Woodland wonders - Balls Wood
PUBLISHED: 17:57 08 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:11 10 February 2014
Photographs © Copyright Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust
Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Susannah O'Riordan highlights improvements to a special woodland nature reserve in Hertford Heath
Balls Wood is a mixed woodland with a fantastic array of wildlife and more than 200 species of plants – double the number found in most woodlands in the county. The northern part of the wood is the oldest, and varies from old hornbeam coppice to woodland of ash, birch and aspen. Most of the oaks were felled around the time of the Second World War and further felling took place in the southern half of the wood in the 1950s, when it was replanted with conifers by the Forestry Commission.
The Wildlife Trust’s priority since buying Balls Wood in 2009 has been to restore it to a more natural state. This has involved thinning trees in some areas, the removal of the majority of alien conifers, as well as ride restoration work. .
A ride is a linear open space in a wood, wide enough to create a gap in the canopy to allow sunlight to reach the ground (such as above). Many of the rides in Balls Wood had become overgrown and shaded, so we have been widening them as well as creating new ones. Although this type of woodland management work can seem quite destructive, the wood recovers very quickly and with more light reaching the woodland floor, wildflowers and scrub can grow, attracting butterflies, birds and other wildlife.
Ponds are a key element of healthy woodland, providing a home for amphibians, invertebrates and dragonflies, which support other wildlife, particularly birds and bats. A great deal of pond restoration has been taking place at Balls Wood. In some cases ponds had become completely silted up and filled with leaf litter, so needed clearing out with the help of a digger. Some recovered very quickly, with a large number of newts in one pond within three months. Others have taken a little longer to get over the muddy puddle look but are now developing nicely, filling up with plants, amphibians and invertebrates, including some impressive greater diving beetles.
Improvements to access and information have been considerable over the past year, as part of the Woodlands for People and Wildlife project to enhance the enjoyment of visitors.
The main access track has been improved, new seats and benches have been put in (great for wildlife-spotting and well-earned rests) and a viewing platform installed across one of the enlarged ponds. This will allow visitors to get a good view of pond life as well as white admirals and other butterflies that feed on the tops of bramble bushes.
Several new orientation panels and information panels have been erected, providing more information about the wood and what to look out for on your visit. Two circular way-marked trails also have been created, the half-mile Hornbeam Trail and one-mile Admiral Trail. Bear in mind tracks can get muddy, so wear wellies in wet weather.
Our furry friends.
A survey carried out in 2012 confirmed the presence of dormice in Balls Wood. Although there are historical records of dormice in the wood, there had been no definitive evidence of them for more than 15 years, so it was very exciting to discover six nests and see one animal during the survey. Since then we have put up 100 permanent wooden nest boxes to enable us to monitor the dormouse population. Over the next couple of years we will also carry out work to improve the habitat for this rare creature, including creating more shrubby areas with bramble and honeysuckle and planting hazel.