Free Walk To Reveal The Highlights Of Shaftesbury’s Woodland ‘Treasure’

A Shaftesbury-based tree expert will share the special qualities of the town’s nearest ancient woodland during guided walk later this month.

The 52-acre Kingsettle Wood, which lies behind Virginia Hayward’s HQ on the A350, have been owned and managed by The Woodland Trust since 1985. Their former officer, Robin Walter, believes it is a magical place.

“It’s an absolute joy in spring. It’s covered in bluebells and wild garlic, sheets of both of them, as well as beautiful trees. And it’s within walking distance of the north end of town. It’s really a treasure, a real jewel in our landscape and it’s right on our doorstep,” Robin said.

Robin Walter

Robin is a member of the Shaftesbury Tree Group and he’s hosting this free, two-hour long event so people can fully understood what the term ‘ancient woodland’ means. “It is woodland that’s been around for a long time but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are ancient trees in it. There are no extremely old trees in Kingsettle as far as I’ve seen,” said Robin.

“The definition of ancient woodland is that it has been in its current location since 1600. Those woods are generally thought to have a much higher bio-diversity than other woodlands. The ground has not been disturbed in recent history. The forest soils are intact and they’ve not been ploughed for 400 years. That means that the underground activities of the trees and the micro organisms are beavering away.”

Although Robin will identity and talk about the different species of tree growing in Kingsettle Wood, he says that there is much more to see than just trees. “There are a suite of plants that only occur in ancient woods because of the undisturbed soils,” said Robin. “They typically thrive in the spring and do all their business before the leaves come on the trees. So April is a really good time to see a lot of these plants. If you go to other woods, they tend not to have these special plants.”

Kingsettle Wood

Kingsettle’s ground flora includes pignut, yellow archangel and wood sorrel. This Site of Nature Conservation Interest lies within the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is home to wildlife including roe deer, badgers, tawny owls, buzzards, woodpeckers and tree-creepers.

Kingsettle is believed to have been part of the former Royal Forests of Selwood and Gillingham. Although woods were recorded here on maps and estate records in the 1600s, which means it can be classified as ‘ancient woodland’, Robin says it is likely that the woodland was established earlier than the 17th century.

“There wasn’t much tree planting until after that time. It is generally thought that the woods would have been there for hundreds of years more,” said Robin. “Duncliffe, which is a similar wood to the west of Shaftesbury, is mentioned in the Domesday Book, for example. It has a one-thousand year history and who knows how much longer before that?”

The Woodland Trust has been trying to restore the woods to their earlier status. “Kingsettle was greatly altered, like Duncliffe, after the Second World War. Both were planted with what were thought to be more productive species. There were probably oaks with hazel coppices for centuries up until the war. They didn’t really meet the requirements of the nation so they were largely planted over with fast-growing conifers and more productive broadleaves, such as beech. In Kingsettle, there’s Douglas fir, which is a high quality conifer, Norway spruce and a mixtures of beech and pine. They’ve been radically altered,” said Robin.

Kingsettle Wood

But the composition of the wood is slowly changing. “The Woodland Trust’s ambition for woods like this is to gently remove these plantation trees and encourage the native trees back in. So that would be things like oak and ash, although of course, there are question marks over ash now, so it’s not planted,” said Robin, referring to the devastating fungus known as ‘Ash Dieback’.

He added that hazel, field maple and small leafed lime would have been traditionally found growing in Kingsettle. “They will try and get it back to a more authentic, native woodland. And that work is underway in both woods,” said Robin.

If you want to discover Kingsettle Wood’s qualities, you’ll need to be prepared for wet weather and a bit of a climb, which the Tree Group warn could be ‘strenuous’, as the woodland sits on the scarp slopes. You will also need to register soon. “We’ve had up to sixty people on the tree walks around town, but this one we’re limiting to fifteen people,” said Robin.

The walk is on Saturday 27th April at 10am. You can book by emailing birchbark@btinternet.com.