International Biodiversity Day … discover our most fragile habitat. 

The oak and beech woodland of King’s Wood created by centuries of landscape management are a rich and rare habitat type at risk in modern western Europe covering only 2.5% of the UK. Ancient woods are irreplaceable. We cannot replace the complex biodiversity of ancient woods which has accumulated over hundreds of years. Many species that thrive in ancient woodland are slow to colonise. All ancient woodlands are unique and are distinctive.  Once what little we have left is gone, it’s gone for good.

How it came to be. 

Sitting on the edge of the conurbation of Stoke on Trent, these trees played a significant role in the socio-economic development of the estate providing hunting woodland for boar and venison and timber for boat building and construction, then the backdrop to the pleasure gardens as the grounds became a nationally significant tourist destination.  

Conservation Need Recognised. 

This woodland in 1987 was given Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status for its nationally significant insect population. It should be noted that it is the age of the trees and the habitat of particularly dead wood held within the tree canopy, trunks and decomposing timber on the ground that makes this site so rare. Modern forestry practices would have been to clear unsafe dead wood and fell or gather fallen material as fuel or fibre. Through restricted access and lack of harvesting a more biodiversity habitat has been conserved.

Bugs and beetles 

166 species of beetle, of which 23 species at the highest at-risk conservation status & 13 NEW County Records of species have been found over recent years. You may spot a Longhorn beetle (Saperda scalaris) with vivid markings, its UK stronghold is Sherwood Forest. Many of our rarities will keep themselves hidden, such as Pentarthrum huttoni which may historically have made its way into a wild existence from imported timbers used in a building on the estate, as it’s not native to the UK and rare this far north. Beetles have a complex life cycle. Known as a complete metamorphosis, it has four very different stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult. Surprisingly some have a 7 year development period before they reach adulthood. The impacts of climate change, pollution and habitat resulting from tidying up or making safe veteran trees all impact. Please be aware that the majority of these vulnerable creatures live within the deadwood and below the bark of trees and so we ask that you avoid ‘bug hunting’ that disturb the trees, fallen wood and bark intact. Once peeled or broken up to reveal the insect its habitat is lost and the insects soon die. Simply enjoy knowing that they exist and relish the rare sighting.

As summer arrives amongst the common Speckled Wood and rarer Orange Tip Butterflies you may be lucky enough to spot Purple Hairstreak butterflies. These live in the canopy of the oak, feeding on Honeydew (the sugar-rich sticky liquid, secreted by aphids and some scale insects as they feed on plant sap). Tricky to spot are Pied Moth which is nationally rare, whose caterpillar only feeds on a rare moss growing on the oaks, or Maidens Blush with its stick-like caterpillar that loops along the oak branches. In the cavities of trees and under loose bark bats will roost and breed flying through the open canopy at night feasting on midges and moths.

Birds that make this woodland their home colonising the tree canopy, limbs, be aware that some are ground-nesting so please stick to the tracks and keep dogs on short leads.  

What are the fenced enclosures?  

These were installed as a trial to see if preventing fallow and roe deer accessing the woodland would enable natural regeneration of the woodland i.e. trees seeding and growing naturally.  

 The results show some regeneration of holly, whose seed will be being dispersed by birds. There is also regeneration of Silver and Downy birch, both pioneer tree species whose seeds arrive on the wind. These do not meet the needs of the woodland to sustain for future generation so you can see replanting is being carried out of oak and beech.  

 Stoats, Weasels, woodmice, moles and foxes are amongst the mammals you may encounter whilst walking the tracks.  

When discovering this special place please:

  •  Leave fallen dead wood where it lies. This will provide variety in moisture and enable fungi to develop.  
  •  Stay on footpaths to avoid compacting the soil around the trees, this helps the tree roots to breath as well as conserving all   the micro-organisms active in the leaf litter.  
  •  Look but don’t pick fungi, these are vital in this habitat to managing decomposition and feeding a variety of mammals, but many     are extremely toxic to humans.  
  •  Look out for Wood Sorrel, wood anemones and bluebells as indicators of ancient woodland.  

 Do share your sightings with us on social media using the #TrenthamGardens