Ancient trees safeguarded by National Nature Reserve expansion

Acorns from some of the country’s oldest oak trees are being used to create seedlings to populate a newly expanded National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Herefordshire and safeguard the lineage of ancient trees for future generations.

The newly named ‘Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood’ National Nature Reserve is an extension of the original Moccas Park National Nature Reserve.

The site is being increased in size from 139 to 239 hectares, incorporating woodland and grassland with trees (wood pasture). The Reserve includes Woodbury Hill Wood, now owned and managed by the Woodland Trust, thanks to the support from a Herefordshire family.

Gillian’s Wood is now the name for Moccas Hill Wood and Woodbury Hill Wood. Moccas Hill Wood is being restored to wood pasture by Natural England and Woodbury Hill Wood is being restored to ancient woodland by the Woodland Trust.

Across the site there are ancient trees including the ‘Old Man of Moccas’ – an ancient oak believed to be more than 850 years old. Restoring the wood pasture and ancient woodland will benefit wildlife including bats, beetles and dormice.

The site is part of the King’s Series of National Nature Reserves, announced last year to leave a lasting public legacy for people and nature by creating a series of reserves to celebrate the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. Through the King’s Series, which is the name given to the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan target, five new National Nature Reserves will be announced each year for five years, from 2023 to 2027.

Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood NNR is also one of three reserves being declared as part of National Nature Reserves Week, a celebration of England’s most important places for nature, with events taking place around the country until 31 May. Natural England is responsible for creating and extending National Nature Reserves and approved the extension in April.

Emma Johnson, West Midlands Deputy Director for Natural England, said, “The amazing ancient trees in Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood date back hundreds of years to medieval times and beyond and provide rich and varied spaces for many species, including the Moccas beetle found at only one other site in the UK.

“The extension of the Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood National Nature Reserve is going to make a real difference to the future of these ancient trees ensuring the next generation of ancient trees which will hopefully be thriving in the 2500s.”

Within the newly acquired woodland, more ancient and veteran trees have been found stunted and crowded by conifer trees planted in the 1950s as a crop. Restoration of this woodland will see these conifers being slowly removed to give space for native woodland species and for the old ancient trees room to thrive in the last hundred years of their life.

These include large-leaved lime, wych elm, ash and oak and will provide important deadwood habitat for invertebrates including rare deadwood beetles and a wide range of lichen and fungi. These are important mini ecosystems in their own right as well as within the wider wood pastures, woodlands and wider landscape.

Richard Brown, Site Manager of the Woodland Trust said, “Ancient woods have been around since at least the 1600s and cannot be replaced. Gradually removing the conifer trees will allow light to reach the woodland floor and the plants, trees and associated wildlife found within an ancient woodland will start to establish themselves once more.

“The ancient and veteran trees are an important indication of the wood’s history. This year we will be surveying to identify and tag all of these surviving ancient trees and will carry out initial management to ensure their survival.”

Gillian’s Wood is named after the sister of John Bulmer, of the Herefordshire family who owned Bulmers cider. The Woodland Trust now own and manage Woodbury Hill, thanks to the support from John Bulmer and the Trustees of Gillian Bulmer’s will, creating Gillian’s Wood in her memory.

The Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood National Nature Reserve supports more than 1,000 species of fly and 700 species of beetle, 13 out of the 18 UK bat species, a huge variety of birds including all three woodpeckers and a nationally important population of Pied Flycatchers.

The majority of the site is now open to the public. Gillian’s Wood and Moccas Hill Wood will be accessible to the public, while Moccas Park will be open to the public for guided walks and open days throughout the year, and for those holding a visitor’s permit.

It is also a landscape underlain by ancient Silurian and Devonian rocks shaped by more recent melting ice. Much of the Reserve is open to public access and visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Herefordshire landscape.

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