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Nature Notes

The woodland around Wootton Bridge contains some of the most diverse habitats and species rich flora and fauna to ancient broadleaved forests. The areas have been designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (cSAC), Site Important for Nature Conservation (SINC) and Islands Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The areas are broken down as follows.

  • Hurst Copse, Wootton Bridge
  • Briddlesford Woods, Wootton Bridge.
  • Briddlesford Parkland, Wootton Bridge
  • Firestone Copse, close to Wootton.

Hurst Copse

On old maps of Hurst Copse, which date back from 1793, show that on the northern parts of the wood have changed little in extent since then. This part of the copse is ancient woodland; it is likely to be at least 400 years old, and may have survived since the end of the last Ice Age (about 8000 years ago)

The southern parts of the copse as it exists today are not shown on the 1793 map, and are clearly of more recent origin. It is probable that these areas of woodland were planted in the mid-19th century, at the same time as Fernhill House was built.

Hurst Copse was purchased by the People's Trust for Endangered Species in 1996 with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. It is one of several copses, which together make up the Briddlesford Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest. The trust manages the woodland in a way that will preserve its special value as a habitat for wildlife and for nature conservation in general.

The Island is home to some of the most rarest and endangered woodland mammals. Although both red squirrel and dormouse are widespread on the Island, their numbers are threatened nationally; it is for this reason that the Island's native broadleaved woodlands, such as Hurst Copse are of outstanding importance to nature conservation.

Hurst Copse also contains a number of interesting trees. There are many hornbeams growing beside the path throughout the southern side of the copse; these can be identified by their grey sinuous bark and pleated beech-like leaves. On the northern side, the maple-like leaves of the wild service tree can be seen overhanging the edge of the marsh; these are particularly striking in autumn when the leaves turn a deep coppery brown. On the northern side of the broadwalk are some young saplings of wych elm. Wych elms an indigenous species and unlike the more common English elm, had some resistance to Dutch elm disease. Both of these trees are good indicators to ancient woodland.

The marshland over which the broadwalk passes is of considerable ecological importance. Here, the freshwater streams that flow through the copse meet the brackish saline water of the Mill pond. This mixing of waters creates an ecological transition from tall, freshwater reed beds through a zone of bluish-green sea-couch grass, to more open salt marsh vegetation. It is also possible during the summer season to get glimpses of shelduck feeding in the shallow water and mudflats of the Millpond, to herons and other bird life.

Briddlesford Woods

Since 1996, Briddlesford Woods has been protected for its outstanding nature conservation value. Mammals Trust UK owns and manages this beautiful woodland, which is the largest and most intact area of ancient semi-natural forest on the Isle of Wight and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The woods are made up of several copses linked by hedgerows, along which dormice and other creatures can safely move from place to place. The copses consist mainly of broad-leaved, deciduous trees, dominated by oak and beech, although hidden amongst them are a few wild service trees, true indicators of ancient woodland. Briddlesford supports a great diversity of ancient flora, and in spring the woodland really comes to life. First wild daffodils, then bluebells, primroses, violets and wood anemones thickly carpet the forest floor, and the air is filled with birdsong.

Briddlesford Woods is a haven for hazel dormice and red squirrels, and there are now very few places in Britain where both species live side by side. The woodland also provides an ideal home for many bats. Some of the rarest in the country, including the barbastelle and Bechstein's bat, live in the heart of Briddlesford.

The woodland has been carefully managed with these rare species in mind. A regime of hazel coppicing has been re-instated with the aim of increasing the vital supply of hazelnuts for the dormice and red squirrels. Briddlesford is one of the dormouse's last remaining strongholds in Britain.

In September 2001, with the generous help of MTUK supporters and a successful grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, we purchased a patchwork of fields that link up the woodland copses at Briddlesford. The reserve now spreads over 130 hectares, to which it is planned to restore the rich mosaic of wildlife habitats to include young new woodland, meadowland, parkland, some arable land, thick healthy hedgerows and scatted ponds. The combination of all these features is likely to strengthen the infrastructure of the existing woods and provide the necessary habitats so urgently needed by a great variety of wildlife.

Briddlesford Parkland

Briddlesford Parkland was opened to the public in 2003. It has been created by the People's Trust for Endangered Species, a registered wildlife conservation charity founded in 1977. Originally Briddlesford Parkland consisted of three hedged fields containing a few scattered ancient oak trees. The hedges were nearly all removed sometime in the late 20th century to create one large arable field, but luckily, the old hedgerow oaks were retained.

These remain as lines of mature trees whilst the arable fields have been put back to grassland. Since the Trust acquired the land, it has been left fallow and, as a result, it is now a riot of wild flowers, thistles and tiny saplings and in summer, a myriad of butterflies and insects can be seen. We plan to allow a number of the strongest saplings to grow to eventually increase the number of trees in the park and provide future generations of old trees.

Historically, parks have been created for their landscape and amenity value but many of these were created from much older landscape in which scattered trees grew in areas of natural grassland or heathland. The mix of grazed grassland and scattered trees is now thought to have many features in common with the original primeval wild forest that developed over much of Britain following the last Ice Age. The mix of old trees and grassland provides an important habitat for an interesting variety of wildlife.

Firestone Copse

Firestone Copse can be approached from either a turning off Kite Hill, Wootton, on the Ryde to Newport road or via a turning out of Havenstreet by Copped Hall Farm. It is a freehold woodland of 98 hectares owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. The woodland is similar in nature to that of those already mentioned above, being an ancient woodland. 25 hectares of the wood is designated as (SSSI) and also a (cSAC) for Bechstein's bats. The remaining 73 hectares are designated as (SINC) and the whole wood lies within the IoW ANOB.

Almost all of the wood is designated as Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). Non-native trees planted in these areas include western hemlock and western red cedar that have the potential to spread seed rapidly.

There are three unnamed seasonal streams that run through the wood and into Wootton Millpond, a large tidal salt marsh and mudflat area. The deep stream valley on the south of the wood was largely planted with non-native trees, which will be hard to extract due to the steep banks and wet ground. There are two permanent ponds in the wood; one on the western side of the wood has been greatly improved by blocking drainage ditches. Similar enlargement work would also benefit the north eastern pond.

The hazel to the north of the wood has been coppiced in recent years, which has provided some limited early successional open space. This area is the most regularly worked area of coppice in the FC's woods on the Island, however the coupe sizes have been small. Enlarging the coupes by heavy thinning of neighbouring canopy oaks may help to keep the coppice viable in the future. Near this coppice area a group of older oaks and beech represent valuable veteran tree habitats as many are the oldest trees in the wood and are open grown.

The SSSI along the edge of the millpond contains a large number of wild service trees, oak and some old Scots pine. The edges are probably the least disturbed native habitat of the wood.

For members of the public to enjoy the benefits of these wide open spaces the Forestry Commission have set aside a car park and picnic area, however coaches are not welcomed onto the site. Visitors may explore the way-marked trails to Wootton Creek (Millpond) or delight in flower rich grassy rides. In summer these are particularly good places to glimpse the many butterflies amongst them White and Red Admirals, Marbled Whites, Small Tortoiseshell, Gatekeepers and Fritillaries. Red squirrels are also present in the woods.

Other areas to view include Combley Great Wood.

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This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:41

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