About 20 years ago, this little parcel of land, nestled between allotment gardens, was set aside for conservation and left to its own devices. Together, the plants and animals already resident, the remains of past use by humans, and new plants introduced by animals or the wind, have created a surprising range of habitats in this 1.2ish acre jewel, with beautiful Bramble crowned queen of the wood.
When we first pushed our way through the Bramble into this canal-side haven, we had no idea what and who we would meet; so we took it slowly.
We used hand tools and great care, to find our way into the heart of what swiftly, to us, became ‘Bramblewood’. Bramblewood reciprocated, without the need for tools.
Our journey of discovery continues through the cycle of seasons as we become further entwined with Bramblewood’s diverse micro climates, its hazel copse with springtime sunny spots, the darker, damper wild cherry stand, the drier bramble banks overlooked by horse chestnut and the mossy, fern-speckled hidey holes.
We have charged ourselves with the role of preserving and protecting Bramblewood’s existing habitats, reviving old ones and creating new, to encourage even more life into its ecosystems. Our woodland management plan reflects our discoveries about the land, its inhabitants and visitors (be they larger bipedal mammals or tiny winged moths). We are continually learning more about how we all interact with and in the land and how we can improved the conditions to support the specific needs of our fellows. We also take advice from local experts to help us make sustainable and ecological decisions.
Unsurprisingly, Bramblewood is home to bramble; a lot of bramble. This remarkable plant often just called ‘scrub’ provides nourishment, shelter and a home to many, from small mammals like voles, to many species of butterfly, bees and other pollinators. It hosts robins’ nests, creates singing perches for wrens and chiffchaffs and is witness to many small to medium mammals (including muntjac deer, badgers, foxes and the occasional human) travelling out of sight in tunnels forged through its thorny canes.
Nowadays we love bramble. We just hadn’t got to know it well enough before. It is feisty, tenacious and resilient, whilst having the most delicately petalled and pinked flowers, and its secret summer scent is … well, that will probably need to become a blog post. Too much to say about bramble – we love it.
We also manage the bramble and cut it back creating wide and wobbly edged paths and clearings giving light to the soil and the vegetative plants and flowers beneath, who are just waiting for a long enough glimpse of sunlight and warmth to do their thing.
Scrub and bramble clearance creates a plethora of habitats for ground flora and invertebrates. Since we began managing the bramble onsite, we have seen at lease a 20 fold increase in plant species in some areas.
Creating warm sunny patches for sun bathing near to the safety of bramble cover is one way we hope to coax slowworms back down the path from the allotments to Bramblewood. Slowworms are well loved and renowned at Lansdowne Allotments but it seems they lost interest in Bramblewood when the soil got shaded over by bramble. We have had some success.
We have learned that if we clear bramble back in curvy lines, creating wobbly edges or ‘bubbles’ as we call them, it can offer different micro-climates, which appeal to different species. Where on one bend of the path the sun may land for most of the day, the next turn offers a slightly shadier cooler place for small things to hang out. Different plants will colonise the warmer patches offering food to different invertebrates and so on. Quite simple really.
The curvy paths also stop the wind charging through, but perhaps seems to have the opposite effect on children.
Dead hedges are made from wood, branches from coppicing, dead and cut bramble, etc. held in place with posts and the occasional creative weaving.
Creating dead hedges helps to guide our larger playful mammal visitors away from sensitive areas and make sure we don’t trample over all the woodland flora.
The long, twiggy, shady shelters are also welcomed by birds and small mammals as well as all manner of invertebrates. We have seen a little vole diving into one of the dead hedges, either to hide from us or for a quick snack – it must be useful having both in the same place.
We selectively coppice small amounts of hazel onsite, both to provide more light and warmth to species on the woodland floor, and to create materials for woodland craft work and construction at forest school.
Coppicing is an ancient technique used to manage woodlands for timber production and is also used nowadays to increase biodiversity.
By layering existing hazels we create new hazel stools from existing trees, and carry on an age old tradition. This article explains layering nicely.
“Please look after this tree”…
Bramblewood seems to have become something of a tree sanctuary. We often arrive at the wood to find a Paddington-ed sapling in a pot, removed from allotments and delivered with care to the Bramblewood gate (though no marmalade sandwiches have arrived as yet).
Bramblewood is also nurturing 30 native tree saplings (hazel, dog wood, crab apple, dog rose and hawthorn) donated by the Woodland Trust. Mother and children are doing well.
Opposite the Arboretum, Bramblewood is a bank side spectator to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal on its journey from the River Severn in Worcester to the Gas Street basin in Birmingham. Where once inhabitants of the wood would have watched coal on its way down from Cannock to the factories of Worcester, and chocolate crumb making its way north from Worcester to Bournville, since the 60’s, the river traffic has been only leisure craft.
This section of the canal has been far from quiet, however. Particularly well loved by folk living in the Arboretum and surrounding areas, the canal is enjoyed by anglers, commuters, families with buggies, cyclists, and children playing in the adjacent park. So much so that the local community has formed the Worcester Canal Group which has unofficially adopted this stretch. Working with the Canals and Rivers Trust, WCG organise litter picks, mural painting, wildlife surveys and much much more along the banks.
While humans busy themselves along its banks, this stretch of the W & B canal is also part of an important wildlife corridor, as identified by members of Worcester Canal Group. Through the green corridor, the wildlife which make Bramblewood home also have access to shelter and safe passage round a huge wildlife waterway network. The wildlife corridor, or ecological network, includes land and waterways owned by Worcester City Council, Worcester Wildlife Trust, Worcestershire County Council and the Canals and Rivers Trust. A group representing all the stakeholders has been created to work together to recognise the corridor as important for wildlife in Worcester, to encourage community engagement in the canal corridor wildlife, and protect it as a habitat and increasingly rare linescape through which wildlife can thrive, disperse and respond to climate change. Woodlands.co.uk offer a useful insight into wildlife corridors.
The canal wildlife is well loved by its local residents, testament to which can be found on the wildlife corridor website gallery, enjoy!
The joy of being relative novices to wildlife and biodiversity is that, as we began making our way into Bramblewood in the early spring of 2018, we would simply just find things growing that were new to us (pretty much everything) and watch them develop and change with the progressing months. Such joys in finding our first violet, a tightly curled fern, unrolling like a slow motion paper party hooter, and, man oh man, our first teeny tiny hazel flower!
When we felt we needed to, we began looking up species, but tried hard not to let ‘knowing’ or ‘collecting’ a label stop our curiosity and wonder for our discoveries. The result is an ongoing (somewhat infectious) fascination and awe (#joyful geekism) for the ecosystem we are so fortunate to be part of, and a growing list of species and understandings to help guide and monitor any woodland management changes we make.
Thank you Bramblewood!
It is our intention to share (albeit gently) our enthusiasm for Bramblewood’s inhabitants with all who venture through its ashy gate.
Having had our heads towards the earth for a couple of years now, we are looking to the skies too now. The bats of Bramblewood and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal dance around your head in the summer evenings, and those of us with ears younger than mine, can hear their calls. Bats roost in the old elders in and around Bramblewood, and we have added some human-made boxes for them to peruse. We are getting excited to know more about the tiny wee things.
Humans were relatively scarce in Bramblewood just before it acquired this name. In places, brambles were almost as effective at keeping them out as Maleficent’s fabled thorny rose bushes.
The land must have been known by many human names before being left alone for 20 years, and it had been used before by humans for growing food, for living on and perhaps for livestock. Part of the earth now in Bramblewood used to belong deeper underground where the canal now flows.
Before the canal, it is thought that human drovers took livestock over the land at Bramblewood, to pastures or markets beyond.
More recently, perhaps a bit over 20 years ago, humans planted plum trees, hazel and perhaps ash, though the latter may have made its own way in. These groves of trees provided a shape around which elder and hawthorn grew up and under which the humans longed to play and learn.
Nowadays, humans visit more, in the main to enjoy being in Bramblewood, to learn from the land and to play in its shady copse and elder groves. They have recreated the 2 clearings, framed by the trees, and in one are they are hoping to learn how to raise a garden following the lie of the earth, the run of the water and the influence of the sun and moon. They are learning to listen and to read; to move, crawl and to climb with the land and trees. They are learning that the earth and ecosystem provides so much – it can provide all they need, in fact, but only if they listen, and feel and give back.
If you would like to help out, share your skills and knowledge or learn a little about nurturing spaces for wildlife, we’d love to hear from you.