Foxley enclave, photo by Nik Khandpur

Extension to Norfolk’s largest ancient wood to take root

Friday 27 November, 2020

An arable field next to Norfolk’s largest ancient wood will be restored to its native woodland history, as a generous donation enables purchase by Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

During lockdown Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been in the process of securing this crucial area of land, which is 5.2 hectares (12.8 acres). The newly purchased field has been a missing piece of Foxley Wood for at least a thousand years, and being surrounded by ancient woodland on three sides provides a rare opportunity to re-establish specialist woodland species. 

At 124 hectares, Foxley Wood is one of Norfolk’s richest woodlands for native plants, from the rare wild service tree to the beautiful greater butterfly orchid. In spring it is carpeted with the blooms of bluebells, early purple orchids and wood anemones, giving way to summer displays of common spotted orchids, fleabane and water avens. Many of the common woodland birds can be seen including green and great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper, willow warbler and jay. It is also a hotspot for butterflies including white admiral, speckled wood, ringlet, purple hairstreak and silver-washed fritillary. 

Last year experts confirmed the purple emperor butterfly had returned to the wood – once its stronghold in the county – nearly 50 years after it was declared extinct in Norfolk. 

Nature Conservation Manager, Steve Collin said: “This new area of land is perfectly placed for us to expand Foxley Wood and give more space for wildlife. It will be restored to woodland habitat with native trees and plants, providing home and food for the wood’s birds and butterflies. It is likely to also provide foraging habitat for bats and hunting grounds for birds of prey. In the future we will look to add trails for visitors to enjoy and to create space for education groups.”

Director of Development and Engagement at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Nik Khandpur added: “Foxley Wood is one of our most popular nature reserves, not only with our members but also the wider public in Norfolk. This exciting next step for Foxley has been made possible by anonymous support specifically to help protect this ancient woodland.  It was quite an incredible and moving gift to receive for the good of wildlife and enjoyment of people in Norfolk.” 


Foxley Wood: ancient and rare

Foxley Wood is a National Nature Reserve, mentioned in the Domesday book, and contains both precious and rare habitat. It suffered 30 years as a conifer plantation, before it was acquired by NWT in the 1980s, with further acquisitions in 1991 and 1992. 

Between 1995 and 2004 the planted conifers were gradually removed and without planting a single tree these damaged areas have been reborn through natural regeneration of trees. Survival of the seed bank has restored much of the woodland ground flora under the planted conifers and the ancient woodland habitat restored. 

Large ancient woodlands cover less than 2% of the UK today. 80% of Britain’s ancient woods are smaller than 50 acres and fewer than 500 on the scale of Foxley survive nationally.
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