The fringes of an ancient English forest

Harewood’s fringe and Longparish in summer – a photo tour

David Beeson

Dormouse hedge and hare’s domain on the edge of the woodland

The woodlands that now form Harewood Forest once spread far and wide. They joined south to the New Forest, west to Great Selwood and north-east to join The Windsor Forest and east to The Wield. So, there’s not much left! Not much I can do about that.

Where the slopes are easily ploughed the woodland was removed before the 19th century and now yields cereal crops with the help of tonnes of fertilizer. One small area has been left unploughed and unfertilized and even the native grasses struggle to grow. Small zones are planted with sweetcorn to support factory-bred pheasants and the occasional partridge.

Grassy field, but no signs of badgers. The adjacent deep 1870s railway cutting, now unused, is a different wildlife environment that sprouts ash trees rather than oaks.

Where grassy fields do exist a few cattle and sheep can be seen. Here our local brown hares can be spotted and, in the past, rabbits. Rabbits can still be seen, but viral diseases have almost eliminated them. Badgers should be feeding on earthworms in these fields, yet all the very local setts have mysteriously died out. Bader setts remain active elsewhere … it just seems very local. Badgers are, of course, protected mammals.

Stone and flint church. Ancient grave stones support lichens and mosses.

The road fringes are often composed of hazel and other shrubby species and these have dormice living amongst them. Mice, voles and shrews mostly inhabit the lower shrub environment but will seek food at higher levels. These woodland / grassland interactions are rich habitats for small mammals and slow worms are also encountered.

Where the chalk gives way to the river deposits close to Longparish the flora changes. Willows and their allies take over from sloe, vibernums and hazel. Now rushes and yellow flag iris dominate the open areas. This is harvest mouse land for the taller non-woody vegetation provides spots for nests and mechanical herbage cutting is difficult. Elsewhere they only occur in the thicker, ungrazed grassy areas.

Upper Mill (left) and the overflow from the mill’s water supply

This is where it is still possible to see a grass snake … better named water snake.

It is now unusual to spot pollarded willows

Cress beds are found along the chalk streams. Some are going out of use – as is the one below.

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