After a torrential downpour last month, one of our veteran trees finally gave up the ghost. The tree stood next to the road half way up Kidds Hill and was estimated to be around 200 years old which made it one of the oldest on the forest.
Many large trees were felled for the war effort during WW1 but this behemoth survived the cull somehow. The old tree had a lot of character, having been pollarded several times during its long life. During my first weeks at Ashdown Forest, one of my colleagues showed me the curious secret hidden in one of trees’ deep crevices: a “mummified” squirrel.
It seems that the unfortunate creature died and became lodged in the hollow. Gradually over time the tree grew around the expired squirrel, slowly preserving its skeleton in a macabre tableau. A member of the public reported the tree falling in the early hours of the morning. The road had to be closed while tree surgeons worked to make the tree safe. I had to admire their skill and dexterity as they worked on the uppermost boughs.
We used chainsaws to process the felled tree and our tractor driver moved the larger sections off the road. The limbs of the tree contained many large burrs which we collected for the wood turners. At least the gnarly old tree will live on in the beautiful artefacts they create.
The countryside team have been busy in the warm weather, improving rides across the Forest using sandstone quarried locally, installing culverts, making repairs to bridges, putting in vehicle barriers and signage – Look out for the handsome new interpretation boards installed at the visitor centre, Hollies and Friends car parks.
There has been a wonderful display of orchids around the verges and on the roadsides this summer including Fragrant Orchids which grow in one protected location. The ling and bell heather is just coming into flower so over the next few weeks the forest will be transformed into a riot of gorgeous colour.
I highly recommend you take advantage of these long warm summer evenings to seek out an exotic visitor to the Forest – the mysterious nightjar. These ground nesting birds migrate here from North Africa to breed. Their status as an Annexe 1 species is one of the reasons Ashdown Forest is designated a Special Protection Area.
To find one, walk out on to the heath just before sunset – choose an area where there are lone pine trees scattered among the heather, purple moor grass and scrubby gorse. When you’ve found a likely spot, just stop and listen. As sun sets you may hear the eerie “churring” of the nightjar coming from a nearby pine tree. If you are patient you may catch a glimpse of the kestrel-sized bird hawking for moths and insects or hear the soft “too – whip” as they call to each other in the gathering gloom.
Good Luck – and don’t forget to take a torch so you can find your way home!