Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The (almost non-existant) Holderness ancient woods: a virtual tour (1)

This is an unusual post. I haven't been out today, or the last few days. It's been raining a lot. Frustration. I usually vent my frustration of not being able to be out and about with two things - my favourite computer games if you like- : Google Earth and Geograph. Virtually flying over satellite imagery of the earth is the best thing ever if you like looking at maps, and I can spend hours looking at maps. Enter Geograph, where you can see down to earth photos of most sites in the UK, for free, and I am hooked. So I put together this virtual tour of the few sites thought to hold the last remaining ancient in the Holderness peninsula according to English Nature:
"Holderness was at one time cloaked in forests. From the initial colonisation of birch as the glaciers retreated, to a high forest of oak some five thousand years ago, early human settlers would have been faced with an extensive wildwood..."
Unfortunately, the soil left behind after glaciations is extremely fertile and the plains of Holderness are prime agricultural land (you struggle to see pastures as well as forest). This means most ancient woods were felled to make room for agriculture. A few tiny jewels survive

Burton Bushes

A satellite view of Burton Bushes, courtesy of Google Earth
Burton Bushes is the last remnant (11 ha) of the old Beverley Westwood, nowadays a surviving common land usually grazed by cattle. The horizontal bar is equivalent to 100 m to give you an idea of its size. The following excerpt gives some information on the puzzle of why the wood is now pasture and the bushes is the only significant area remaining of the wood:
"Near Beverley stood, some years ago, an extensive range of thriving oak-wood, though not of large size, called "The West-Woods." These were held under the See of Durham, and regular falls were taken by the lessees, or the Bishop, at stated periods, by which means a perpetual succession was preserved; and while the timber and underwood remained in an uniform state, a regular income arose from them to the See. But these woods were, by some means or other, taken down a few years since, though not without having become an object of legal investigation; but whatever might have been the decision of the law, the law could not make the woods grow again, or the land revert to wood; consequently it is now cultivated, and some one has thus obtained the whole capital value of the wood, who had only a right to the annual income arising from it, and with it has obtained the annual income of the land into the bargain."
(From A general view of the agriculture of the East-Riding of Yorkshire By H.E. Strickland, 1812; scanned by Google Books)
Still today there is some ecological interest in this tiny fragment of ancient forest and the place is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest, see this for more info).
Blue Bells in April. Photo by Carolyn Metcalfe from Geograph.
A description of a walk around the Westwood, inlcuding Burton Bushes, can be found at the Walking the Riding website (under "Beverley Westwood Bounds).
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