Practical conservation heroes at Pepper Wood
Just a short distance away from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, Pepper Wood is a much-loved community woodland, enjoyed by a number of visitors from all walks of life.
The Pepper Wood Woodland Working Group (WWG), also known as the Pepper Wood Community Group are based there and they are integral to the successful management of the wood. Group leader Hugh Jenkins coordinates the group and works closely with Site Manager Jane Ward to plan practical conservation sessions. The WWG meet twice weekly, and tirelessly carry out practical conservation work, including maintenance of the path network and car park and various woodland management activities. Rotational coppicing carried out by the group has produced a variety of woodland products such as bean poles, pea sticks, firewood and stakes.
Volunteers have been heavily involved in the management of the site for over three decades, ever since the Woodland Trust took over the wood in 1981 and reintroduced coppicing. The coppicing activity carried out by the volunteers has had a hugely positive impact on site, improving the biodiversity of the wood and aiding the site in becoming a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1990. The wood is home to an abundance of wildlife, including a total of 170 vascular plants, including some rarities, such as the broad–leaved and violet hellborine. Other notable wildlife species include the wild service tree, herb paris, the white admiral butterfly and the rare ground caddis fly.
As well as having a hugely positive impact on wildlife species found at the wood, the volunteers have had a hugely positive impact on the people visiting the wood, warmly welcoming visitors of all ages and from all backgrounds. Schools from the local community often visit the woods to take part in activities and many children have benefitted through participation. It is hoped that following a visit to a woodland, visitors would feel an increased appreciation of the natural world, which hopefully will lead to a sense of ownership and consideration in the future. Sadly these activities have had to be put on hold in light of the COVID pandemic, but fingers crossed we’ll get back to these activities in the future.
Pepper Wood certainly has a rich and interesting history! Dating back to the 1200’s, Pepper Wood (once known as Pyperode) is a remnant of the ancient Feckenham Forest, Worcestershire. The industrial revolution saw timber extraction from Pepper Wood and other woodlands across the area, the main source of charcoal for the 20,000 or so iron foundries in the area. In the 19th century, wood from Pepper also supported the production of scythes, leading to Belbroughton becoming the world’s largest manufacturer of the tool. The site completely changed during the First World War as it was clear-felled, and then again following the Second World War in 1948. This means that on site there is a limited number of mature trees that are over 80 years or more. Between the end of the Second World War and the early 80’s there was little management on site until the reintroduction of coppicing and the launch of the volunteer group, reigniting a tradition that dates back centuries.
Through their presence on site our Pepper Wood volunteers continue to play a huge part in the management of the site. Jane Ward, Site Manager for Pepper Wood said: “Thank you so much to the dedicated volunteers of Pepper Wood and for making the impossible possible!”
Amanda Brookes (VDO for Central England)
Walking in the woods and sign image by Mark Zytynski