RICHARD WILLIAMSON Country Walk...West Dean Woods

This week's walk is really for the open day at West Dean Woods nature reserve this weekend, May 5. It shows you places where you can be picked up by minibus from West Dean Gardens car park or where you may be able to park your car nearer the nature reserve on roadside verges.

The map in the Observer can also be used throughout the year for walks along bridleways, footpaths, and the minor roads which run near the reserve.

On May 5, a minibus will run from 10am-4pm from West Dean Gardens which also have their own displays and gift and tea shops to make the day complete.

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The road running north from West Dean is often through ancient woodlands of oak and hazel coppice, with plantations too of fir and larch.

Birds are abundant in these woods with rare species such as red kites, buzzards, woodcocks, and woodpeckers, both green and great spotted, chiffchaffs, blackcap warblers, nuthatches and cuckoos.

The footpaths and roadside verges are a treasure trove of wild flowers, but you will find many more of those in the reserve itself, which is only open one day a year.

The open downland fields surrounding the approach to the reserve are the places to see the red kites and buzzards, while the dense hedges with their nearby pheasant feeding strips are splendid places to see often huge flocks of finches comprising brambling, yellowhammer, linnet, redpolls, chaffinches and greenfinches.

Meanwhile you have a wonderful view from Lodgehill or Hylters Lane of Kingley Vale national nature reserve to the southwest, with its solid yew forest covering the downland slopes above the Chilgrove road.

All the area shown is on West Dean Estate, and the Edward James Foundation. The open day this weekend takes you right into the West Dean Woods reserve which is shown on this map, but which is not open during the year unless, that is, you become a working volunteer helping with the management of this ancient coppicewood.

However, in my new Walks book, walk number 47 does pass very close alongside the reserve up the public bridleway from which you can see much of what’s on offer, from birds to butterflies, flowers and fungi.

Saturday’s guided walks through the reserve will show you not just the wealth of wildlife here, but information on how to manage this woodland habitat just in case you own a parcel of ancient deciduous woodland and want to turn it into the display you will see in West Dean Woods for yourself.

** See the May 3 issue of the Observer to view a map of this walk.