A planting event hosted by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust kickstarted a major tree planting programme at Great Wood.
The ancient woodland covers 175 acres near Grittenham, close to Brinkworth, in North Wiltshire.
Ancient woodland now covers just 2.5 percent of the country, while only 8 percent of Wiltshire is wooded.
Great Wood is one of the 20 largest ancient woodlands in the county, so protecting it for nature was a priority for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust when the conservation charity purchased the woodland in early 2023, saving it from more harmful commercial management or piecemeal ownership.
The wood includes probably the largest remaining stand of wild service trees in the country as well as impressive stands of oak, with some trees more than 200 years old.
At the event, staff and trustees of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust were joined by board members of primary funder Biffa Award including Chair Stewart Goshawk, local MP, James Grey, The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Victoria Nye, alongside major donors who contributed generously to the Trust’s appeal to save Great Wood in 2023 and other key stakeholders.
The group enjoyed planting rowan and cherry trees and learning about the progress that has been made to aid nature’s recovery at Great Wood to date as well as future plans.
The tree planting programme is part of a much wider project to restore Great Wood to its former glory, which commenced in Autumn 2023 and will create substantial benefits for wildlife and people.
The trust is replacing large swathes of conifers, which do not support much wildlife or floral diversity, with a mix of native broadleaf trees such as rowan and witch elm, creating new woodland glades and providing more space for the rare wild service trees to flourish.
Full ecological surveys have been carried out at Great Wood for the first time in decades, resulting in a number of exciting discoveries, such as brown hairstreak butterfly eggs, which could be the first time the brown hairstreak has been found in North Wiltshire south of the M4.
The wood holds huge potential for nature’s recovery, with the chance to bring back nightingales, nightjars, purple emperor butterflies – and even a possible reintroduction of wood white butterflies, which are absent from Wiltshire.
With the help of volunteers, the trust has also begun removing invasive plants to improve the health of the woodland by encouraging fresh growth. By widening rides and providing a more diverse understorey of plants on the woodland’s margins, more wildlife that prefers habitat at the edge of woodland will be attracted.
More light reaching the woodland floor will also enable huge carpets of bluebells to bloom again.
James Ravine, Head of Fundraising, Marketing & Communications at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, said: “This exciting restoration project aligns with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s new strategy, which includes enabling one in four people to take action for nature and leading the push towards 30% of land managed for nature in Wiltshire and Swindon by 2030.
“Purchasing Great Wood has made a magnificent addition to the existing 800 acres of woodland that the Trust manages for nature. This project also goes much further than the boundaries of Great Wood, making an important contribution to broader plans for nature’s recovery through collaboration with local landowners to create a local nature recovery network.
“We were extremely grateful for the magnificent funding from Biffa Award and other generous donors that has enabled us to buy and restore Great Wood.”
Stewart Goshawk, Biffa Award Chair, said: “It is a privilege to have been able to play a part in saving the future of Great Wood from commercial management or piecemeal ownership.
"We awarded Wiltshire Wildlife Trust £2,119,530, which funded the purchase of the site and a range of habitat improvement works to help restore it to a fully functioning ancient woodland ecosystem.
"Having seen Great Wood at first hand, it really is a fantastic site, so worthy of our one-off Biffa Award 25th Anniversary Award. Securing land to protect increasingly rare habitats like this for a variety of key species is extremely important for our natural environment and will provide managed opportunities for local people to enjoy its beauty for generations to come.”
The purchase and restoration of Great Wood has been made possible thanks to a grant from Biffa Award through the Landfill Communities Fund, a major contribution from the Underwood Trust, together with the generosity of major donors and all those who have donated to the Trust’s Great Wood appeal.
This year, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is making a fresh call for appeal donations to raise an additional £30,000 to unlock Great Wood’s full potential for wildlife and people.
Whilst a lot has already been achieved for nature’s recovery, the trust’s work to date has revealed more can be done with your help.
More information can be found at www.wiltshirewildlife.org/great-wood-appeal
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