l o c a t i o n

Site description

Gorsehill wood is a long thin strip of woodland situated on the steep slope running from the southwest to the northeast along the Alkham Valley. The land comprises two types of ancient coppice woodland. Lowland oak woodland, the main tree community, occurs on the deep clay soils overlying the chalk. Lowland ash woodland occurs on areas where the soil is thin and the chalk more exposed.
Ash and hazel are the dominant coppice species across the wood with a mixture of ash and pedunculate (or English) oak as standards. There is also an area of mature hornbeam coppice. Other tree and shrub species include field maple, wayfaring tree, elm, birch, sweet chestnut, cherry, yew, holly, willow, rowan, hawthorn and blackthorn. The ground flora of the woodland, dominated by bramble, is diverse, and includes common twayblade, early purple orchid, primrose, large lords and ladies, hart’s tongue fern and species typical of ash woodland such as dog’s mercury, yellow archangel and herb paris. Also present is the nationally scarce lady orchid. Spectacular displays of bluebell, wood anemone and ramsons can be seen in the spring.

Site history

Gorsehill Wood and Stonyhill Wood are ancient woodlands. Ancient woodlands are those that have been in existence since at least 1600 AD. Prior to this date, planting of woodland was very uncommon which suggests that if a wood was present in 1600 it is likely to have been there for some time previously, and may be a remnant of the original wildwood that once covered most of Britain. The rich flora includes a number of uncommon plants that are more or less confined to woodland such as this that has remained free of total clearance for centuries.
In the fairly recent past, part of the site was used as a brick works with a considerable number of clay pits having been dug. Later the excavated pits were used by the Council as a tip up until about 1960.

Conservation management

Most of the wood has been, in the past, managed as coppice-with-standards though this practice has probably not been carried out here for about 50 years. The management plan aims to bring this regime back by coppicing small blocks sequentially around the woodland. This is so that species requiring open conditions within the woodland are able to move from one coupe to the next.
Widening of existing rides is planned. This creates an age structure within the wood and increased light to the woodland floor. Several new rides are proposed to provide wildlife corridors and timber extraction routes. The central areas on the steeper slopes have had no coppicing in the recent past. These areas will be managed as high forest with a minimum of intervention. Sycamore has encroached into some areas particularly those that border other properties or have been more disturbed in the past. Though this problem is not severe, an ongoing programme of control is being carried out by cutting and spraying the re-growth of this invasive species. Standing and fallen dead wood is an extremely important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. As much as possible of this is to be left within the wood.

Location map

O.S. map. Gorsehill Wood ringed in red.

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SSSI map (by kind permission of Natural England)

Map of Alkham, Lydden and Swingfield SSSI. The individual sites are shaded green with Gorsehill Wood in orange.

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