Thursday, May 19, 2016
In the Shade of the Wood
Below the crest of Cowbeech Hill, snaking between Stunts Green and Studdens Farm, there is a winding green lane that skirts a dark and shady wood. The wood is private and the single gate that provides a way in clearly states this in blood-red lettering. It is a shame because, peering through the silver birch and ash trees that line the lane last week, I could clearly see that the floor of the wood was still carpeted with an impressive swathe of bluebells.
Britain's woodlands are becoming increasingly closed off to the public. In recent years there has been a boom in dividing up forests and woods into smaller plots for private sale. Masquerading as the redistribution of ownership away from big landowners, most of the companies selling parcels of woodland are, in reality, attempting to maximise profit on large land purchases.
Some private owners do manage their small woodlands for the benefit of others: Powdermill Wood, near Battle, where I buy logs, is run along sustainable lines and is open to all - walkers, kids and dogs. However, others are not so forward-thinking in their management of nature's resources. At Pondtail Wood, north of Brighton, campaigners have been demonstrating against the systematic destruction of ancient woodland. The owners have been felling and burning masses of trees in direct contravention of planning controls in an area which is situated within the South Downs National Park. Their motives can only be guessed at but, despite the intervention of the park authority, the vandalism has continued.
Back in the green lane, spring moves towards summer: the overhanging canopy of trees from the wood grows denser and, on the other side, the fruit farm is in bloom. The land bordering the track might be out of bounds but, whilst there is still access to these ancient byways that have connected villages and farms for thousands of years, I can enjoy a wood-shaded walk in air fresh with the scent of apple blossom, without the need for trespass.