see the ferns and moss growing on this tree?
Continue along the boundary track past orienteering post C, follow the path around a sharp left turn past a bench on the right, continue past orienteering posts B and A. Just beyond the purple way-marker, there is a circular clearing with two benches. On the left of the clearing are two trees with metal tags, these are Wild Service trees, which are ancient woodland indicators. In the United Kingdom, an ancient woodland is a woodland that has had continuous tree cover since 1600. Walk straight across the clearing, just to the left of the benches, in front of you is a beech tree and just behind it is a yew.
Sadly we have had to remove all the branches from this tree, to create a monolith as this tree has a fungus called Ustulina. This fungus causes sudden brittle fracture. Removing the trees limbs, reduces the risk of stem failure, allowing us to keep the trunk, as it is a valuable habitat for birds, bats and insects and fungi.
Behind the Monolith Beech is a large Yew tree, walk behind the Yew and stand with your back to it's trunk (see layering Yew highlight). Return to the circular clearing and turn left, re-trace your steps along the boundary track, to point 7.
In front of you, you will see a smaller Yew tree with the bottom of its trunk coming towards you. Yew trees layer, this means when a branch comes into contact with the ground, it forms new roots and shoots from the point of contact, this branch will then grow as a new tree, initially the original branch connection to the mother tree will still be seen, eventually this branch will rot away, leaving the new tree (although genetically the same tree) and a belly button type scar on the mother tree. Look behind you, can you see the belly button?
Leave the boundary track and continue straight ahead along a short unsurfaced path (this path can be muddy when wet). There are four veteran Oak trees along the left side of this path. Can you spot which ones they are? When you reach purple way-marker 11 continue straight ahead, following the purple arrows through the remains of an old stone wall and past a bench on your left, past way-marker 12 and through the pedestrian gate through the wall.
Continue straight on past way-marker 13 following the purple arrows, past way-marker 14, just beyond this post on your left you can see what looks like young lime trees, this is a veteran Lime pollard showing phoenix regeneration.
A tree can fall over and as long as some of its roots remain in the ground it can continue to grow by developing "new trees", these look like young saplings, they are in fact new stems of a 150 yr old Lime Pollard, which fell over in 2004. Look closely at the bottom of these trees, can you see the remains of the old trunk? Look along the ramparts behind the bench to your right. Can you see a Lime Pollard which has fallen over more recently? Both layering and phoenix regeneration give rise to the notion that trees can walk across the land.
Continue along the purple trail, past the fenced off pond on your left, just before you reach the Stokeleigh camp information panel, look right you will see a veteran small leaf lime coppard on the outer ramparts of the hillfort. Continue along the purple trail when you see a large oak bench on your left just off the trail, look beyond it you will see a veteran oak which has been re-pollarded.
Veteran tree management
The veteran oak beyond the bench was re-pollarded in 1991, this was the first time in the 20th century a tree had been pollarded here. This pollarding was severe by today's management standards, where a much gentler approach is taken. Now look to your right, there's a veteran oak behind post 16 on the purple trail. You may have noticed that all the veteran trees are in a partial or full clearing, this is due to the removal of surrounding trees which were jeopardising the survival of the veterans due to shading, this process is know as haloing.
Now leave the purple trail and continue straight on, at the cross-roads continue straight on towards an open grassy area, continue onto the open area this is called the plain, it is remnant wood pasture.
The southern part of Leigh Woods is historically wood pasture. Wood pasture represents a form of land management in which open areas are interspersed with trees and scrub, the trees were either pollarded regularly or left as maidens for timber, these areas were also grazed by wild and domestic animals. Grazing maintains the openness required by the ancient trees, together with the mosaic of grassland, scrub and woodland that is also a key part of this habitat, it is for this reason that we reintroduced grazing here in 2010.
Continue across the plain, bear left onto the path. Continue on the sunken path down the hill and return to point 1 the North Road entrance.
North Road entrance, grid ref: ST555730
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