Several of the 24 members who came on our visit to Shenley Wood had never been there before. Before the walk started, we held a minute’s silence in memory of Gordon Redford who knew this wood and brought so much knowledge about moths and enjoyment of wildlife to the Society, as well as his warmth and friendship.
This was not a typical time of year for a woodland visit because the glorious spring flowers had finished flowering. Mike LeRoy used the opportunity to give an introduction about the wood itself: its tree and shrub species, its history, its characteristics as Ancient Woodland, and how it had been managed or mis-managed down the centuries.
It was almost certainly part of the ‘well-wooded’ Shenley area described in the Domesday Book of 1086. The first written record of it was in 1599 as ‘Shenley Park’. After centuries of woodland management to produce underwood and timber, by the 1900s the Wood was in a poor state. In 1958 attempts were made to ‘coniferise’ it, but few of the new trees survived. The MK Development Corporation purchased the wood in in 1985 and began the long and effective process of restoring coppicing and thinning cycles, which were developed further after its transfer to The Parks Trust in 1992. This opened up the wood for public access and enjoyment while protecting its characteristic flora and other wildlife.
[Mike LeRoy’s very informative handout for the walk can be found here.]
By the time of our walk the Ancient Woodland Indicator flowers had finished flowering: the Violets, Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebell, Wood Anemone and Early-purple Orchid; with only the tall seed-heads of Bluebell still showing. But by late June, Common-spotted Orchid were scattered alongside the paths in their hundreds. Greater Butterfly Orchid had been seen a couple of weeks earlier but remained hidden. Common Figwort and Ragged Robin were found in a few locations as well as newly-merged Enchanter’s-nightshade more widely.
We followed the western woodland path to the foot of the wood, then circled the northern end through mature woodland next to the Swan’s Way long-distance Bridleway until we reached the lower of the four ‘mini-teardrop’ ponds (flood management drainage). The water in these was clean and had plenty of floating Pond-weed. Around the ponds the flower-rich grassland was striking and included plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and some Lady’s Bedstraw with bees making good use of them.
From the ponds we re-entered the woodland as far as the central glade, before winding our way back up the east side to the high point and the entrance gate.
Three butterfly species were seen: Essex Skipper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet.
Bird species and counts were (with thanks to Harry Appleyard): Goldfinch (2), Carrion Crow (2), Song Thrush (singing), Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch (5), Blackbird (singing), Blackcap (2 singing), Swift (6), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren (2), Jay, Bullfinch, Rook, Red Kite, Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Dunnock.