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Rambles through Reserves: Crow Wood and Meadow

Posted: Monday 22nd May 2017 by FrancesWeeks

An early morning visit to this beautiful reserve. I was told this was the favourite reserve of the volunteer work party so I had high expectations – and it didn’t disappoint…

I arrived (after a little difficulty locating the reserve – see below) well before most people were up and out and was rewarded with a sparklingly fresh, bright and sunny morning. I waded into the long, wet grass of the first field under the surprised stares of three young bullocks who were obviously not expecting company. This is old fashioned pasture rather than modern grazing, the lush grass dotted with humps of anthills and tussocks. Walking through it to meet some noisy sheep and their still small lambs at the far gate I was already drenched to the knee and squelching with each step so I’d recommend wellies for a visit at this time of year!

The field slopes up to the right, gathering trees as it goes, to become a patchy woodland at the summit. The bullocks are free to roam this area too which maintains it as wood pasture. This open woodland, or grassland-with-trees, was once a common feature of the medieval European landscape and in Britain it is closely associated with the practice of commoning with the trees sporadically coppiced, pollarded or very occasionally felled while livestock were kept on the grass and scrub. It is also argued that this is the ‘natural’ state of our landscape unaffected by man and is how our ancient wildwood would have looked. For further thoughts on this, Oliver Rackham’s Woodlands (2006, New Naturalists) is a good place to start.

I turned and walked up into the trees. And what trees! The sun had been climbing the far side of the hill and now spilt over to dramatically backlight a tremendous oak. Alongside many such oaks are small-leaved lime, wild service and, my favourite, field maple. Parts of the wood pasture are tangled with bramble and other vegetation. This, of course, adds to the diversity of habitat for wildlife but, for this visitor, makes you feel as if you are truly exploring the landscape rather than following a prescribed route. If there are paths around the reserve (and the assorted stiles, gates and bridges suggest there surely are) they were undetectable amongst the exuberant verdure.
On that note, I would suggest bringing a map of the reserve with you (or memorising the one by the entrance.) The reserve sits so comfortably within this undulating landscape and is so textured with hillocks, hollows, ditches, streams and gateways that I found it hard to get my bearings on this first visit (having, ahem, left the second of the two relevant pages of the Reserves Guide at home).

Scrambling back down through the branches, I crossed the pasture passed through a gate and came to a shallow ford across the Dolward Brook. This is a picture book stream; so pretty edged with a froth of cow parsley and burbling away obligingly. The track then opens out into the first meadow – Little Meadow. Now washed with sunshine, this was just glorious: a great sweep of wildflowers, a couple of weeks short of their first full flush, but still bursting with orchids and yellow rattle with red clover and bird’s foot trefoil weaving through below. Swallows swooped back and forth just above the flowers. I could have just stood and looked all day. 

The next meadow, Upper Slough, is the same again. I kept to the edge as this will be a hay crop (taking brief forays into its midst on tiptoe to photograph the orchids) and came to a small grove of trees on the southern tip – a shady spot with a perfect view. 

Another small stream divides Upper Slough from Slough Meadow. Theses streams through the reserve are tree lined, shady and secret, a sharp contrast to the expansive, sunny meadows they cross through. The tracks on the banks were too muddied to make out but I would like to spend an afternoon crouched down here to see what comes along. Also, I’d imagine, good for a paddle on a hot day. 

As I ambled back to the main entrance I was hit by the unmistakable scent of ramsons and discovered a whole patch along the stream by the gate. A final flourish from a fantastic reserve.

Do leave several hours to explore this reserve. I managed to stomp around it in about an hour but felt I had only really skimmed the surface. Add in a pair of bins, wildflower guide, cheese sandwich and bottle of ginger beer and I’d call it a day out.

Getting Here

Directions to the reserve can be found in our Reserves Guide (free to members of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust), the Reserve Leaflet (available from Lower House Farm and Queenswood Country Park) and on our website.

NB. The entrance to the reserve is not visible from the road. Look out for a gateway with a welcoming notice stating: “WARNING; STOP THAT THIEF; AREA ALARMED” with a footpath sign beside it. There is a layby on the opposite side of the road with parking for about three cars. As soon as you walk up to the gate you will see the reserve entrance.



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