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Forest View

Forest View

by Mike Bartlett

Nature Reserves & Woodlands

The Nature Reserves and Woodlands that surround Royal Tunbridge Wells are home to and protect a range of wildlife and landscapes.

The High Weald, the area of land between the North and South Downs, was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1983 due to the exceptional qualities of the landscape which it was agreed should be preserved for future generations.

AONB’s usually cover a smaller area than a National Park and the terrain is generally more gentle than dramatic but no less appealing.

Over 69% of the Tunbridge Wells region is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and designated as a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation

The evolution of the landscape of the High Weald is due to the ancient agricultural and farming practices of the 14th century. Every autumn the farmers’ would move their pigs, sheep and other animals from the Downs, to the Forest of the Weald to enable them to feed on acorns.

This annual movement of animals created the fundamental character of the Weald with its narrow, sunken lanes, open heaths and the patchwork of small fields. The Weald “is considered to be one of the best examples of a medieval landscape in existence in Northern Europe.”

In villages where iron works once prospered the ancient hammer ponds that supplied water power for the mills and machinery are now tranquil waters that are home to ducks, moorhens and swans who live among the reeds.

Whatever the time of year there is always something new waiting to be discovered as each season brings its own rewards.

Spring is the time for renewal

In the woods nature begins to stir as the days become longer and warmer. The solitary voice of the robin is joined by an increasing number of birds as they herald the approaching dawn.

The early flowers, delicate woodland anemone, the cheerful bright yellow celandine and drifts of primroses (the prima rose or first flower) and violets that raise their heads to the sun are a welcome sight.

Nature is on the move with migrant swallows returning to our shores.

On the ground the antics of the “mad March” hares, playful fox and inquisitive badger cubs are noticeable before the grass grows too long and hides them from view.

In the midst of all this activity a silent carpet of dazzling blue starts to spread across the woodland floor.

During the long warm days of summer

Life continues in a less hectic manner, it is more relaxed and much quieter! The birds are busy raising their young with little time for singing.

It’s a time of gentle activity and colour as bees and butterflies make their way from flower to flower in search of nectar. 

Down in the woods the sunlight filters down through the tree canopy forming pools of light and shade. Around the woodland edges wild honeysuckle and dog rose flower provide scent and colour.

Keep your eyes open for reptiles as they bask in the warmth of the sunshine during the day.

As dusk falls on a balmy summer evening bats flutter from their unseen roosts to feed on insects. If you listen carefully the silence of the night is broken by small rustlings as mice and voles emerge to feed.

These long days are perfect for walks in the countryside and visits to our gorgeous gardens where the flowers are in full vibrant bloom.

Autumn is the season of plenty

The trees in the orchards are laden with fruit, where there are mature trees such as beech, oak and hazel nuts are plentiful and the hedgerows are loaded with blackberries, sloes, rosehips, the fluffy seeds of wild clematis.

This the time of year to forage for fungi there are more than 16,000 species in the United Kingdom. Look for the colourful pink ballerinas and scarlet elf cups, blewits and boletus. As well as appropriately named poisonous species, such as the deadly webcap, funeral bell, death cap and the destroying angel.

The sun is low in the sky and its slanting rays penetrate deep into the woods and nature responds with its annual extravaganza of colour. As the leaves turn colour the result is a dazzling tapestry of burnished gold, russet, bronze, copper, warm browns, scarlet and fiery reds .

As you walk through the woods on a thick blanket of leaves look out for the busy animals and birds feasting  on the crops of seeds, nuts and berries whilst stocking up in preparation for the winter months ahead.

Visit Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest and Sheffield Park Gardens for spectacular autumnal scenes.

Woodlands in Winter

Although winter is the quietest and least colourful of the seasons, with crisp and frosty mornings and ice cold glittering starlit evenings, it is not all desolation.

Most of the woodland is laid bare, the majority of trees have shed their leaves and stand starkly outlined against the pewter skies but here and there are splashes of green from a holly tree, ivy covered trunk or pine tree.

The cold pale winter sun provides no warmth, daylight hours are short and the sounds of the woodlands are muffled by fallen leaves.

Many of the woodland animals such as the hedgehog, bat and dormouse disappear from view as they go into hibernation.

Squirrels are far less active during the cold weather, often sleeping for several days at a time and they are less frequently seen during this season. The nocturnal badger only emerges from the sett to forage at night.

The birds are conserving their energy looking for food as their survival skills are tested when winter tightens its grip over the countryside.

Explore The Natural World of Tunbridge Wells

There are a number of nature reserves in the Weald area including several that are within easy access of Tunbridge Wells. Broadwater Warren, Hargate Forest, Barnetts Wood and Birchden Wood in Groombridge to name a few are local are fabulous for walking.

These sites which are free to use have a good network of paths many of which are easy access. Other facilities are limited so visit the website to download a guide to the individual reserves.

Our nature reserves and woodlands are accessible all year round whatever the weather and everybody is welcome.

Immerse yourself in the beauty that is all around us. As William Henry Davis famously said in his poem "Leisure".

"What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass."

See about staying for longer and relax amongst this haven of wildlife in one of our accommodation alternatives.

Things To Do Highlights

Bedgebury National Pinetum

Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest

Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest is the perfect place for healthy outdoor...

Spa Valley Railway

Spa Valley Railway

Spa Valley Railway takes you on a picturesque railway journey through through the...

Cranbrook Museum

Cranbrook Museum

A 'must' for every visitor to the Weald.

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