West Runton's wonderful woodlands
The woodlands are constantly changing over the year. Every visit will provide a new and different experience. Even on a damp or sunless day a walk through the woods will be uplifting and, at the same time, relaxing.
The woodlands became established first in the valleys after the ice age. Above the valleys the higher and level land was kept open by animals grazing and by man traditionally cutting bracken and gorse. When that stopped the large population of rabbits kept the areas open instead.
Many of the trees you will see started growing here when myxomatosis decimated the rabbit population. Windblown seeds from silver birch grew into young trees that shaded out heathland species such as heather, bilberry and other dwarf shrubs.
Lowland heath is a priority for nature conservation because it is a rare and threatened habitat. Rowan (mountain ash), oak, ash and sweet chestnut are slower to invade, but over the years, they have increased the variety of trees here. You will see that in the valleys we have some older trees.
In general, we have managed woodland just to maintain access. The silver birch and rowan are short lived here and many have rotted or blown over.
The open spaces in the woodland have been filled by the sycamores. The thin, impoverished, sandy soil is not very favourable to them, either, but they are fast growing and can dominate the area if unchecked.
The woodlands provide cover for common birds and deer. Muntjac deer are often seen- roe and red deer can be visible occasionally. The woodland edges provide shelter from strong winds and the undergrowth gives a varied habitat for a wide variety of species. Insects, in particular, need sheltered areas and low-growing flowering plants.
The beech wood- de Quincy wood.
De Quincy Wood was established with 100 saplings planted in 1969 in memory of Patricia Wood. 40 more were planted in 1973 in memory of Mr Starling, forming a pleasant beech wood. In the spring as the new lime green leaves appear the light from the sun filters through creating shifting patterns of light. In late summer the beechnuts fall creating a crunch underfoot whilst leaves turn into varying shades of red, gold and copper.
The boundary bank at the edge of the wood has some of the oldest trees here. These old beech trees may have been planted when the land was part of the Felbrigg estate. Beech can live for hundreds of years with coppiced stands lasting for more than a 1,000 years.
If you look closely you can see signs that some of these beeches have been pollarded a long time ago.
Since 1992 we have removed the self seeded sycamore and silver birches to ensure that the wood is developing into a typical beech wood habitat with a carpet of beech leaves and little undergrowth. In some years, large quantities of beechnuts are produced which are eaten by grey squirrels, mice, voles and seed eating birds.
Because beech trees live for so long they provide habitats for many deadwood specialists such as hole nesting birds and wood boring insects. The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens.
Great spotted woodpeckers live in and among the trees. They are domineering birds, sometimes attacking the nests of smaller birds and taking the chicks. The woodland floor is alive with mini-beasts that maintain the flow of nutrients into the soil from dead leaves.
In the autumn many kinds of toadstools may be found in the woods. Young reptiles and amphibians hunt through the low cover for food and live under fallen logs.