Sherrardspark Wood holds a very special place in the hearts of residents of Welwyn Garden City. Wood wardens Dee Jackson and Ken Smith explain its role as a local nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific interest.
Reaching almost to the centre of town Sherrardspark Wood has long been a place for quiet recreation and play, and can be thought of as the lungs of the Garden City. How different things might have been if not for the success of the Save the Woods Campaigns!
Not only is it special for the local residents but it is also special from a national perspective. Most of the wood is legally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is one of a few thousand sites in the whole country designated and legally protected for their particular nature conservation interest. We should all be proud to have such a special place right on our doorsteps.
The acid soils support an extensive ancient semi-natural sessile oak/hornbeam woodland, a habitat now rare throughout lowland England. Sherrardspark Wood is listed as one of the finest stands of mature sessile oakwood in the whole of the southeast England.
It was designated by Natural England as a SSSI in 1986 for these trees and all the plants and animals associated with them. Some of these oak trees are over 30 metres high and up to 250 years old. Being an SSSI status means that the wood is protected in the long term from development and any other activities that might damage its unique status. Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, which owns the wood, is obliged to seek the permission of Natural England for any operation in the wood. In addition, because of the SSSI status Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council receives woodland grants.
Natural England carries out periodic assessments of the wood. When it reported in 2011, 25 per cent was listed as “favourable” and 75 per cent as “unfavourable recovering”. It was unfavourable at that time because of the invasive rhododendrons which had spread throughout large areas and the lack of active management to provide opportunities for the next generation of oak trees to become established.
The fact that the wood is now recovering is thanks to an agreed 25-year management plan drawn up with the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Welwyn Hatfield Council and the wood wardens. This plan is updated on a five-year rolling basis and predetermines all the work carried out in the wood to ensure it maintains its SSSI status. The efforts of the wood wardens and outside contractors have resulted in getting the rhododendron under control, re-establishing traditional coppicing in Brockswood and the creation of open glades to not only allow new oaks to grow and hornbeam to regenerate but also to improve conditions for the flora and fauna.
The continued protection afforded by the SSSI designation is something we should all value. It is our best guarantee of the long term preservation of our special wood.
This article was first published in Welwyn Hatfield Times on 7 September 2016