Big surprise in Ashenbank Wood

Atmospheric: it's possible to get lost in every way in Ash
Atmospheric: it’s possible to get lost in every way in Ashenbank Wood

The long horn cattle were standing astride the path. The dogs were rather taken aback. Were these bigger versions of them? Were they aliens? Whatever they were, they looked like fun, so all three Labradors decided to have a game.

Mumpy ran around them in circles, Dallas ran up to each of them and then backed away, and Denzel didn’t know quite what to do. A few stern commands and calls of their names calmed the three of them down. But it was obviously going to have to be something we watched out for if we were going to walk in Ashenbank Wood on a regular basis.

The cattle are part of the Woodland Trust’s management plan to help graze Ashenbank and retain the open character. Research indicates Ashenbank was historically used as wood pasture, but this had stopped by the early 20th century.

The Trust is taking the area back to wood pasture and having the cattle grazing helps to ensure a mix of habitat and growth of more diverse ground flora. . Wood pasture is a traditional way of grazing livestock within woodlands. And since 2010/2011 a small number of cattle have been used to maintain the mosaic of woodland and open ground as part of the wood pasture restoration project.

The area was traditionally managed as coppice trees  with hornbeam and sweet chestnut coppice being worked amongst oak and sweet chestnut. There are also examples of ash field maple woodland which naturally grow here.

Off Halfpence Lane, near the village of Cobham, close to Gravesend, within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Ashenbank Wood, which once belonged to the Cobham Hall estate, is made up of 30 hectares of ancient woodland.

As well as dense areas of trees, the site has open grass areas and ponds. During the Second World War an RAF camp was constructed in the wood for the airmen and auxillaries operating ourt of RAF Gravesend.

Memories of war: some of the structures built to house RAF personnel and hide them from the enemy remain
Memories of war: some of the structures built to house RAF personnel and hide them from the enemy remain

Some of the original structures still remain from this period.

The site is also home to a Bronze Age Bowl Barrow. This item is believed to be at least 3,500 years old and so is of national importance and has been classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The underlying geology at Ashenbank Wood is chalk bedrock overlaid by Thanet Beds. Consequently the soils are principally gravely and free draining with a flat terrain in the north that extends into some undulating shallow dry valleys at the southern end.

The Trust was given permission to cut down many of the newer trees planted amongst the ancient oak trees, which had been planted in the wood more than 350 years ago.

A large number of trees were brought down by the great storm of October 1987, and these have been left to rot naturally. Where these lie across the trail, steps have been cut into them and handrails attached.  There are still a huge number of veteran trees  still standing with girths of up to six metres.

These trees have decaying wood within them, providing habitat for a nationally significant collection of beetles – many of which can only survive within this rotting wood – and a huge number of fungi.

Some 50 species of bird are thought to breed in the Cobham Park area and with the opening up of the wood pasture at Ashenbank, it is hoped to encourage more birds including the rare nightjar, which is so magnificently camouflaged it looks like a piece of wood.

If you visit in early spring, before most of the trees come into leaf, the woodland floor is a carpet of white in places, with the flowers of Wood Anemone. Towards the end of April, a wonderful display of Bluebells in the southern part of the wood may prove therapeutic. For those who prefer the colour yellow, look out for patches of Yellow Archangels.

A great wood for walks, with a good path network and two way marked routes. Darnley Trail, a long distance multi user path, also passes through the northern part.




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