Put a spring in your step and visit Bradfield Woods

Katharine Green
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There is no better time to visit Bradfield Woods than Spring. The woodland floor is alive with white wood anemones, yellow oxlips, bluebells and early purple orchids, surrounded by the aroma of wild garlic and awakening birdsong. When the sun shines it’s a haven for butterflies.

Bradfield Woods is a national nature reserve and a site of specific scientific interest. The 170 acre site lies 8 miles south east of Bury St Edmunds, just outside the village of Gedding. The woods are managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and have an information area and facilities. They host a variety of events throughout the year, with guided walks, woodcraft demonstrations, trails and children’s activities. With many local schools paying regular visits. Added to this, you can now go Nordic walking here every Tuesday morning and enjoy the feast of delights that the woods unravel.

Steeped in history and brimming with wildlife, Bradfield Woods is one of Britain's finest ancient woodlands. The ancient ash stools created by coppicing are the oldest living things in Suffolk. The woods have a history of continuous coppicing since at least 1252, consisting of areas of alder, oak, hazel and ash woodland. With over 370 species of flowering plants and around 420 different fungi it is one of the richest woods in Britain. The wood boasts over 700 years of recorded history and more ancient woodland indicator species than any known woodland. Yet only 40 years ago, it was almost lost forever. In 1970 nature conservation was still waking up to the ecological glory of ancient woodland and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust was in its infancy. Bradfield Woods was not alone - from 1945 to 1975 more ancient woodland disappeared through grubbing or replanting than in any thirty years since the Norman conquest - but the loss of Bradfield Woods proved a turning point for nature conservation. Almost half the ancient woodland was cleared for farmland, but as demolition of the wood was underway, the determination of local people finally secured a Tree Preservation Order and the bulldozers were finally halted.

After walking through the drifts of wild garlic the last couple of weeks, today, I could resist it no longer. Having been informed, that it's similar to spinach when cooked, and goes down to nothing, I ditched my poles and grabbed handfuls to fill my rucksack. Stir fried for supper tonight with lamb, the garlic flavour was surprisingly subtle. I am looking forward to trying wild garlic pesto:

120g/4oz wild garlic leaves, blanched 1 garlic clove, peeled and grated 20g/¾oz pine nuts, toasted 200ml/7fl oz olive oil ½ lemon, zest only 30g/1oz parmesan cheese, grated salt and pepper

Found in deciduous woodland (among the bluebells) wild garlic is best harvested in April or May before the flowers appear. The shape of the leaves are similar to some other inedible plants, so ensure identification by crushing some of the leaves in your hand and smelling the garlic.

Happy foraging…..

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