December 2019

A new footpath.

December 2019

David Beeson

A ‘new’ footpath / bridal way is (hopefully) about to be opened between Pisa Cottage* on the B3400 and the Middleway. It will link up with two other paths to permit longer walking routes without the need to walk along roadways.

Early April

‘New’ is hardly accurate as it was shut off by the Middleton Park Estate and it has taken years for HCC to have it re-opened / officially opened. Regardless, it is good news as the route follows the Saxon boundary to the woodland along much of its length and allows a touch more access to this block of woodland**.

Harewood was a Saxon hunting forest and between the closed forest and land to the north are the remnants of two banks and a ditch – supposedly the edge of Forest Law.

From Pisa Cottage you will need to turn right by the first big oak – hopefully soon signed.

This is area is relic hazel coppice with scattered oaks and ash trees forming the canopy. Silver birches, that probably came in during the last coppicing, are at the end of their lives … suggesting that last coppice work was in the period immediately before World War 2.

The fungus has weakened and now killed this birch.
With weaker wood woodpeckers can start nest holes.

In summer you’ll see purple hairstreaks, white admiral, silver-washed fritillaries and possibly a purple emperor butterfly … but now the egg or pupal stages are hidden from view.

One should suspect dormice to inhabit the area (they are in the wood across the road – Harewood Peak and along the Middleway), however I have never seen signs of opened nuts, nests or in a dormouse box I had in my garden (abuts forest) for many years. If the mouse does occur here it would be in a low density. Other mice do inhabit this patch – wood mice and yellow-necked mice. Grey squirrels dominate the canopy. Common shrews are present.

In spring dog’s mercury, primroses, wood anemone and wood sorrel cover the woodland floor, and you’ll encounter a good patch of flowering bluebells before the tree’s leaves cut off most sunlight. Beyond May the ground layer is sparse, with only sick-looking dog’s mercury and an occasional fern coping with the conditions.

Dog’s mercury

The soil here is clay, with the chalk layer well below the surface – so, the footpath can become soggy in winter. Elsewhere in Harewood there were excavations of the clay for brick making and near this pathway are two pits that could be of a similar origin … or something rather more explosive! For you may spot the base of a WW2 hut (the rest resides in a local garden) – Harewood being used to store bombs for the D-Day Landings. Did some explode?

In December the soil’s surface is coated in leaves. This is a bonanza for the organisms that inhabit the soil layer. Even dead leaves are energy and nutrient rich and provide a living for fungi, slime moulds, bacteria and hundreds of different miniscule animals. Detritivores (organisms living off decaying materials) are everywhere … even in December. Peel away a section of decaying bark and see the different woodlice, centipedes, millipedes and fungal mycelia.

Forest and parish boundaries (this is also a parish boundary) have sometimes been marked with different trees – here you’ll spot a large yew, elsewhere there are centenarian beeches.

In April the deer are shedding their long winter fur coat and you’ll find the hairs.

Fallow deer are naturally creatures of open woodland with wide and sunny glades. Harewood’s woodlands are fringe habitat for them. Roe also find slim picking over winter and move into the surrounding fields to feed especially at dusk and dawn. Dawn and dusk are the best times to observe deer for they frequently take little notice of quiet humans and approaching them is easy. A female muntjac has this walkway as her prime territory and she can frequently be heard barking day or night.

Moles occur in woodland but, with their tunnels undisturbed, surface runs like this one are hard to discover.

With the local demise of the rabbit, your chance of seeing a stoat has been greatly reduced – but stoats are still around in lower numbers. Not so the hedgehog or the fox. The latter are ‘controlled’ by the gamekeepers to maintain the huge numbers of non-native pheasants for shooting. (Pheasant breeding is banned in The Netherlands due to its negative effects on the environment.)

Wood anemone

Badgers are now seemingly absent (camera data from my garden) from this block of woodland despite them occurring to the south of the A303. (Some thirty years ago a previous keeper showed me several active setts in this northern part of Harewood.) Let us hope that badgers re-colonise.

At dusk the resident tawny owls can be vocal*** in December. Now is the critical period to build up their bodies ready for their early breeding season, so keeping their territory secure is vital. In February tawny owls (and buzzards) fish my pond for frogs, pulling them out as if they were ospreys.

The footpath comes out to The Middleway and there is an almost opposite path that leads along a potentially very muddy path westwards along the edge of the forest. By turning left one can pick up the footpath leading to The Monument.

  • * Near Harewood Peak.
  • ** But, the path westwards from The Middleway, which used to go through the woodland and past some amazing trees, has been re-routed onto a horrid new route. That is not good news.
  • *** Ecologists can map tawny territories by plotting the vocal battles between birds. The classic study was carried out in Wytham Woods near Oxford.

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