- Start: Lower Woods
- End: Lower Woods
- Country: England
- County: Gloucestershire
- Type: Country
- Nearest pub:
- Ordnance Survey:
- Difficulty: Medium
This is one of England's largest oak-ash woods and a paradise for wildlife. It comprises of 700 acres of woodlands and coppices separated by grassy 'rides'.
Stretching more than two miles, this area has been wooded since prehistoric times and we know of seventy one species of ancient woodland plants that grow here - the highest of any site in the South West.
As November arrives we're expecting characteristic crisp coldness and rich autumn hues. Every autumn we're treated to a visual feast as temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn. Right now, there's a multitude of colours sweeping through our woodlands - reds, oranges, yellows - which makes it a great time to explore and enjoy them.
The woodland at Lower Woods is looking magical right now. Autumn dew twinkles on leaves and cobwebs, and the quality of the light coming through the trees is bright and warm as the woodland imbues it with the season's colours. There's lots of bustling activity about the place as birds and mammals busy themselves preparing for the winter.
Why leaves 'turn' in autumn
The annual leaf drop is in fact an ingenious strategy of Mother Nature's to recycle and reuse. What's actually happening is that all the good chemicals in leaves are being absorbed back into the tree to be stored and used again next year.
Chlorophyll, which makes leaves green, is one of the first components to be re-absorbed allowing other colour pigments to show through before they are absorbed as well. This is why there are so many colour phases even in individual trees through the autumn.
This process complete, the stalks detach from the trees and we're left with a thick carpet of leaves underneath.
Walking at Lower Woods
Lower Woods nature reserve is easy to navigate with a series of way-marked walks to guide you through it.
Stanley Walk - which is 'the easy option', just one mile long through the meadow and along the woodland rides.
Little Avon Circuit - which is one-and-a-half miles. This follows the wide grass rides to the beautiful riverside walk which is steeper and narrower with roots and steps.
Littley Loop - an extended version of Little Avon Circuit which is about two miles long and includes steeper sections and a small ford.
The walks are way marked with coloured numbers on posts and gates. A Lower Woods Walks leaflet can be requested from the Wildlife Trust by calling 01452 383333 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Points of interest
The Riverside - The walk alongside the river in Lower Woods is shaded by tall oak, ash and alder trees. This is a rare unspoilt 'natural' river which wanders at will and, in places, has formed islands. In summer it ripples over pebbles where mayfly and stonefly nymphs hide, but winter flooding often undercuts the banks and limestone beds. In places you will see gravel banks with pebbles, lumps of marble ammonites and thousands of tiny shells which have been washed downstream.
Birds - there should still be lots of birdsong in Lower Woods even in November. With the national decline of common birds large woodland sites like this are very valuable for native birds. The 40 species here are mainly woodland birds like the tit family, nuthatch, treecreeper, jay, tawny owl, sparrowhawk and great spotted woodpecker. In summer the nightingale sings from low scrub and young buzzards call from their tree-top nests. Near the river, kingfisher and wrens can be seen.
Managing the reserve
From early times these woods were managed as coppice-with-standards, a system which provided a wonderful habitat for wildflowers, butterflies, dormice and birds. Mature oak standards were grown for large timber while hazel, field maple and ash were coppiced - cut to ground level on an 18 year cycle. Coppice wood was very important for charcoal, hurdles, firewood, wattle for house walls and many other uses.
Many areas of the reserve such as Little Stanley Wood are still coppiced. The wood is used for firewood or fence poles, but the piles of 'brash' (waste branches) are left to rot down.
In recent years ancient woodlands everywhere have suffered huge damage from grant-aided conifer planting. In some areas of Lower Woods such as Bays Wood and Stonybridge, conifers are now felled to save large oaks from shading and encourage wild flowers to return.
How to find Lower Woods Nature Reserve
OS Grid Ref. ST 749 885
From M5 - exit at junction 14 and follow the B4509. Turn left at T-junction to Wickwar for 100m then right down narrow lane to Inglestone Common. Continue for one mile to cattle grid and on. Turn right opposite sign for Inglestone Farm, down track to lodge.
From M4 - exit at junction 18 and follow A46 north for six miles. Turn left to Hawkesbury Upton, through village and on to Somerset Monument. Fork left opposite lane sp Wickwar. Cross cattle grid across common to Lowe Woods ½ mile. Turn left opposite sign for Inglestone Farm down track to lodge