Brede High Woods

PUBLISHED: 15:26 20 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:17 20 February 2013

Brede High Woods

Brede High Woods

Brede High Woods, near Battle are full of stories. They offer rich habitats for wildlife and have been the site of ecological and archaelogical discoveries, says Harriet Lyons

Since it was founded in 1972 the Woodland Trust, the UKs leading woodland conservation charity, has been busy acquiring more than 1,000 woodland sites across the British Isles. Set in the High Weald Area
of Outstanding Natural Beauty in East Sussex is one of its flagship sites, Brede High Woods.

Found just off the B2089 Broad Oak to Cripps Corner road, almost
a half of the 648 acre (262 hectare) site is ancient woodland. Ancient woodland is defined as land believed to have been continuously wooded since 1600 AD. These woods have been worked and lived in for many hundreds of years and because of this human influence they are classed as semi-natural woodland. They are however some of our richest habitats for wildlife in the UK. From the First World War onwards the need for a home-grown, strategic supply of softwood (conifer) timber led to many areas of ancient woodland being planted with non-native conifers such as pine and larch. Known as planted ancient woodland sites, or PAWS, about 100 acres at Brede High Woods are in a programme of gradual restoration back to broad-leaved woodland which should allow their former richness of plant, insect and animal life to recover from decades of heavy shading and needle litter.

In 2007 Southern Water, who owned the site, put it up for sale and so started an involved campaign
of fundraising and research by the Trust to try and preserve the area for generations to come. By using the skills of experienced staff such as site manager Dave Bonsall, who was heavily involved in researching how the site could be developed, this became one of the most successful campaigns that they have run to date, with money for purchase and development coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Tubney Charitable Trust, and over 1.3m coming from public donations in just six months.

What Dave and the Trust have achieved here since its purchase in 2007 is a testament to the dedication and hard work of staff and volunteers alike. Dave is passionate about Brede and inspiring others to understand its importance both locally and nationally.

Dave explains why the woods are special: The site is a microcosm of the High Weald landscape with ancient woods, heaths, small fields, streams, mires and old pasture, often hidden under plantations
of trees established since 1930, after the building of the adjacent Powdermill reservoir. The site
is rich in archaeological evidence of its human history, from farming to iron smelting.

Brede has long been known as an important site for wildlife and whats so exciting about an area such as this is the lack of certainty on what may be uncovered. In 2008 the Trust set to work with major whole site ecological and archaeological surveys commissioned. Local ecologist Dr Patrick Roper, who lives close to the woods, has been visiting them for the last 50 years. He has been instrumental in helping the Trust bring the woodland and other habitats back to their former glory. He reported not only on the existing habitat, but the potential of what could be saved and regained through good management, and to highlight what could be lost if the appropriate action was not taken in time.

A study that he published 10 years before the purchase by the Trust was already warning that if the importance of areas such as the heathland was not recognised, and properly cared for, the habitat could be lost forever.
Clearance work has continued over the last few years to include around 30 acres(12 hectares) of conifers and the subsequent use of Sussex cattle to allow low-intensity conservation grazing over a total of 50 acres (20 hectares) of open and wooded heath.

This has produced some exciting ecological discoveries, not least the reappearance of greater broomrape on the heathland area after nine years of no sightings. This once common plant, parasitic on broom and dwarf gorse, indicates a return to a biodiversity similar to that of 150 years ago.

Dr Roper is optimistic that this is the first of many discoveries:
Sites such as these are incredibly important. This mixture of woodland and open space generates an enormous amount of biodiversity. It creates a reservoir of species that could even be used to help reintroduce lost plants to other sites with similar ecologies. Also animals such as dormice and birds such as the hobby and nightjar seem to be thriving. And all this is available for everyone to enjoy.

Community is the watchword with the increasingly bright future of Brede High Woods. With uncertainty due to loosening planning laws and threats of the government selling off public woodland, the Trust and those that care so much about our natural environment will not stop in their work to safeguard these special areas for all our futures. And with generous contributions from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, Tubney Charitable Trust, Forestry Commission, Natural England and The Veolia Environmental Trust their work can continue, at least for the foreseeable future.

In 2011 Brede High Woods attracted almost 10,000 visitors and that number is steadily increasing. Almost 3,000 have attended school visits and organised on-site events in the last three years. By continuing to encourage visitors through events such as wildlife discovery days, living history walks and bush craft days, all that love this special place hope that it will be cherished for generations to come.

To find out more information about Brede High Woods visit

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