The wild side of Wick­war

It might be one of the Cotswolds’ best known vil­lages, but there’s more to see here than just the fa­mous brew­ery, says Sue Bradley

Cotswold Life - - COTSWOLD WAYS -

Wick­war is pos­si­bly not among the Cotswolds’ best known vil­lages – a state­ment that real ale buffs may wish to dis­pute on ac­count of its highly re­garded brew­ery – but it’s top of the list for nat­u­ral­ists look­ing for some­thing a lit­tle bit spe­cial.

Ly­ing on its bor­der is Lower Woods, an area of cop­piced trees stretch­ing just over 700 acres, mak­ing it one of the largest an­cient wood­lands in the South West. Pop­u­lar with dog walk­ers, run­ners, den mak­ers and wildlife en­thu­si­asts alike, this Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est is a place like no other.

Neil Lodge has been look­ing af­ter the cop­piced wood­land for Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust for five years, and his en­thu­si­asm for the site is tan­gi­ble. “It’s a time­less place, some­where you can re­ally es­cape,” he says. “It’s a place in which it’s pos­si­ble to get a feel­ing of re­mote­ness and wild­ness.”

This is an area of heavy clay so it’s al­ways been un­suit­able for agri­cul­ture. Lower Woods’ his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance lies in its link with the pre-his­toric wild woods that once cov­ered much of the UK, and its po­si­tion be­tween sev­eral ma­jor set­tle­ments, all of which could be reached through its his­toric track­ways known as ‘trenches’ – taken from the French word for ‘slice’. They have names such as Hor­ton Great Trench, Plumber’s Trench, Green Trench, and Don’s Trench (named in hon­our of the late head forester at Bad­minton, Don Watts). Laid end to end, the path­ways through Lower Woods would cover 60km.

Trees grow­ing in the area have been cop­piced for cen­turies, which means they’re cut to the ground ev­ery few years and their wood is har­vested for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses, in­clud­ing tool han­dles, char­coal and fire­wood. Proof of the long his­tory of this prac­tice can be seen in the an­cient ash ‘stools’ that sit around the area and it’s con­tin­ued to­day by Neil and his band of hard-work­ing vol­un­teers.

Ge­ol­o­gists are drawn to the area to ex­am­ine lay­ers of Cotham Mar­ble, a stro­ma­tolitic lime­stone that looks a bit like brain tis­sue and is pe­cu­liar to the South West and south Wales, while palaeon­tol­o­gists value it for the am­monites and bi-valves that ap­pear in the river that flows through it. There’s even a layer known as the ‘bone bed’.

The many plants found in the wood­land in­clude the rare orchid vi­o­let helle­borine, (Epi­pactis pur­pu­rata) along with the wild ser­vice tree (Sor­bus tormi­nalis) which tends to be a fea­ture of an­cient wood­lands. The site is vis­ited by sev­eral wood­land but­ter­flies, the sil­ver-washed frit­il­lary, white ad­mi­ral and white-let­ter hairstreak among them.

Lower Woods at­tracts a wide range of mam­mals, in­clud­ing roe, fal­low and munt­jac deer, and dormice. It also has 12 of the UK’S 17 species of bats.

If an an­cient wood­land wasn’t enough, Wick­war also sits on the edge of In­gle­stone Com­mon – an ex­panse of unim­proved grass­land that’s one of only two sites in the UK to host the rare ad­der’s tongue spear­wort (Ra­nun­cu­lus ophioglos­si­folius), also known as the Badge­worth but­ter­cup.

Neil Lodge spends more time than most in Lower Woods and on In­gle­stone Com­mon and he says he wouldn’t want to be any­where else. He en­cour­ages peo­ple to visit, and ad­vises new­com­ers to bring a map.

“In­side the wood you can re­ally feel the sheer his­tory of the place. It’s a great spot to recharge. Peo­ple who come here adore it. Some come ev­ery sin­gle day.”

COTSWOLD GREATS THE HAZEL DORMOUSE

Some wild an­i­mals make a habit of be­ing seen, while oth­ers stay firmly out of the lime­light, qui­etly go­ing about their busi­ness as the sea­sons pass by.

Among them is the hazel, or com­mon, dormouse, a threat­ened species that has strongholds in sev­eral na­ture re­serves man­aged by the Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust, such as Sic­caridge Wood near Sap­per­ton, Lower Woods near Wick­war and Poor’s Al­lot­ment in the For­est of Dean.

This noc­tur­nal, tree-dwelling mam­mal is so se­cre­tive that the only ev­i­dence of its pres­ence is the nib­bled nut shells it leaves be­hind as it pre­pares for hi­ber­na­tion. Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust places nest­ing boxes around its sites, which are mon­i­tored by li­censed in­di­vid­u­als.

The hazel dormouse (Mus­cardi­nus avel­la­narius) mea­sures just 6.5 to 8cm and its tail is 80% of its body length. Be­fore hi­ber­na­tion it weighs 20g, ris­ing to al­most dou­ble prior to its long win­ter sleep. It’s the only small Bri­tish mam­mal with a furry tail, which it puts to good use when trav­el­ling through the trees.

Dormice make nests out of hon­ey­suckle bark, or sim­i­lar plants, and have the abil­ity to go into a state of tor­por – a short sleep – to save en­ergy should it turn wet and cold, or food is scarce. They hi­ber­nate in nests in leaf lit­ter or un­der hedgerows be­tween Oc­to­ber and May.

Roe deer, by Wild­stock

Sil­ver-washed frit­il­lary, by Doug Jenk­ins

Badge­worth but­ter­cup, by Brian Clarke

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