Restoring an ancient bluebell woodland at Sheffield Park and Garden

Andy Jesson, Park and Garden Manager, talks us through the restoration of the bluebell woods at Sheffield Park and Garden, which was a 15 year labour of love. Walk Wood is a newly restored, ancient woodland opening for a special preview season from 24 April to 7 May. Recreating a network of paths from the early 1700s, bluebells add to the nostalgia by carpeting an area of the woodland nestled around the hornbeam trees in a magnificent display of blue to dazzle and delight visitors.

" “The woodland always had potential in our imaginations but where you could take it wasn’t there, we just didn’t have the resource at the time”."
- Andy Jesson, Head Gardener

In 2002, accelerated by a £20,000 legacy in 2005, we began to uncover the layers and find out about its past. It’s taken a large team of people to unearth the secrets of the ancient woodland over the last 15 years including volunteers, archaeologists, nature conservationists, forestry officers and historic curators. The National Trust works collaboratively and this is a prime example of that. 

Old and new

We discovered that the woodland was first created in the early 1700s. The paths were created to allow the occupants of Sheffield Park House to wander through the woodland whilst taking in views of the surrounding landscape, blending into the garden boundary. The network of paths were designed around the scenery and each one had an individual name. We plan to restore these paths back to their original routes to give people a sense of history as they explore the grounds. 

To enhance this, we have commissioned artwork, from a local artist, made from natural materials. The installations will act as ‘portals’ into the woodland and will help draw visitors’ eyes to the paths and give them a multi-sensory experience. 

" “We want them to see, hear, smell and feel Walk Wood as it would have been hundreds of years ago”."
- Andy Jesson, Head Gardener


Conservation is a delicate balance

We want to keep things as natural as possible throughout the area so we don’t upset the environmental balance. We’re using recycled woodchip to build the paths (75 cubic metres in total), creating dead hedges from woodland materials and where a tree has fallen, allowing rewilding to take place so the trunks provide nourishment to the soil and attract native flora and fauna. 

Restoring the paths at Walk Wood, Sheffield Park and Garden
Restoring paths Walk Wood, Sheffield Park and Garden

Much like humans, trees within the same family are genetically different. When you thin a woodland area, you could tip the delicate balance so we encourage natural regeneration and try not to interfere. 

A carpet of bluebells

From the end of April to early May, the English bluebell will carpet an area of the woodland nestled around the hornbeam trees at Walk Wood in a magnificent display of blue. Visitors will be able to follow the paths and wander through the woodland surrounded by these native flowers as they take in the sights, smells and sounds. In the same area they will come across tree stumps that are up to 400 years old – it’s truly a trip back in time.

By recreating the network of paths in the woodland, we are enabling visitors to get up-close-and-personal to admire the bluebells without the worry that they will be damaged. Their leaves are very delicate and are particularly sensitive if trodden on. If the leaves get damaged, they are unable to absorb the sun and photosynthesise so they die. In turn, this means they can’t put food back into their bulbs, reducing their ability to produce flowers and seeds. Bulbs can also become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall. The situation has become so critical in some areas that we've had to take measures to control the numbers of people and where they walk. 

Bluebells are an essential part of our heritage and as long as we treat them with respect, we’ll be able to enjoy our bluebell woodlands for many years to come and I am delighted that Walk Wood is now part of this special family.

Thinking long term

We have a 20-year woodland management plan. We’re in this for the long haul. We want to keep on exploring, investigating and sharing these discoveries with our members and visitors giving them something new to experience each time they visit.