NORTH BUCKS WAY & HAZELEY WOOD – Report of Site visit: Tues 14th May 2024

About twenty MKNHS members met on Tuesday evening 14th May at Oakhill next to  Hazeley Academy for exploration of a section of North Bucks Way and Hazeley Wood.


North Bucks Way is a long-distance walking route, 34 miles from Pulpit Hill on the Chilterns to the Great Ouse at Old Wolverton. It reaches MK from Whaddon and joins the Oakhill Lane section just south of Oxley Mead. From there it heads north to Calverton Lane, passing Hazeley Wood just south of Whitehouse.

Wildlife Corridors of Milton Keynes
In 1994 a report was published of a survey initiated by Milton Keynes Council, supported by: The Parks Trust, Buckinghamshire County Council, The New Towns Commission and English Nature: it was The Wildlife Corridors of Milton Keynes. This was the basis for an MK Council Planning policy for protection of the biodiversity of a designated network of wildlife corridors throughout the MK urban area. This remains in force in 2024. Wildlife Corridors in MK have the same status as designated Local Wildlife Sites. Unfortunately, when outline plans for Whitehouse were approved 20 years ago, the planning policies at that time did not stop development cutting across North Bucks Way. Until the last decade only one road crossed it, the Shenley Road to Whaddon. There are now five roads crossing it. The last of these to be constructed was a northwards extension of V2 Snelshall Street from Oakhill roundabout, by Hazeley Academy, across the North Bucks Way to join Barrosa Way; but this road was anticipated in the original 1970 Plan for Milton Keynes. North Bucks Way remains an important wildlife corridor, running from the south of MK for much of the way up its west side.

Hedges as nature reserves
Hedges ‘are our biggest nature reserve’ says Robert Wolton in a very readable new book published in March 2024: Hedges (British Wildlife Collection / Bloomsbury, 2024). In one 85-metre long farm hedge in Devon he found 2,070 species:125 plants, mosses & liverworts; 80 fungi and lichens; 50 vertebrate animals (amphibians, reptiles, birds & mammals);1,718 insects; and 97 other invertebrates.

North Bucks Way has substantial hedges on both sides for long sections of its route through MK, so it was interesting to find what wildlife could be heard and seen on a Tuesday evening. This route has added wildlife interest because much of it is beyond the western edge of MK’s housing and other development, until Whitehouse.

Wildlife of this section of North Bucks Way
Harry Appleyard kept ahead of the group to hear what birds were about. One that was particularly pleasing to hear was a Willow Warbler with its sweet descending song. On our return journey Harry saw a Tawny Owl take off from trees in the outer hedge, but most of the group missed this. There were field signs of mammal movement across North Bucks Way, possibly Badger or Fox, maybe Muntjac deer.

On the east side of the path several parts of the hedge were covered in webs containing numerous caterpillars. Janice Robertson instantly recognised the shrub they were on as Spindle Euonymus europaeus and that the caterpillars were of the Spindle Ermine micro-moth Yponomeuta cagnagella. Spindle is a relatively unobtrusive shrub except late in the year when its pink flowers with orange seeds are on show. Its slender, green and rectangular twigs are distinctive at any time but its oval-lanceolate leaves do not stand out. Spindle is a foodplant of other moths such as the: Magpie, Small Eggar, Ruby Tiger, and others, and of the Holly Blue butterfly (which also uses Holly and Ivy).

Spindle Ermine micro-moth caterpillars in their web
Yponomeuta cagnagella (Photo © Martin Ferns)

Evening is not the best time of day to see a full range of butterflies, but North Bucks Way has habitats of benefit to a good range of them and is one of the areas where Wood White Leptidea sinapis butterfly was last seen in MK. There are also likely to be a good range of beetles, bees and other invertebrates to be found here, including grasshoppers and bush-crickets along some sections.

There are plenty of other trees and shrubs within the hedgerows, but mainly smaller ones of: Field Maple, Silver Birch, Hazel, Hawthorn, Dogwood, Elder and Blackthorn. There were a few Oak and other larger trees such as diseased Ash. There were also groups of Elm, but climbing only to the height at which it succumbs to the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi or its relative Ophiostoma ulmi, which are spread by elm bark beetles, with the main vector the Large Elm Bark beetle Scolytus scolytus. There are some larger Elms elsewhere in Milton Keynes that have so far survived to grow tall, such as a group at the southern edge of Stanton Wood and a clump alongside the access roadway to Manor Farm, Old Wolverton. Elm is a foodplant for more than sixty Lepidoptera, mainly moths but including White-lettered Hairstreak Satyrium w-album.

Path-side flora was extensive but unexceptional and what we saw is in the North Bucks Way plant list here. There will be more to be found: we had limited time to linger and later in summer other flora will emerge.


On this evening visit we spent much time exploring North Bucks Way before we reached the new Hazeley Wood roundabout. Here, efforts have been made to provide for Great-crested Newt with new ponds and a connecting tunnel under the new road to sustain movement along North Bucks Way. But Pipistrelle bats, that had used the continuity of hedges along this route, now have too large a gap without hedgerows. The new roundabout stands on what was once the broadest grassland of Hazeley Wood, a good site for butterflies. Beyond, the rest of Hazeley Wood remains largely untouched except for newt barriers remaining for the time being. Much of the Wood has been less accessible during road construction and now seems much less visited.

Hazeley Wood is 33 years old. It was planted by Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1991 on a former arable field. The field had been permanent pasture, converted in the 1970s to growing wheat and barley. This had led to a poorer soil structure on this characteristically wet and slow-draining heavy neutral clay soil. In April 1992 The Parks Trust was formed and inherited responsibility for Hazeley Wood, with some of the staff who had been involved in planning and planting of Hazeley Wood.

Tree species planting and management
The woodland was planted in seven compartments, only two of which are large (a plan of the wood can be found here). Just three main tree species were planted. Half of these were Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur, the others were Hornbeam Carpinus betula and Silver Birch Betula pendula in equal proportions. Hornbeam was to be a ‘nurse’ tree that would reduce the formation of ‘epicormic’ side shoots on the Oaks, and as a sacrificial species to take most of the damage from Grey Squirrel – which was evident from the stripped bark of many Hornbeam and the good condition of the Oak. Since 1991 planned tree thinning has left most of the Oak, with numbers of Hornbeam reduced over time, others coppiced. Silver Birch is relatively short-lived; so tall straight Oaks are the main tree, ultimately as useable timber. The original plan was to carry out a 5-year thinning cycle of the trees, with the first thinning in 2007. The second thinning was delayed until around 2016, after which it will be on approximately a 10-year cycle.

Original woodland field layer flora
The original aim was to establish a woodland field layer of native shade-tolerant flora which would not otherwise reach there from surrounding areas. Seeding was done in 2000, but only in Compartment 1, the most northerly. The woodland seed-mix was of 11 wildflower species, only four of which were found a year later: Garlic Mustard Allaria petiolata, Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Upright Hedge Parsley Torilis japonica, which can still be seen there. The open rides and grassed areas were seeded with five species of wildflowers and seven grasses. It was expected that many other plants would arrive by natural colonisation, but native shrubs were planted along the south-east ride: Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Hazel Corylus avellana, Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus, Dogwood Cornus sanguinea, and Wild Privet Ligustrum vulgare.

Wildlife of Hazeley Wood
We strode up the pipeline ride between Compartments 3 and 2 to find a tall straight Silver Birch beside a gap leading to a muddy path through Compartment 2. Here we could see slender trees with squirrel-damaged Hornbeam and relatively straight Silver Birch, among which were numerous Pedunculate Oak. But other trees and shrubs not planted within the Wood had found their way there: Field Maple, Hazel and Ash, with some Bramble and Rose.

Dronefly Eristalis tenax (Photo©Julian Lambley)

We emerged from Compartment 2 onto the other main ride through the Wood that is divided by an old hedge that predates the creation of this Wood. This has a few substantial, older trees, mainly Pedunculate Oak and Ash, with thick stems of ancient Hawthorn between them. A few of us had a brief sighting of a deer quietly getting out of sight as we walked up this ride to the north-western edge of the Wood. Through the outer hedge we could see houses close by, in Whitehouse.

Wolf’s milk slime mould Lycogala epidendrum          Nursery web spider Pisaura Mirabilis
(Photo ©Julian Lambley)                                                 (Photo ©Julian Lambley)

Our route then took us right around Compartment 1 to the small car-park off H4 Dansteed Way. On our way we could see how dense the Wood had become at its edges, which is just as well because this Compartment is used as a training area by MK Field Archery Club. The vigorous shrubs and trees included a few cultivar species that seem to have found their own way there, including ornamental Cherry identified as Prunus serrula Tibetan Cherry tree. These woodland edges were overlooked by a substantial and magnificent old Quercus Robur in the outer hedgerow.

Botanical survey 2001
In 2001 The Parks Trust commissioned Dr Joanna Francis to carry out a Botanical Survey of all vascular plants in Hazeley Wood. This was to study flora including grasses that had naturally colonised the Wood and its grasslands, and to review establishment of the seeds that had been spread. The study found 144 vascular plants, which were: 4 tree species,18 shrubs, 90 forbs, 32 grasses, sedges & rushes. Of the 32 species originally introduced 26 had established in the open areas and only four in the woodland field layers, although Bluebell seedlings were found in more than half of the survey quadrants.

MKNHS Hazeley Wood Study Group (HWSG 1992-2015)
In 1992 The Parks Trust’s ecologist, Mike Street, invited MK Natural History Society to set up the Hazeley Wood Study Group (HWSG) to carry out surveys of this new woodland’s development, its flora and other wildlife. More than 30 MKNHS members got involved in these surveys in 1993, 1994 & 1995. The Society carried out a more substantial survey in 2006/7 and a report of this was published in 2008. Over 30 members contributed to 20 study groups, covering everything from flora to mosses and fungi; more than a dozen different orders of insects; birds, mammals & bats; and measurements of tree height and girth. Attempts were made to study changes over time. The 2006 survey found that substantial changes had taken place in the flora since 1993. Species that had arrived included Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Field Maple Acer campestre. Tree height and girth had grown considerably. A few of those on Tuesday’s visit had taken part in the 2006 surveys, as had Colin Docketty.

Further information about Hazeley Wood
The 2006 survey of Hazeley Wood by MKNHS is available on the MKNHS website here. This contains full information on survey methods, maps and lists and tables of species found, ranging from mosses and fungi to flora, birds, bats and other mammals, and a range of insects and other invertebrates.

Mike LeRoy

The Plant Species List for the walk can be found and downloaded here.