Wharfedale is fortunate in having preserved a number
of woods which are 'ancient' - they have been in existence since
at least 1500. They have been subject to traditional management
which retains the native ground flora, or at least only modifies
There are many small woodlands on the steep, terraced
slopes above Kettlewell, with large stands at Grass Wood near Grassington
and Strid Wood near Bolton Abbey. Lower down the valley, Middleton
Wood at Ilkley is noted for its springtime bluebells.
The limestone woodlands of Wharfedale make up 5%
of the total ancient semi-natural woodland in the Yorkshire Dales.
Dominated by ash, downy birch, hazel, hawthorn and rowan, the woods
include shrubs such as wild privet and spindle. They also contain
some species for which upper Wharfedale is particularly important,
the nationally scarce angular Solomon's-seal, baneberry, downy currant
and dark-red helleborine among them.
Kirk Gill Moor Wood is one of the few oak-birch woods in the Dales
and includes some sessile oak with much downy birch and silver birch.
Small areas of yew occur at Firth Wood which probably originated
as natural stands. Strans and Rais Woods are especially species-rich
wood pastures with ash, hazel, birch and holly over a ground flora
including wood crane's-bill and marjoram. Lightly grazed areas on
woodland edges are home to common meadow-rue, globeflower and the
nationally scarce northern hawk's-beard. This species has declined
and is now only found in a scattering of sites up the northern Pennines.
Grass Wood is an archetypal Dales ash wood with
a hazel understorey which was coppiced for many years. It was partly
planted with beech and sycamore in Victorian times, and in the 1960's
with conifers, but the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are gradually removing
these. Much of the wood is on limestone scars which introduce varied
habitats. The rich ground flora is regionally important, and includes
lily-of-the-valley, wood sorrel and yellow pimpernel, indicators
of ancient woodland, together with bloody crane's-bill, melancholy
thistle, angular Solomon's-seal, burnet rose and mountain melick.
The undisturbed woodland produces a wealth of fungi each Autumn
and nuthatch, treecreeper, woodcock green and great-spotted woodpeckers
and many warblers use the wood.
Above Grass Wood is Bastow Wood, which is younger,
since it overlies a celtic field system. It is wood pasture, rather
than woodland, a type of habitat known in only one other site in
the Dales, with scattered ash, birch, sycamore and rowan, and hazel
understorey. Bird cherry, hawthorn, blackthorn and geulder rose
are rather less frequent. Thin limestone soils support blue moor-grass
and red fescue grasslands which are rich in herbs, including rockrose,
bloody crane's-bill, and fairy flax. Anthills confirm the ancient
nature of the pasture.
In Littondale, Hawkswick Wood has developed on
stable limestone scree and is an open ash wood. There is a scattered
shrub layer of hawthorn and hazel, with bracken and dog's mercury
dominating the ground flora. The more interesting plants, such as
lily-of-the-valley, primrose, wood anemone and herb paris occur
on the screes.
Over the valley, Scoska Wood clings to the limestone
scars and upper slopes, with herb-rich neutral or calcareous pasture
below. At the boundary a number of springs emerge, with flush communities.
The wood contrasts with the drier Hawkswick Wood, since it is cooler
and moister. Ash dominates, with an understorey of hazel and hawthorn.
Downy birch and bird cherry also occur. The rich ground flora contains
dogs mercury, ramsons, sanicle and herb paris. There is a
tall-herb community at the wood's edge, with wood cranes-bill,
melancholy thistle and meadowsweet.
Above Bolton Abbey is the famous Strid Wood, which
contains the largest area of acidic oak woodland and the best remnant
of oak wood-pasture in the National Park. The river dissects the
wood, with oak forest on the north-east side and more altered woodlands
on the south-west. The largely acidic ground flora on the north-east,
with woodrush, bilberry, wavy hair-grass and several species of
fern, is modified by calcareous flushes, with opposite-leaved golden
saxifrage, wood melick and mountain melick. Relict wood-pasture
retains old pollards of oak, holly and birch, growing amongst bracken
and acid grassland. The south-west bank has many introduced species
of trees including beech, sycamore, poplar and conifers such as
larch and Douglas fir. Nevertheless the soil is less acid and the
ground flora is rich, with dog's mercury, ramsons, sanicle and sweet
woodruff, together with the uncommon yellow star of Bethlehem. The
bryophyte flora is rich, with several rare and local species, including
Dicranum montanum, Cinclicotus mucronatus, Fissidens
rufulus, Nowellia curvifolia and Sphagnum quinquefarium.
The selective, rather than clear, felling has preserved a valuable
lichen flora and Strid Wood is considered one of the best lichen
woods in Yorkshire. Over sixty species of birds have been recorded,
forty-four of these breeding, including pied flycatcher, redstart,
wood warbler, common sandpiper, grey wagtail, dipper and goosander.
Middleton Wood is an ancient oak wood, with both sessile and pedunculate
species. Sycamore has invaded the east end and there is some elm
and ash, with alder and willow in wetter parts. Shrubs include elder,
hazel and holly, with hawthorn and blackthorn below Curly Hill.
The springtime bluebells are joined by wood anemone, wood sorrel
and dog's mercury. In damper areas lesser celandine is followed
by ransoms, or wild garlic and yellow pimpernel can be found. There
is a patch of giant horsetail, over a metre tall. By the streams
are bog stitchwort and opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Rarer flowers
include moschatel and goldilocks, with the parasitic toothwort.
Autumn brings a variety of fungi - Amanita crocea
is yellowish and uncommon species. The old trees attract
a variety of birds, including tawny owl, sparrowhawk, greater spotted
woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper and, in wetter places, snipe and
woodcock. Chiffchaff, willow warbler, garden warbler, wood warbler
offer challenges for the birdwatcher. In winter siskin, lesser redpolls
and brambling visit.
Very much like Strid Wood, Dob Park Wood in Washburndale
has conifers and mixed woodland with some impressive bluebell stands.
All three woodpeckers can be heard, and wood, willow and garden
warblers, with blackcap, sparrowhawk, redstart, woodcock and tawny
owl. Spotted and pied flycatcher nest here and in winter there are
flocks of siskin, redpoll and brambling.
The extensive plantations in the National Park
cover three times the area of the semi-natural woodland. They are
dominated by coniferous trees, generally a combination of pine species
and Norway and Sitka spruce. Greenfield Plantation, at the top of
Wharfedale, is the largest in the Park. There are also plantations
in Washburndale, above the reservoirs.
|Do not assume that sites mentioned here
have public access. Please use only public footpaths or ask
permission for access. Conservation of our wild heritage depends
on the goodwill of landholders - please don't abuse it!
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