holt lowes – devastation

today we went to Holt Lowes (see their website here for more) to see how far the destruction of the woodland has proceeded. this land, a remnant of similar heathland covering the holt-cromer ridge since the bronze age, was productive common and heath once, allotted to the poor for grazing animals; the gorse and heather cut regularly and used for firewood. since that use stopped, and also since rabbits have been controlled by myxomatosis, it has reverted to scrub woodland, of oak and silver birch, and the change of flora threatens the rare and special fauna, including natterjack toad and nightjar. as a heath with areas of wetland it supported varieties and species more common in devon than in norfolk. for several years now small areas have been cleared of trees and in parts the gorse cut regularly with a machine.  now almost all the remaining trees are to be cleared and the topsoil taken off, to discourage regrowth, which recently has been poisoned in the already cleared areas. because the heath is no longer used it is almost impossible to reproduce the suppression of woodland achieved by heavy mixed grazing, traditional burning and furze cutting. a few cows or sheep will not have the same effect. so it is hard to see how they will maintain the tree suppression.

a grim sight greets us inside the gate. stump grinding and tree felling and heavy machinery reduce pretty winding paths and little ups and downs to one muddy hillside.

even this dry peaty soil will churn up into a bog when the winter comes

we can’t find our old path and trip over roots and branches strewn around the place.

back in an uncut section. two weeks ago this was full of fungi, spotted red fly agaric everywhere, but 2 weeks of wet weather has rotted them away.

very little is left, through that little copse and we are back in the open again. my sheltered winter walk will offer no protection now.

I hope soil erosion does not ensue.

the last time we will wander through these bracken filled glades.

this – all silver birch – is to go ….

these oaks I think will remain

all these lovely old silver birches with their shaggy trunks are doomed

the most graceful tree

and here there are bluebells in the spring – a sign of ancient woodland.

to be reduced to this – brambles and weeds, the new sprouting birch and gorse all removed by weedkiller last year.

I found one remaining fly agaric fruiting body today. with the birchwoods gone and the topsoil removed there will be no fungi – edible or poisonous – next year.

this little heather area has been established for at least fifteen years; soon there will be no birchwoods in the distance.

next to the forestry commission plantation there is still dew on the spiders’ webs in the heather.

a nasty shock awaits us – the plantation is going too – here the bronze age barrow has been cordoned off to prevent it being damaged by the machinery.

this beautiful cathedral of tall pines, a restful place of shade and quiet, is already half gone.

huge machines lurk on their day of rest.

exquisite fungi amongst the needles and cones on the floor of the wood.

another area of heather, cleared a few years ago and beginning to grow well, although the gorse will soon overtake it, if it gets a chance.

more silver birches awaiting their fate.

and here is the stump-grinder, an unlovely beast.

I wonder how misguided this effort really is. every so often there are oak trees marked to be left standing. I hope they survive the lack of shelter after the surrounding trees have gone. time will tell.


  1. Once lovely, showing the ravages of human intervention. 🙁 Hope you have other areas for winter walks my friend! (((Jane)))

  2. from the Norfolk Wildlife trust
    The work currently underway is the last phase of major scrub clearance on the Lowes. We have previously cleared scrub from this site at a similar scale at intervals during the last 15 years, most notably in 2003/4 when a large chipping machine was in operation. Many of the open areas of heathland that now exist on the site is a direct result of this intensive management. Although some of these areas still have ongoing work to control brambles and regenerating scrub, it would be wrong to say that this is all we have had as a result of previous clearance work. Some of the finest areas of heathland that now exist on the Lowes was mature scrub only 15 years ago! The rare lowland heathland habitat requires intervention to maintain, and years of neglect requires intensive management to achieve its restoration.

    The management works underway is being funded through Natural Englands Higher Levels Stewardship Scheme, following agreement between Holt Lowes Trustees, NWT, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. The work has required extensive consultation with local herpetologists, especially in relation to Adder hibernacula, and as a prerequisite we had to undertake an archaeological survey to identify features of possible interest, and consult with Norfolk Landscape Archaeology. We are fortunate at this site to know a considerable amount, and prior to the works being carried out the site was extensively taped to define areas of clearance/no clearance and areas where no machine access must take place. The contractor is also working to very detailed maps. We have placed approx 30km of tape across this site marking areas. The Archaeological survey revealed a total of 4 possible barrows as well as many other archaeological features and these have been taken into account with the management work. All known adder hibernacula areas have been taped so that they will be cleared of scrub without machine access. However despite extensive surveys it is impossible to know the location of every single adder hibernation site and I apologise if we have missed an area. 25m exclusion zones are set up around large known adder sites, smaller zones around single spring adder records.

    The plan is not to remove all the birch from the site but to limit mature birch to strategic areas to reduce the quantity of birch seed and seedling growth over the heathland, leading to sustainable management requiring much less intensive operations. Woodland which has been identified of high value is being retained on the site (at Holt Lowes this will represent a much higher proportion of woodland being retained on former heathland than many other sites) and the strategy of removing birch from selected areas of the Lowes is a landscape scale approach since the Forestry Commission are planning to convert areas of the adjoining Edgefield plantation (currently conifers) to birch woodland.

    The Contractor chosen, WRCL, specialises in restoration work on areas of high wildlife value and NWT has used this particular contractor on a number of occasions on sensitive sites.

    At the moment all these considerations may not be apparent at this stage of the operation, with a considerable number of trees having been felled and no chipping machine as yet onsite. The chipping/extraction process is a complex one given the access difficulties on/off the site but we are hopeful that this part of the process will begin soon.

    I hope this helps to allay some of the fears you may have regarding the current work and that you will bear with us.

    Best wishes,

    John Milton NWT

  3. The evocation of place, the sensitivity to detail of form and shape, the descriptive power and loving eye for all that Jane encounters in her walks, are not only captivating but they derive from a real artist’s uncanny ability to get to the heart of what invests Nature with her mystic power over us. The use of language is singular and enviable, the word-painting exceptional and I love the way she draws comparison between the seen object and another, imagined. All that she writes here, married to the lovely photographs, the intimate and the broader in perspective, deserves more permanent record.

  4. It appears there is now a fashioned for manmade “natural” landscapes without Birch in very much the same vein as the old “natural” landscapes around big country houses.

    The woodland our environmental stazis have destroyed was marked as woodland on the 1850 map and I don’t know a map that doesn’t show it as woodland. But because it is silver birch, and the stems are small, they deem it to be “unnatural”.

    What I wonder is whether silver birch can naturally grow to great age, but in doing so, the older stems constantly die off leaving the younger shoots.

    As such, the age of the root system (which is several feet across) might be far far older than the stems.

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