Perhaps you remember when spring brought forth carpets of anemones on sun-dappled woodland floors studded with violets and primroses? Or golden summers when kicking through meadows flushed into flight brimstones, holly blues, meadow browns and grasshoppers? Or when warm turf banks were speckled with creeping thyme or wild marjoram humming with bumble bees accompanied by the soporific turrr-turrr of the turtle dove, or the liquid warble of a tumbling skylark?
It was not a dream. To quote the ecologist Margaret Pilkington:
Those of us with a country upbringing who can remember back to the middle of the last century
know how impoverished our countryside has become in comparison with that of our childhood.
It has all happened in the last 60 years.
According to the State of Nature Report 2013, the losses in biodiversity during the past century include the disappearance of almost 97% of flower rich meadows, a drastic loss in hedgerows, and at least 90% of coppice woodland between 1900 and 1970. Despite an increase of 7% in the area of broadleaved woodland in the UK since 1990, the diversity of woodland flowers has declined by almost 20%.
In all, about one third of our native plants are of conservation concern: of 3,000 other species for which quantitative assessment is available, 60% are in decline.
We believe that the successful creation of woodland demands far more than the simple mass planting of trees. In planting new Hagge Woods, we want to raise the bar for both beauty and biodiversity, and restore joy and wonder to our woodland ecosystems. This will include that essential element of the woodland tapestry, a diverse ground flora that is typically found within ancient and semi-natural British woodland, and in the more open field layer that lies in glades and rides between stands of trees.
The glades will be sown with lowland meadow flora, to replicate the floodplain meadows that once were so much a part of the rural heritage on the fertile Ouse-Derwent floodplain. Our carefully balanced and site-specific meadow mixes are of high botanical conservation value and the plants there will form the base of the ecological pyramid that is the feeding and breeding locus for an incredible diversity of insects and other invertebrates, birds and mammals.
We do not wish to focus on single species conservation, but on the ecosystem as a whole. We want to ensure that every new Hagge wood also includes grassland merging into a graduated woodland edge (a close equivalent to lost hedgerows) with flowering and fruiting shrubs and small trees, ranging through to a high canopy of forest trees. With sympathetic management, this will produce the structural diversity that provides a haven for a wide range of wildlife, buzzing with insects, alive with birdsong and replete with the wild flowers and grasses they all ultimately depend on. Careful management will allow later enhancement with flora that are typical of ancient woodlands.