Fishpond wood has been in the ownership of Dr Peter Brambleby, a semi-retired public health doctor, since December 2012. He lives nearby in Bewerley village with his wife Michelle, a teacher. Together, their mission is the restoration of the woodland to greater biodiversity and accessibility, and a place for promoting human wellbeing. We call it the “Natural Health Service”.
To many local people it is known as “Whitewoods”. Strictly, this is the name of part of the woodland, to the west of the track. It was probably named after the silver birch trees. The wider parcel of land, including the pond, covers about 25 acres and is known collectively as “Fishpond Wood”.
The stone welcome sign at the main entrance was a generous gift from local stonemason Carl Foxton. Note the various flora and fauna represented there.
Semi-natural ancient woodland
In all, Fishpond Wood covers just under 25 acres. Parts of it are designated “semi-natural ancient woodland”, meaning it has been woodland continually for over 400 years. There are plant “indicator species” that show it is ancient woodland: these include wild garlics (ramsens), bluebells and dog’s mercury.
It is thought the wood was harvested regularly for charcoal in support of local smelting for lead since Roman times, and later on for firewood and fodder. Successive generations planted different species for different needs. The beech trees at the summit are of similar age and clearly a plantation, but there are some truly ancient beech trees about 250 years old in other parts. Some of the periphery was planted with windbreaks of scots pine or sycamore.
If you look at the older oaks you will see that most have twin trunks, indicating the practice of planting in pairs. (In parts of southern England, though probably not here, amongst the traveller community there was the practice of placing an acorn in each hand of an infant that died and was buried, thereby creating many twin-trunk oak trees.)
Sycamores are a newer arrival. They are an invasive species, growing fast, spreading a big leaf canopy early in spring, and producing prolific winged seeds. These trees did not impress the seventeenth century horticulturalist John Evelyn, who in 1664 advised against them: “… for the hony-dew leaves, which fall early, turn to Mucilage and noxious insects, putrifie with the first moisture of the season; so as they contaminate and marr our Walks; and are therefore, by my consent, to be banish’d from all Curious Gardens and Avenues.” It is certainly true that the proliferation of sycamore in Fishpond Wood has crowded out other mature trees and prevented new growth, while making the paths a soggy mess and filling the pond.
Another newcomer that has over-stayed its welcome is rhododendron, believed to have been introduced in early Victorian times when Fishpond Wood was part of the pleasure grounds of Bewerley Hall (now no longer in existence).
Both sycamore and rhododendron are part of the story of the wood and will not be removed entirely but cut back to make way for a wider variety of species and habit, and kept under active control. The same applies to the bracken, nettles and bramble that threaten to overrun the bluebells. But these are native species that support native insect and bird life, so in some areas will be left to proliferate.
In 2017 Fishpond Wood was “Highly Commended” in a Forestry competition at the Great Yorkshire Show, and in 2018 Fishpond Wood was awarded a Platinum Award from Yorkshire in Bloom – the highest such grade – partly in recognition of the involvement of volunteers in its restoration.
May 2021 update
Three years ago we cleared a section of sycamore, bramble and rhododendron overgrowth to about 30 metres square, below the pond. This created a gap for sunlight to reach in. To restore diversity we planted wild cherry, oak, alder and birch, at heights that deer could not reach. Three years on, and the bluebells and other wild flowers fill the ground space and all the the new trees are thriving. We intend to move round the wood in rotation, repeating the pattern and get different ages of trees and cycles of wild flowers.