Fineshade Wood is a mixture of ancient semi-natural woodland, more recent plantations that are "only" 400 or so years old and 20th-century conifer plantations, many of which have now been removed and are being allowed to regenerate under the Forestry Commission's Ancient Woodland Project. This variety of woodland is made up by a great variety of trees - some remarkable and some very beautiful at different times of the year.
During the course of one winter we published pictures and information of some of the beautiful and interesting trees that are found here - with a Tree of the Week feature. These are all below in the order in which they were published so that they also mark the passage of the seasons as leaves changed colour and fell.
All pictures on the left hand side of the page were taken in the week when they were published.
Important to see the wood from the trees...
... and also to see the trees from the wood
The veteran ash
What better tree to start with than the veteran ash tree alongside the small carpark at Top Lodge? This tree has an amazing girth of 7.4m and is hollow inside. It is estimated to be about 500 years old, so may have been a seedling during the reign of Henry VIII.
A few years ago some of the branches of this tree were thought to be unsafe and were removed - you can see a picture of the tree in the winter of 2008 on the right. But the tree is still very much alive and it has many new shoots after the rather dramatic surgery.
The Whirligig Ash
Re-discovered by Seán Karley in 2020, this is a remarkable example of fusion, where two parts of the same tree join together. It is possible that the last time this coppice stool was cut down, someone tied a young sapling into a circle and left it to grow.
Wild Service Tree
The Wild Service is one of our native deciduous trees but is fairly rare, occurring mainly in Ancient Woodlands and hedgerows on clay or limestone. There are many fine examples in Fineshade including the one shown on the left which stands in the open regenerating area to the northeast of the wildlife hide, where Forest Holidays planned six of their luxury cabins. Another specimen grows immediately in front of the wildlife hide itself and has a large bird box where Kestrels have nested in the past.
In spring, Wild Service Trees have white flowers in branched clusters, and by September these have changed into russet-brown, sometimes mottled, fruits which taste something like dates. Before the introduction of hops, the fruit were used to flavour beer.
The tree has long been known in northern Northamptonshire and north western Cambridgeshire in the old Rockingham Forest area. The early 19th century poet John Clare, who came from this neighbourhood, was familiar with the tree and called it by its local name of Surrey as well as Service Tree in his writing. It is reported that parish bounds in the Rockingham Forest area used to be beaten with branches of this tree, and the branches also used to be carried at the head of village processions. (Source: The distribution of the Wild Service Tree)
The Hawthorn is one of our native deciduous trees and is of great value to wildlife, supporting over 300 species of insects. It's also valuable for people as its wood is very hard and finely grained. This makes it prized by carpenters and wood turners and, because it burns at high temperatures it is a favourite for wood burners and charcoal makers.
There are actually two types of Hawthorn in Fineshade, Common and Midland; perhaps you recall George Batchelor's blog written last May,
"A thorn in Fineshade"?
In the last couple of weeks there has been a noticeable change in the look of the wood: it's suddenly not late summer any more, autumn has begun. You notice it even as you drive up the lane to Top Lodge - the hedgerow on the left has changed colour and it's the Hawthorns that are mainly ahead of the other trees in this respect. The white blossom of May has been transformed into berries now - a feast for the flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings that will arrive before long.
Many of the Hawthorns that grow beside the walking tracks in the woods are looking at their best now, with the leaves turning yellow and setting off the colour of the berries. The picture on the left shows a tree on the western boundary of Mill Wood, near part of the Jurassic Way.
As September ends there are more and more trees beginning to turn golden-yellow and most of the Field Maples have nearly caught up with the Hawthorn in this respect. One of the best walks to appreciate the orange-yellow of these trees at the moment is along the public bridleway leading to KIngs Cliffe - part of the Jurassic Way. There it is in stark contrast to the Oaks, Willows and other trees in the hedgerow that are still mainly dark green.
The Field Maple is our only native Maple and
the leaves tend to turn orange rather than red
as Maples in other parts of the world do. It is said that, like other Maples, its sap can be made into Maple syrup but we don't know of anyone who has done this.
Rowan (Mountain Ash)
Primarily a tree of the uplands, there are not many Rowans in Fineshade. The old specimen on the left stands in a field above Fineshade Abbey and was probably planted as a landscape feature in the parkland that once belonged to the abbey. The main part of the trunk has long gone and its position on the brow of a ridge means that is exposed to strong westerly winds.
Around Top Lodge there are several Rowans that were planted by the Commission more recently. Their white blossom in the spring
changes to bright scarlet berries in late summer. The one shown on the right stands alongside the village green so must be about 60 years old.
Some of the tallest trees in Fineshade Wood are Hybrid Poplars. Looking across to Fineshade from the west, for example, from the A43, the group of Poplars towering above Mill Wood are most evident. (Picture, right.)
These very vigorous trees were planted by the FC at the same time as many of the conifers. They are classed as hardwoods but in fact the wood is very soft and burns quickly - excellent for wood-burning stoves.There seem to be different varieties here: some, like those on the left, have changed to golden yellow, whereas others drop their leaves
while they are still green.
It is well worth listening for the sound made by the dry leaves as they are moved by the light wind on a fine autumn day.
The Whitebeam is a native of southern England though it is not common in the wild. However, it is widely planted as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens. Several were planted by the Forestry Commission at Top Lodge, probably in the 1950s when they built the houses around the green for their forest workers.
These 60-year-old trees are really looking good with their deep russety-red leaves. They were also attractive back in May when they were covered in white flowers. Because Whitebeams are native trees, they are very attractive to insects - both the flowers and the leaves as a foodsource for several varieties of moths.
The name may be due to the fact that the undersides of the leaves are white, the ‘whiteness’ being due to a dense layer of hairs.
There are very many Oaks in Fineshade and only in the last week have they begun to change colour. A recent BBC programme about this most loved of native English trees showed that a single mature oak tree can have as many as 700,000 leaves and is home to more wildlife than any other tree species.
There are many mature oaks on the proposed Forest Holidays development site and 39 were marked for removal in their last application. The picture on the left shows one such on the
edge of Peter's Nook where there were to be cabins, a maintenance area and staff quarters. The picture on the right (taken in April) shows one in what was described as a grassland area.
The Beech is one of the most colourful trees in autumn with its previously dark green leaves changing slowly through yellow and orange to russet-brown. The tree on the left was another of those planted around the green by enlightened foresters in the 1950s. There are many others in the wood, for example near the tree house.
This is another of our native British trees and so is particularly good for the wildlife that evolved with the tree and so depend on it.
The seeds/fruits of this tree are known as beechmast and can form a thick layer under the tree in winter, feeding small mammals and birds of all sorts.
There are very few conker trees in Fineshade but the one shown on the left stands in the fields above Fineshade Abbey alongside the Jurassic Way long-distance path. Horse Chestnuts are one of the first trees to change colour in the autumn and the leaves of this tree have long gone, revealing its fine shape. There are still a few small conkers hanging on and next year's buds are already swelling and sticky - a promise of things to come.
There is another small chestnut in the middle of the caravan site and this still has many of
its leaves perhaps because of its far more sheltered position.
Horse Chestnuts were introduced into Britain from the Balkans in the 1600s.
Unlike most conifers the European Larch is not an evergreen. In autumn its needles turn golden before they are shed.
There are a few larches throughout Fineshade and they are most noticeable at this time of year. The ones shown on the left can be seen from the public footpath through Britain Sale on the SW side of the disused railway line. Some of the most obvious ones are within the conifer block on the N side of Mill Wood (Picture right taken from Top Lodge.)
Larch was introduced to Britain from central EUrope in the early 17th century. It is fairly fast growing and its long-lasting timber is very good for fencing and furniture making.
This must be one of the most common trees in Fineshade and, even when the leaves are gone, its attractive bark brightens up the woodland. Birch grows very quickly and it colonises any space in the wood. The area shown in the picture on the left was cleared of conifer about 12 years ago. It is another of our native trees and provides food and habitat for more than 300 insect species.
As it matures the tree sheds its white bark in layers like tissue paper, becoming black and rugged at the base of the trunk.
There are some very mature birches between the disused railway line and the bridleway to Kings Cliffe. (Photo right)
These are probably just 50 years old.
This small native tree is easily overlooked for most of the year but its vivid pink fruits with orange pips are retained into the winter,
brightening up the hedgerows even when most of the pink leaves have gone. But beware - it is said that the attractive fruit is toxic to humans.
There are very few in Fineshade, the one on the left is along the bridleway from Duddington to Kings Cliffe and the one on the right is in the hedgeline just south of Top Lodge. The hard
light-coloured wood from the spindle tree has been used to make spindles for spinning wool by hand, as well as other long thin objects such as tooth-picks, skewers, pegs and knitting needles.
Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn tree and these purple-black fruits are still on the trees after the very mild November. However, they are beginning to soften and shrivel now, making them palatable for the Scandinavian Blackbirds that have flocked into the wood recently.
Not only does the fruit outlast the leaves but this tree's flowers also precede them - it is the first hedgerow tree to flower in spring. The twigs of Blackthorn are black and spiny with leaf buds along the spines.
Since this is a native tree many insects, particularly moths and butterflies, have adapted to exploit it. Also the early flowers provide valuable nectar for bees at a difficult time of the year.
Hazel in its coppiced form clearly played an important part in Fineshade's history - parts of the southern part of the wood were known as Far and Near Hazelwood. There are significant coppice stools throughout the wood, like the one on the left which stands where Forest Holidays proposed to build their sewage plant.
During mild autumns many Hazels begin to develop the male catkins. Tiny female flowers will emerge to be fertilised in spring, forming the hazelnuts beloved by Dormice and other small mammals and birds.
The leaves of the Hazel are also an important food source for caterpillars and the coppiced stools provide good cover for birds such as nightingale and warblers.
The traditional Christmas Tree, Norway Spruce may have been native to Britain before the last ice-age and was reintroduced in the 16th century. Its use as a Christmas tree is said to date back to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German husband.
In Fineshade it was planted as a nurse crop for oaks in the 1970s and these spruce trees have been mainly cleared now. However, some mature trees remain such as the one shown on the left which is beside the track below the Tree House. Elsewhere, there are small self-sown trees like the one on the right which
would be ideal for bringing into the house for decoration.
However, it is many years since the FC sold Christmas trees at Top Lodge, Fineshade.
Another of the trees planted 60 years ago around the green at Top Lodge is a very fine Walnut. Each year the flowers change into beautiful looking round walnuts, and each year they are harvested by Fineshade residents - the grey squirrels. They always get to the fruits before they are ripe enough for human competitors to pick the nuts for storage and use during the winter. Some people have tried making pickled walnuts from the unripe fruit - but these are very much an acquired taste, and jars of the black wizened fruit tend to remain hidden for years in the corners of dark cupboards.
However, this particular Walnut tree is said to be
one of Tolkien's Ents (see picture right). It is good to know that there may be tree shepherds here helping to protect Fineshade's forest.
There are three very old willows in the caravan site at Top Lodge which have clearly been pollarded many times. All three trees have large spaces within their trunks - ideal protection for owls and other wildlife. In the past Tawny Owls have used the holes regularly, particularly during the quiet winter months when the site is closed.
There are many types of willow and they are difficult to tell apart. These have long pointed leaves so they may be White or Crack Willow. Elsewhere in the wood there are very many
Goat Willows, one of the first trees to appear when areas of woodland are cleared.
Probably the most attractive conifer in Fineshade is the the Scots PIne. Even in winter its trunk reflects the sun with an orange glow, which contrasts with the dark ever-green leaves and (occasionally!) blue skies. It is one of our three native conifers and there are examples that are over 300 years old in the Caledonian Forests of Scotland.
The Scots PInes just beyond the forest gate to the south of Top Lodge are great favourites with visitors and residents alike and were planted there (with Norway Spruce) in 1931, so are 86 years old.
As a native to the UK it is very good for wildlife, including lichens, insects and birds. In the late 1980s a pair of Crossbills nested very publicly(!) in one of the Scots Pines at Top Lodge.
The trees pictured here are in the area known as Hither Miers close to Kings Cliffe. Under the
mature specimens there are many youngsters
regenerating as shown right.
Another of Fineshade's conifers, Western Hemlock is not related at all to the poisonous plant that was supposed to have caused Socrates' death. Apparently it is the similar smell of the two plants' foilage that was responsible for the name. The tree is a native of the western United States and has been planted in UK plantations since Victorian times. Much of Westhay Wood (south Fineshade) was covered in Western Hemlock and other conifers until the early 1990s when the FC's excellent Ancient Woodland Project began.
Yet another conifer, there are very obvious Lawson's Cypress trees in Mill Wood - they can be seen to the right as you come up the single-track lane to Top Lodge. The photo here shows how they form a dark green curtain to the edge of the wood.
Up close they are easy to identify since they have flat, fern-like foliage with scales rather than needles. When their cones are present, they are much smaller than those of other conifers - only a centimetre or so wide.
A native of California, they are of little wildlife value except for providing shelter for birds. They have often been used for hedging and as an ornamental tree in city parks.
Alder is another of our native trees and thrives in wet places. Some of the best specimens in Fineshade are found along the brook that runs north along the western boundary of the wood. The trees on the left are beside the footpath from Fineshade Abbey to Blatherwycke.
In early spring pink catkins form and this year they are already beginning to open. The tiny cones are said to be very attractive to small birds such as Redpolls and Siskins, and sure enough, when the picture on the left was taken there were eight very tame Siskins feeding.
Elsewhere in Fineshade there are young
plantations of Alder and Oaks and, beside the brook in Dales Wood, an area of coppiced Alder (picture right).
Corsican Pine used to be the Forestry Commission's conifer of choice for lowland plantations in England. However, that has changed since they realised that mature trees are very susceptible to Red Band Needle Blight. There are still several blocks of this non-native species in Fineshade Wood, which were planted in the early 70's. Formerly there were pines around the main carpark at Top Lodge (see photo left). Elsewhere there are much less attractive plantations such as that shown on the right.
There's an ugly block inside the area that Forest Holidays wanted to develop. Corsican Pine is normally felled at an age of 55-65 years so like those around the carpark they will also be removed before long.
Cathedral Tree - Beech
This veteran Beech has stood for hundreds of years on the eastern edge of Fineshade Wood and is called the Cathedral Tree by some Fineshade folk. However, it is much closer to the village of KIng's Cliffe. There it is known simply as "The Beech Tree" but it seems to have special significance and one hears tell of solstice celebrations and of marriage rites being conducted under its arching branches.
Walking under the tree in summer you enter a huge vaulted green space that seems very special indeed.
The tree is entered in the national Ancient Tree Inventory as having a girth of 6.25m. which means that it is probably over 300 years old. It's time to measure the girth again though!
The images right and below show the tree after the first stage of its new management programme in January 2019. By comparing with the images above you can see that some of the crowded upper branches have been carefully removed.