Bradfield Woods National Nature Reserve is one of the UK's best woodland wildlife sites. It is made up of Felsham Hall Wood and what remains of Monk's Park Wood. Over 130 acres of Monk's Park Wood were lost to agriculture in the 1970s and it was this destruction that led to a campaign by local people, which resulted in the wood being purchased and set up as a nature reserve.
This ancient working wood dates back to 1252 when it supplied firewood and wood products for local people nearby.
Bradfield is the archetypal English lowland woodland, and is probably the best example in Britain of a traditionally managed wood.
Today the woodland is a profusion of colour and sound, with a lush landscape and much plant life and wildlife, as a result of its sensitive conservation. It is managed in the same way as in medieval times when the monks of Bury St Edmunds Abbey were its first custodians and material from the woods still goes to be used as thatching, firewood, tool handles and rustic poles.
Coppiced woods like Bradfield are famous for their fabulous flora. Coppicing involves cutting trees to ground level every 10-20 years. A different part of the woods is coppiced every year according to a long term management plan.
The stumps or 'stools' regenerate naturally, and the whole system of coppicing enhances the life of the trees.
Some of the giant ash stools, in this wood, date back to the Middle Ages.
An early morning visit to hear the dawn chorus is a symphony of sound with Warblers and Nightingales competing to make the sweetest music.
The Nightingale is declining in numbers, but this woodland is perfect for them because they can feed on the forest floor and breed in the dense thickets which are typical of coppiced woods like Bradfield. The Nightingale is characterised by the exquisite beauty and variety of its bird song, although when the bird gives birth to its chicks, its exquisite voice is replaced by a raucous call.
Bradfield Woods is also home to a range of woodland birds and mammals including deer, the yellow necked mouse, the enigmatic dormouse and badgers.
The deer population includes Roe Deer and Red Deer as well as the tiny, dog-sized Muntjac Deer which can be spotted regularly in the woods.
During the Summer there are breathtaking clouds of butterflies in the more sheltered areas of the woods, with 24 different types having been identified to date.
The best way to enjoy the woods is to pick up a trail guide at the visitor centre on arrival, and a good time to visit the reserve is between April and mid-July.
Bradfield also boasts an impressive variety of plants, about 370 in total, as a result of its wide range of soil types.
One of its specialities is the Oxlip, for many years thought to be a cross between a Primrose and Cowslip, but now a species in its own right.
Another rare plant is Herb Paris or Herb True Love Knot, which looks like a traditional love knot, hence its popular name.
Visitors who visit in April can also see Early Purple Orchids and Wood Anemones.
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