A leisurely walk in a local ancient wood is delightful in spring. The leaves are coming out, the warblers are back and singing and the woodland floor is carpeted with flowers. I used the term ancient wood very deliberately because carpets of woodland flowers are not usually found in plantations unless they are on the sites of ancient woods. Ancient woods are those that we know from historic documents and other evidence were already in existence by the year 1600. It was only after that date that, in this country, trees were planted to form woods.
Easily identified woodland flowers include bluebell, wood anemone, wood sorrel, sweet woodruff, yellow archangel, greater stitchwort and ramsons. They are not only wonders of nature but are also known as botanical indicators of ancient woods. They often spread vegetatively rather than by seed, and therefore cannot easily colonise new plantations that are not located next to ancient woods. And what many people do not realise is how many ancient woods there are in South Yorkshire. Studies carried out in the 1980s identified more than 350 ancient woodland sites across the county – and Sheffield is the best-wooded city in the country, with nearly 80 ancient woods.
So, the next fine day, take a walk in a local wood, take a wildflower identification book with you, and list the wildflowers carpeting the woodland floor.
Read on for one of the city's best bluebell walks: a meander through Moss Valley Woodlands Nature Reserve, courtesy of Sheffield Wildlife Trust...
1. Enter the field from the stile and follow the footpath down alongside the hedge. Look for trails left by foxes and badgers. At the bottom of the field is Newfield Spring Wood. Take the small bridge over the stream and take the left path into Bridle Road Wood.
2. Follow the path through Bridle Road Wood.
3. The path joins a crossroads of bridleways that meet at the top of Dowey Lumb, an area of grassland and the perfect spot for a picnic. The grassland has a high diversity of wildflowers including bluebell, betony, red campion and wood anemone. Sitting at the top of the slope you can smell the heavy garlic aroma of ramsons, found in abundance near the stream. You may spot butterflies flitting between flowers, buzzards soaring overhead or even hares racing through the grass.
4. Walk down the slope to the right and out of the Lumb into Long Wood, passing a large yew tree on your right. Follow the path along the stream, crossing the bridge into Owler Car Wood and continue along the path, at many points crossing stepping stones.
5. Cross back over the stream at the bridge and follow the path to the left leading to Coalpit Wood. In May the ground here is covered in bluebells as well as other flowers such as wood anemone. The adjacent fields are good places to see brown hare, especially in mating season. A circular path to the left will bring you to the stream at the bottom of the valley, passing a large old quarry.
6. Cross the stream and go over the stile, continuing up the slope. Follow the path to the right, back into Long Wood. Along this often muddy track are many large beech and oak, and lots of dead wood on the ground providing a habitat for many different types of fungi (though many are out only in autumn). Along the right-hand track are several charcoal platforms, a record of Moss Valley's working past. The woodland was once managed for coppice and standards, with many trees coppiced (cut at the base) so that they grew back multi-stemmed. The stems were harvested for fuel and building materials, while uncut trees (standards) were left to mature to provide larger timber.
7. When you reach the end of Long Wood you'll be back at the top of Dowey Lumb. You can either retrace your steps through Bridle Road Wood and back across the field or take a longer route by following the bridleway to the left, which will take you to the north end of Newfield Spring Wood alongside the stream. There's no circular route so retrace your steps to reach the path back across the field to Lightwood Lane.