Updated: Feb 13
In a series of two videos, shot in the Autumn sunshine, Dr Tony Whitbread, President of Sussex Wildlife Trust, shares what makes Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood so special.
As we meander the many paths in Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood enjoying its natural beauty, how many of us have ever stopped to think about the many feet that have gone before us?
Some of this 300-hectare woodland has been in existence since 1600, and while today it is troubled only by walkers, dogs, cyclists and horse riders, in the past it would have been woodland craftsmen who frequented this green sanctuary.
For Dr Tony Whitbread, President and former CEO of Sussex Wildlife Trust, it is the interplay between nature and human history written into the wood which makes it so interesting – creating a unique landscape that is irreplaceable, “a history book that we can learn to read”.
As he walks around the woodland, Dr Whitbread is quick to point out the things that make that make it so valuable, and the tell-tale signs of its special status. He points to a low-lying shrubby evergreen. “This is Butcher’s Broom,” he says. “It’s an ancient woodland indicator plant, used to clean butcher’s blocks in the past, and is very slow to colonise. Coming across it here is a really interesting sign of the antiquity of the woodland.”
It’s not the only clue. In spring the woods are heady with the scent of bluebells, primroses and pungent wild garlic. Then there are wood anemones, again signs that the woodland has been in existence for many centuries. “You can also see lots of mosses and lichen here, which is a sign of clean air,” Dr Whitbread adds. “Again, some of these are slow to colonise and are associated with something that has been here for a very long time.”
The physical structure of the woods is another giveaway. “Here we come to this really wide track, which is a public right of way, and looking at it it’s probably very old indeed, as the banks either side are rather large and also quite wiggly, which is a sign of a really old bank. The more recent ones tend to be straight, so this is possibly a track which has been here for a long time – maybe as a drovers’ road or a hollow way or a green track. This shows the complexity of the history of these areas of woodland.”
What also makes ancient, aged and veteran woodland so irreplaceable is the centuries of undisturbed soils and accumulated decaying wood, he explains. This creates the ideal habitat for communities of fungi and invertebrates, alongside specialist species of insects, birds and mammals who rely on the ancient woodland “and add up to make the whole habitat that works here”.
Worryingly, the woods’ natural equilibrium is set to be turned upside down as Loxwood Clay Pits Ltd, an organisation working with the owners, plan to submit a planning application to use their land for the excavation of minerals (principally clay shale) and the development of a construction materials recycling facility. The woodland so used to the light step of humans will instead become a lorry route for HGVs in a project set to last for 33 years.
“Putting a development in an area like this would have quite a damaging affect, in all sorts of ways,” says Tony. “You’d lose the physical area of woodland, of course, but it could be much more than that because you’d be upsetting the whole matrix, you’d be putting a block on the whole way the area works.”
In Dr Whitbread’s view, the claypit plans could put at risk the complex biodiversity that has been created over centuries and bring the easy co-existence of man and nature to an abrupt end.
Watch Dr Whitbread discover the woods in a series of two videos here or on the video gallery page.
A planning application is expected to be submitted by Loxwood Clay Pits Ltd’s agent Protreat Ltd this spring.
Note: Based on pre-planning information shared, the areas of designated ancient woodland in Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood are not currently slated for development. However, new building works to site a waste recycling plant would be situated close to them and increased HGV traffic would run through areas of them, 5 days a week.