Lea and Pagets Wood

Lea & Pagets Wood (Chris Harris)

Situated on the south-western slopes of the Woolhope Dome, Lea & Pagets Wood is arguably one of the finest ancient semi-natural, broad-leaved woodlands left in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Its ancient status is not in doubt, with the name Lea, meaning forest or wood, indicating possible pre-Anglo-Saxon origins and the woodland flora contains a large number of ancient woodland indicator species. Silurian limestone underlies much of the site and the associated soils are medium-heavy, calcareous, and free-draining. Quicklime was manufactured here in the 19th century and two lime kilns, possibly dating from 1833, are found near the reserve entrance. A well-marked track runs from the kilns to the disused limestone quarry in neighbouring Church Wood. In some areas the surface soils have become heavily leached and the base content is much reduced. The valley bottom in Pagets Wood is poorly drained and collects water run-off from the surrounding slopes. In earlier times the wood was much larger, with Pagets Wood extending down to the main B4224 road.

The wood has a complex structure, dominated partly by sessile oak and partly by ash, with other tree species mixed in, particularly wild cherry, yew, silver birch and wild service. The woodland understorey is mainly composed of hazel and field maple, together with some hawthorn, holly, crab-apple and spindle, and occasional coppiced wych elms. Near the wood boundaries both large and small-leaved limes occur. In some areas, particularly in Pagets Wood, coppiced sweet chestnut is abundant as a result of 19th century plantings. An area of alders occurs in the north-west section of the reserve, associated with the tufa-depositing stream running in the valley bottom of Pagets Wood. Large and spectacular drifts of bluebells make a fine show in springtime, mixed in with impressive numbers of ancient woodland indicators like wood anemone and early purple orchids. Many other interesting plants indicative of old woods add to the botanical diversity, including herb Paris, wild daffodil, sanicle, wild liquorice and greater butterfly orchid. In 2001 a single frond of the very scarce moonwort fern was found off the main track in Pagets Wood.

Lea & Pagets is also good for birds, with a small breeding population of pied flycatchers in nest-boxes, and a fine range of typical woodland species. These include all three woodpecker species (although lesser spotted woodpeckers have not been recorded for some years) and warblers such as blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff and the occasional wood warbler. Nuthatches, treecreepers, marsh tits, jays, buzzards, tawny owls and sparrowhawks are all frequently seen.

Apart from common species like green-veined white, orange tip, and speckled wood, Lea & Pagets is home to a number of less usual butterflies. Brimstones, white admirals and wood whites maintain small populations here, and this is a good place to see the spectacular silver-washed fritillary nectar-feeding on brambles.

The wood has an excellent mammal fauna, including a thriving population of dormice. Other small mammals present in some numbers are wood mouse, yellow-necked mouse, bank vole and common shrew. Foxes and badgers are also present, while groups of fallow deer are frequently seen. Brown long-eared, pipistrelle and noctule bats have been recorded in the bat boxes present in the reserve.

Recent surveys have revealed that Lea & Pagets is rich in other taxonomic groups too. Over 30 species of mollusc have been recorded, with a typical range of species inhabiting lime-rich woodland, while a recent fungus survey found 106 different species (including myxomycetes and lichens). In 2002 a survey of beetles present revealed a rich variety including four scarce species and the very rare Agathidium confusum.




View in Google Maps: Lea and Pagets Wood


Queenswood Country Park & Arboretum

Queenswood (Chris Harris)

Queenswood is the only designated Country Park in Herefordshire. It is home to a 67 acre tree collection (arboretum) with over 1,200 rare and exotic trees from all over the world and 103 acres of semi-natural ancient woodland which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

Queenswood Country Park is managed by the Herefordshire Council Countryside Service in partnership with the Queenswood Coronation Fund (registered charity No. 518624).

View in Google Maps: Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum


Herefordshire orchids

Early purple orchids (Chris Harris)

Orchids are one of the largest families of plants in the world, with around 25,000 different species recorded. Britain has over 50 species of wild orchids, of which around 18 occur in Herefordshire. Some are relatively common while others, such as lady’s slipper and ghost orchid, are extremely rare. All are protected by law.

One of the earliest orchids to appear is bird’s-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis, which flowers between April and July. The plant grows up to 25cm tall and produces a cluster of large brown flowers. The stem is often light brown or white and has no leaves. This unusual plant does not produce chlorophyll and so can not photosynthesise it’s own food. Instead, it is totally reliant on it’s relationship with soil fungi. All orchids rely to some extent on soil fungi for food, either as germinating seeds, seedlings or adult plants. The orchid roots and fungi form a relationship, called a orchid micorrhiza, which involves the fungi colonising the plant roots. This allows the orchid to derive some or, in the case of bird’s-nest orchid, all of its nutrients and energy from the fungi.

Also flowering between April and July is early purple orchid Orchis mascula. This plant is found in a wide variety of habitats, including open meadows and woodland. It produces a tall stem, sometimes 50-60cm, and a loose cluster of 6 to 20 flowers, ranging in colour from pink to purple. The lance-like leaves are grouped together at the base of the plant and are often mottled with purplish spots. The flower is pollinated by a range of bees and wasps, although it produces no nectar. The name mascula is derived from the Latin for ‘male’ and refers to the testicle-like shape of the tubers. In the Middle East and Turkey the tubers are ground to make a sweet nutritious flour called salep, widely used in drinks, cereals, bread-making and traditional medicines.

Green-winged orchid Anacamptis morio (April to June) can sometimes be confused with early purple orchid. It is distinguished by the parallel green veins on each side of the purple flower hood, from which it gets its name. This beautiful orchid grows almost exclusively in old, unimproved meadows and is seriously threatened by loss of habitat.

Greater butterfly orchid Plantanthera chlorantha flowers between May and July. The plant produces a pair of broad, shiny, rounded leaves at the base of the stem, which grows up to 25cm tall. The greenish-white flowers form a loose spike and have a vanilla scent, which is particularly strong at night. Unlike their more colourful cousins, butterfly orchids may be easily overlooked.

Also flowering in May is common twayblade Neottia ovata, a close relative of bird’s-nest orchid. This plant produces a pair of broad leaves close to the ground, hence it’s common name, and a tall stem (between 20-60cm). The flowers are lime green and vaguely humanoid in shape. Like the other less brightly coloured orchids, it can be difficult to spot, although it is relatively common and can occur in large numbers.

Appearing towards the end of May are the first flower-spikes of common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii (flowers May to August). This is the UK’s commonest orchid, found in a wide variety of habitats and quick to colonise new sites. The plant produces narrow spotted leaves at the base of the stem, which grows to 30cm tall. The flowers form a tight cluster and range in colour from white to pink with purple markings. A similar, closely related species, is heath spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata, which prefers more acidic soils, but is often found growing alongside common spotted orchid.

Flowering at around the same time is pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis (June to August). The plant produces narrow lance-like leaves at the base of the stem and grows up to 30cm, although occasionally taller. It produces a tight cluster of pink or purple flowers in a pyramidal shape. The flowers are specially adapted to be pollinated by butterflies and moths. Like the early purple orchid, the tubers of pyramidal orchids are ground to make a sweet flour. In England during the 17th and 18th centuries, before coffee became popular, the flour was used to make a sweet drink called saloop.

One of the most spectacular orchids, both for its size (up to 70cm tall) and striking purple flowers, is the southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa (mid June to late July). It is often found growing in marshes, fens and damp meadows – habitats that is sometimes shares with fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea and marsh helleborine Epipactis, both of which are rare in Herefordshire.

Orchids noted for their beauty and specialisation of form are those that mimic insects to encourage pollination. Of these fly orchid Ophyris insectifera is very rare in Herefordshire and being quite slender and growing in dappled shade is hard to spot. It is most likely on the limestone of the Doward and would be of great interest and should be reported if found. More likely to be seen and often turning up in new places is bee orchid Ophris apifera. As the name suggests, the plant has evolved to mimic bees, an example of sexual mimicry, although most plants in the UK are thought to be self-pollinating.

Herefordshire’s rarest orchid is the ghost orchid, which has only been sighted a handful of times since it was first recorded in Britain, in Herefordshire, in 1854. The last recorded sighting was in September 2009 but before that it hadn’t been seen since 1982. Finding this or even a fly orchid would ensure your name is long remembered in the record books.

Please remember: all native wild plants are protected by law and must not be picked or uprooted. Please leave them for others to enjoy.

By Chris Harris



Bluebells (Eden Tanner)

Spring brings the spectacle of carpets of bluebells throughout our native woodlands, something that is special to Britain and nowhere else. They have long been admired and people will travel miles to see them, indeed there were at least two “Bluebell Trains”, one of which still runs in East Sussex, which took townsfolk out into the countryside to view one of our natural wonders.

Though strongly associated with woods, our bluebells need two things to survive and thrive: humidity and continuity of habitat, both of which are supplied by woodlands. However, bluebells can also be found in hedgerows and bracken covered pastures indicating they are relics of woodlands lost. Most extraordinary though are bluebells at the Lizard which grow amongst rocks and boulders, only feet from the surf!

Bluebells can be found in a whole range of colours from deep violet blue through to pink or white, and they reproduce by seed or bulb offshoots. Though tolerant of picking, they are very susceptible to trampling and grazing as damage to their long strap-like leaves means they are unable to replenish their underground food store needed for next years growth.

Amongst the bluebells are two white companions in spring. Wood anemone is a nearly universal plant found throughout the UK except for the Shetlands and Orkney. An ancient woodland indicator species, the wood anemone rarely spreads by seeds which have a low fertility and viability, but spreads at a snail pace through root growth, as little as 6 foot in 100 years! Like the bluebell, when it is found in meadows and hedgerows it is referred to as a “woodland ghost”. And wood sorrel, perhaps one of our most delicate wild flowers with bright green shamrock-like leaves which have been used in green sauces, and so it used to be grown in kitchen gardens.

For all they are widespread and an ancient part of our native flora there is surprisingly little folklore about, or medicinal uses for, these three stalwarts. Bluebells were used as a diuretic, but they are somewhat toxic which led to their other common use: that of a glue in bookbinding as the toxic properties were found to discourage silverfish!

There are concerns for the future of bluebells, particularly in the light of predicted climate change. It may be that one of the perceived threats to bluebells, the spread and hybridisation of Spanish bluebells, may be the saving of our bluebell woods: vigorous hybrids maybe able to withstand warmer drier conditions that our natives would succumb to.

Another threat comes from the recent interest in “wildlife gardening” and the demand for native bluebell bulbs resulting in woodlands being stripped of bulbs both legally and illegally.



Mistletoe (C Harris)

Herefordshire is in the heart of mistletoe country, but it really only comes into its own in the winter when all the leaves have dropped from the trees that host them. They are so ubiquitous in the county that I swear they even grow on telegraph poles!


Dog Hill Wood

Situated in the heart of the town, accessed by a path just behind the Church in Ledbury, this is a mixed deciduous wood with mature oak, ash and yew, and is full of wood anemones, bluebells and primroses in spring.

Dog Hill Wood – Woodland Trust



Coneygree Wood

This is an ancient woodland site of 56 hectares, rich in plant and insect life. There is evidence of prehistoric occupation, such as neolithic flints implements and, in more recent times, the sites of a water-mill and lime-kiln.

With its public footpath to the north, linking Ledbury with Eastnor, a bridleway to the south which passes up The Bullen and crosses to Eastnor, and its easy access from the town, this wood is popular with residents and visitors.

A Naturalists’ Field Study in 2005 recorded 166 species of flowers along the edges of rides and in clearings, including primrose, cowslip, wood anemone, a range of violets, common spotted and early purple orchid and yellow figwort. Oak, ash, hazel, field maple, spindle and hornbeam are among 47 species of tree recorded.

Small-leaved lime and wild service trees indicate the woodland’s ancient origins. Bird life included the green and greater-spotted woodpeckers, tree-creeper and goldcrest among the 28 species found. There was a wealth of butterflies and moths, including holly and common blues, painted lady, marbled white and small copper butterflies. There are badger setts, and grey squirrels and Muntjak deer have left their traces.

View in Google Maps: Coneygree Wood



Ledbury Riverside Walk

The riverside meadows include a walk from the Hereford Road to the Ross Road. A stretch of the River Leadon, from Dickinson’s roundabout to just beyond the Little Marcle roundabout, was diverted during the construction of the by-pass. The northern stretch of the meadows is formally maintained, with mown grass, gravel paths and groups of planted shrubs. The southern stretch (affected by diversion of the river) is more natural, with long grass and a track beside the river.

The Naturalists Field Club surveyed the walk in 1999 to ascertain how well this riverside habitat had been colonised by wildlife. Because much of the riverside was new or disturbed, colonisation by wildlife was in its infancy, but nevertheless the diversity found included 154 species of flowers, 25 of trees (including 5 types of willow) 43 species of birds (including willow-warbler, common whitethroat, yellow- hammer, chiffchaff and other finches) and 18 types of butterfly.

View in Google Maps: Ledbury to The Riverside Park


Queen’s Wood, Dymock

Daffodils, Queenswood Dymock (Chris Harris)

An Ancient Woodland Site of 506 hectares (1214 acres) approximately half of this area is conifer, mainly Norway Spruce and Douglas Fir.

The remainder of the wood comprises broad-leaved trees, largely Oak and Beech.

The woods are noted for their show of spring flowers, in particular the Wild Daffodils.

The whole area is home to a variety of plants and animals, both common and rare. Particularly rich in fauna and flora are the Nature reserves within the woods, namely the SSSI and ASNW.

View in Google Maps: Queens Wood, Dymock


Ledbury Town Trail

The Town Trail runs from Ledbury Station in the north to the Ross Road in the south and follows the route of the former Gloucester to Ledbury canal and subsequent railway. It is much used by walkers and cyclists. From the station to Bridge Street, the track mainly follows the old railway track along a high embankment shaded by tall trees and well-drained. From Bridge Street southwards, the track is more sheltered, with a mix of habitats, including a deep cutting and planted woodland.

Ledbury Naturalists Field Club carried out a survey from March to October 1999 and found a rich variety of wildlife, including 183 species of flowers, 35 of trees, 35 of birds (including blackcap, goldcrest and chiffchaff) and 15 types of butterfly. The club found a much greater range of flowers than in a previous survey of 1965.