Horsenden Hill woods is ancient woodland – woodland that has existed and persisted for more than 400 hundred years. Ancient woodland is precious natural habitat that supports many species of wildflowers, birds, insects, small mammals and reptiles. Horsenden Hill woods – along with Perivale woods and Grove Farm – are blessed with abundant bluebells and wood anemones, indicators of ancient woodland.
(Perivale woods in particular is carpeted with bluebells in spring, and Grove Farm with wood anemones. It’s absolutely worth a special visit – Grove Farm can be visited at any time, for Perivale Woods there are open days that are booked in advance.)
One of the challenges of looking after woodland is ensuring there’s a balance between old trees and new growth. In the absence of beavers, deer and other animals that have been hunted or driven out of these environments, it falls to the human custodians to try to mimic the tooth and jaw of nature, typically by coppicing and felling trees to simulate their being gnawed and toppled by animals no longer present. In that way, enough sunlight can reach down to the forest floor, and the wildflower seeds and bulbs in the soil can grow, adding to the beauty and splendor of the woods.
Without such thinning and encouraging different ages and sizes of trees, it would be mainly ivy and bramble that would thrive in the understory.
In the video below, Ealing rangers Jon Staples and Carl Smith talk about these principles in action at Horsenden with felling an oak tree, before Luna the working Ardennes horse and her handler Dan take the log back to the farm for processing.