CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EDP Norfolk today CLICK HERE

The Great Wood at Blickling at it's best. Peter Battrick takes a look at its enchanting wildlife.

PUBLISHED: 15:48 04 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013

The Great Wood at Blickling at it's best. Peter Battrick takes a look at its enchanting wildlife.

The Great Wood at Blickling at it's best. Peter Battrick takes a look at its enchanting wildlife.

The Great Wood at Blickling is at its best, with sweeps of bluebells triumphantly heralding the imminent arrival of warmer weather. Peter Battrick takes a look at its enchanting wildlife.

A walk on the wild side



The Great Wood at Blickling is at its best, with sweeps of bluebells triumphantly heralding the imminent arrival of warmer weather. Peter Battrick takes a look at its enchanting wildlife.



April is one of those in between months. At its start there could be frost and a bitter-east wind; by the end we could be in the middle
of an early heatwave. Whatever the weather, though, April is a great time for wildlife, with the natural world at its very best. What better than to wake up early to a deafening dawn chorus as the birds make the most of the longer, lighter days, or to go exploring the glorious Norfolk countryside and discover nature at its most active and now is just the time.




Theres been a landed estate at Blickling, near Aylsham in north Norfolk, since the 14th century. Passed to the National Trust in 1939, the estate today covers a total of 4,777 acres (1,930 hectares), taking in 25 farms and a surprisingly wide variety of habitats, from ancient woodland, permanent pasture and the water meadows of the River Bure, to a disused railway line. The landscape looks as if its always been there but, in fact, it has changed constantly, depending on the fortunes and the fancies of its owners.




Great Wood has been a feature of the park at Blickling since its earliest medieval times, and its ancient boundaries survive as low banks in the undergrowth. Here, less than a mile west of the hall and car park, through sheep-grazed pasture and down apparently timeless tracks and footpaths, lies a wood to be savoured. Great Wood has changed little since the late 18th century, with its pedunculate of English oaks, groves of beech and ancient sweet chestnuts, as well as superb, veteran, small-leaved limes on the banks on the south-west of the wood.




In April and May the wood is at its unchallenged best, with dappled sunlight highlighting sweeps of bluebells in the beech groves, tens and hundreds of thousands of them, triumphantly heralding the imminent arrival of summer.




Beech became established in England 3,000 years ago. Today, it is the equal of the oak as the most common and best-loved of English woodland trees. In high summer, all is dark beneath a canopy of leaves that lets only threads of sunlight through, allowing little to grow beneath, but in spring it bursts forth a rich profusion of fine, silvery-green leaves, soft to the touch and with the texture of best quality silk.




In spring, too, in the sunlight streaming through the young leaves, bluebells and often anemones flourish and splash the woodland floor with colour.




Bluebells are perfectly adapted to cope with the shade created by the woodland canopy above. The first shoots emerge in January, giving them a valuable head start over other woodland plants. But the bluebell is becoming a casualty of climate change as temperatures become warmer, so other leaves open earlier and the bluebells head start becomes shorter.




Its also become a casualty of interbreeding. Larger, more vivid Spanish bluebells were introduced into British gardens in the 17th century, and these escaped into the wild in the last century. As a result around one third of wild bluebells is today either Spanish or a hybrid variety. The subtle violet-blue of the true English bluebell, with its strong, sweet scent, is becoming ever harder to find but you can be sure that these are what you can find in Great Wood at Blickling.




And finally, bluebells have become a victim of their own unique beauty. For 50 years unscrupulous individuals have dug up wild bluebells to sell for profit. Many woods have been denuded and habitats lost. At last, in 1998, uprooting native flowers was finally made illegal. So, you can buy bluebell bulbs, but please make sure that they come only from cultivated stock. And on your visit to Great Wood because go you must in order to protect this endangered but quite beautiful species, stick to footpaths and firmly resist any urge you may have to pick a bunch to take home.
One final note of caution folklore has it that fairies are summoned by the ringing of the bluebells and that any human hearing the flowers chime will not be long for this world but dont let that put you off!



Blickling Park, Aylsham, 12 miles north of Norwich, is open every day, dawn to dusk. For further information on all National Trust properties and events visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk



Join the National Trust


More than a million people visit National Trust pay-for-entry properties in the east of England every year, providing an invaluable contribution to the trusts work. You can become a member immediately during your visit to any National Trust property. If you have paid and then decide to join during your visit, your entry fee will be refunded. There is so much for you to enjoy, from grand country houses or landscaped parks to outstanding coastline and precious wildlife habitats, and your membership will help to protect them all. In addition, members receive a welcome pack with lots of useful information, the National Trust magazine (published three times a year), regional newsletters featuring details of local events and Trust Tracks, the supplement for families.


For further information on joining the National Trust, call 0870 458 4000 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/join

Most Read

Latest from the EDP Norfolk Magazine