Restored ancient bluebell woodland in East Sussex will be opening for a special preview season this summer.
The newly restored land Walk Wood at Sheffield Park and Garden in East Sussex will be open from April 24 to May 7.
The conservation project has been 15 years in the making and it’s taken a team of volunteers, archaeologists, conservationists, forestry officers and historic curators to unearth its secrets.
In 2002 the gardening team of staff and volunteers, led by head gardener Andy Jesson, began to uncover the layers and find out about the past of Walk Wood. Their work was supported by a generous legacy of £20,000 left to the National Trust in 2005. The team discovered that the woodland was created in the early 1700s and was surrounded by a network of paths to allow the occupants of Sheffield Park House to wander through it and take in views of the surrounding landscape.
Andy Jessen, head gardner at Sheffield Park and Garden, said: “The woodland always had potential in our imaginations but we just didn’t have the resource in the early days. Fast forward to 2017 and I can say that opening Walk Wood to the public is the proudest thing I have ever achieved in my career.”
The team worked to restore the paths back to their historic routes, using their original names. From the end of April to early May, the English bluebell will carpet an area of the woodland nestled around the hornbeams in a display of blue. Visitors can follow the paths and wander through the woodland surrounded by these native flowers as they take in the sights, smells and sounds. In the same area they will come across tree stumps that are up to 400 years old.
To keep things as natural as possible, recycled woodchip sourced from the estate, has been used to build the paths (75 cubic metres in total), dead hedges have been created from woodland materials and where a tree has fallen, rewilding has taken place so the trunks provide nourishment to the soil. A collection of sculptures created by local artist Keith Pettit made from natural materials, will act as ‘portals’ into the woodland and will help draw visitors’ eyes to the paths and give them a multi-sensory experience.
By recreating this network of paths, visitors can get up-close-and-personal to admire bluebells without harming them – their leaves are very delicate and are particularly sensitive if trodden on. If the leaves are damaged, they are unable to absorb the sun and photosynthesise so they die. This means they can’t put food back into their bulbs, reducing their ability to produce flowers and seeds. Bulbs can also become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall.
Andy Jesson added: “Bluebells are an essential part of our heritage and as long as we treat them with respect, we’ll be able to enjoy our bluebell woodlands for many years to come and I am delighted that Walk Wood is now part of this special family.
“We have a 20-year woodland management plan. We’re in this for the long haul. We want to keep on exploring, investigating and sharing these discoveries with our visitors giving them something new to experience each time they visit.”
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