The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust succeeded in purchasing the remaining area of Gutch Common Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This ancient site and its diverse habitat is protected and managed as a public nature reserve, connecting with Oysters Coppice SSSI and Wincombe Lane Woods to create an area of 108.59 acres of protected woodland and wet grassland - see this map.
We walked from Semley to Gutch Common - reaching the dizzy height of 241m on the way before slithering down the precipitous hillside, as per the photos below - and Oysters Coppice where we finished with a picnic sheltering from the rain under trees. Along the paths we noticed several bushes with leaves turned into black lace - Alders, with the alder beetle having been at work.
It is magnificent woodland - we passed some 'archaeological' remains of a former farmyard, ie rusting farm machinery; some superb trees including some 'fallen giants'; beautiful fungi; and a tiny frog sheltering among the roots of a tree.
We were led by Debbie Carter who, as well as being on our committee and the Tisbury Tree Warden, looks after the Coppice day-to-day and also Peter Shallcross and Ines Lopez-Doriga: to all of whom warm thanks for a lovely exploration of this ancient woodland.
To get an idea of what you too might enjoy, take a look at the most interesting blog written by Glen Coy about the visit he made to Oysters Coppice almost exactly a year ago https://www.hiddenwiltshire.com/post/oysters-coppice-gutch-common
Another place to read about the route from Semley to Oysters is on the website http://www.discovernadder.org.uk/uploads/images/countryside_activities/Walk9_SemleyAges.pdf which notes local landmarks including the base of a former medieval cross on the outskirts of Semley that has been known as the Plague Stone ever since 1665, when Semley residents left food there for parishioners of Donhead St. Mary during an outbreak of plague - which casts a new light on social distancing and queuing outside the Tisbury Co-op!
Glyn Coy's blogpost on his recent visit contains some lovely photos of this secluded little wood - a perfect outing for small children.
Our volunteers had a new experience at our working day on 7th October. They were tasked to do an initial survey of the ‘new’ ancient woods acquired by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust up Semley Hill.
These were bought for the Trust by some very generous people of Semley and stretch for a mile to the North side of the road to Shaftesbury. They were originally given to the Arundell family by Queen Elizabeth I in 1572 and have remained with that family until now. They are on an extremely steep slope so not suitable for farming and have common rights which allow 10 landholders of Semley parish to access them. Originally this would have been for livestock and probably rights to take fallen wood. These common rights still stand so it means the woods will never have permanent fences around them.
The Trust is also acquiring two areas of SSSI (site of special scientific interest). One is Gutch Common itself, where there are dormice, and the other is the steep woodland up to Castle Rings, an Iron Age earthwork at the top of the hill which was later occupied by the Romans. In all they will own over 100 acres of woodland including Oysters Coppice.
It is fortunate that we now have a large number of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers to help manage these woods for the Trust.
On 7th October the group spread out and recorded mammal signs, notable trees, invasive species (none) and fly tipping.
On the positive side there was plenty of evidence of badgers and foxes and even evidence of dormice in the hazel copse. There were plenty of veteran and notable trees - mainly oak but also holly, beech and sycamore. There were many signs of old quarries which may have been worked by the Romans as they are below the old Castle Rings fort. It would be interesting to get an archaeology survey done at some later time.
The negative side was a large amount of fly-tipping covering the area. This will have to be cleared to try and prevent further fly-tipping. There was also a sizeable ‘bivvy’ that had obviously been occupied during the summer and signs of mountain biking.
The Trust has also benefited from a generous grant from The Banister Charity towards the purchase of the two SSSI’s. However they still have to raise £20,000 to cover legal and administrative costs so if anyone should feel passionate about protecting our special ancient woodlands look at the following link:
This is a video kindly made by Ed Bersey a Trust member, to appeal for donations.
For further information on volunteering or about the new woods please use our contact form.
Photo: Barn owl
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.