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This is a large wood extending to 37 hectares, regenerating naturally following gravel extraction in the 20th century. In mediaeval times it was wood pasture common where local people grazed animals, gathered fuel and fed their pigs on acorns. There is a car park on Heath Road, an easy access trail close by and a longer perimeter trail for horse-riders and cyclists.
When the wood was enclosed by an Act of Parliament, it was used for growing timber. It was then sold for gravel extraction.
Birch trees and heathland species regenerated on the open sandy centre of the site, while original oak and hornbeam woodland remained around the perimeter. Some 40 hornbeam pollards remain as clues to the reserve's past. Sandy soils also provide homes for rare solitary bees and wasps.
Woodland Management Update
All work in the wood follows a plan agreed with the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and aims to maintain and enhance the wood's biodiversity while simultaneously encouraging informal recreation and enjoyment.
At Mardley Heath, management aims particularly to restore and maintain open heathy areas by selective removal of trees, rotational coppicing of other vegetation and mowing to control excessive growth of tall vegetation in the clearings. The hornbeam pollards have a programme of management with one or two trees pruned each year.
The two new coppice areas on the southern edge of the wood have responded very well to light and warmth during the summer. Chestnut coppice has rapidly regenerated in the first area and there was good regeneration of woodland plants including hundreds of foxgloves which looked spectacular.
During the coming winter of 2016/17, it is intended to continue the coppicing project, looking carefully at silver birch that are in poor health.
In the south pit, the Friends will coppice another patch of vegetation to prevent this area returning to dense woodland. The sunny sand and gravel banks here are important habitat for many species of solitary bees and wasps, so a small area is cut each year on rotation.
Several of the historic pollarded hornbeams are becoming top heavy in their crowns so it is planned to do some careful tree surgery to make sure they do not collapse.
The Friends of Mardley Heath have given hundreds of hours of their time to help look after the nature reserve. If you have spare time and would like to join them once a month, please contact us.