It’s almost eight years since the last crop of barley was harvested from a ten-hectare arable near Riccall that forms part of the Escrick Park Estate. Since then, Three Hagges Woodmeadow, as it is now known, has become one of the most important wildlife habitats in the Howdenshire area. But what, you may ask, is a wood-meadow and why is it so important? Lucy Oates visited the site with Rosalind Forbes Adam, whose family have owned the land for the last 350 years, to find out more:
Wood-meadows were widespread throughout Europe prior to and during the medieval period, but this unique ecosystem has largely disappeared. With so few forested areas left in England today, it’s easy to forget that ancient wildwood was the natural landscape across much of the country from the time of the last Ice Age and we were, in fact, a forest people. Although the ancient wildwood was vast, there were spaces within the canopy and it was the combination of light, dark and shade found at the forest’s edge that created the all-important wood-meadow habitat. Woodsmen, who cyclically cleared small areas of the forest for fuel, were key to preserving this unique ecosystem and it’s no coincidence that the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly was once known as the ‘Woodsman’s Friend’.
Rosalind Forbes Adam, who is a trustee of the Wood Meadow Trust that was set up in 2015 to manage Three Hagges Woodmeadow, explained: “We had two key objectives when making the wood-meadow; we wanted to create and manage the site for the benefit of nature and the recovery of biodiversity, but we also wanted to use it for education.”
In 2015, Bodgers’ Den – a traditional shelter made of materials found in the woodland – was created to provide a base for school visits and volunteer events. ‘Spotter sheets’ can be downloaded from the website (www.woodmeadowtrust.org.uk) to enable visitors to the site to identify and tick off the different plants and wildlife species found there as they see them.
Ros continued: “We’re very lucky to have a fantastic team of people, many of them volunteers, who monitor and record the butterflies, mammals, snakes, bats, moths and the botany we have here. We believe in open data, which means sharing the information we gather with anyone who is interested.
“On average, each new plant species will bring four of five different species of wildlife to the site, but for some plants that’s as many as 150!”
After the barley was harvested during the summer of 2012, 10,000 native trees and shrubs were planted. A unique, native seed mix gathered from the flood meadows of the nearby Derwent Ings was sown and the Hebridean sheep that graze the land for several months of the year helped to ‘tread’ this in. Paths are mown through the woodland to create grassy ‘rides’; areas of open space where a wide variety of wildlife and plantlife thrives. The site includes areas of both wet and dry meadow, as well as a pond frequented by dragonflies and damselflies, and a bee hotel.
Nick Hall of Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire is one of the many volunteers who works closely with Rosalind to monitor the species visiting Three Hagges Woodmeadow.
He explained it’s significance: “It’s one of the best places to see butterflies in Yorkshire because so much life happens on the edge of woodland.
“Every county should have wood-meadows to bring people closer to nature. They really help people to connect with butterflies and make them relevant.”
Nick describes the site as ‘a dream in July’, when it’s ‘a blaze of flowers and buzz of insects’, adding: “We’ve recorded 24 different butterfly species there, including Brimstones, which are ‘harbingers of spring’ and are said to have put the ‘butter’ into the word butterfly because of their pale yellow colour. You can also see Meadow Browns, Common Blues, Small Coppers and Marbled Whites.”
- Three Hagges Wood Meadow is open to the public, free of charge, all year round. For more information or to download the ‘spotter sheets’, visit www.woodmeadowtrust.org.uk.
What’s in a name?
Three Hagges Woodmeadow takes its unusual name from the old Norse word for an area of woodland that has been ear-marked for cutting, or coppicing. Maps of the Escrick Park Estate dating back to 1600 show a number of plots with names based on different variations on the word, including Rickall Hagge, Child Haggs and Helm Hag, which are a legacy of the Vikings who famously settled in this part of Yorkshire. Rather fittingly, the term ‘hag’ or ‘hagi’ can also be used to refer to a pasture or enclosure. Although the modern definition of the word ‘hag’ has less pleasant connotations, it’s thought to be a corruption of the original word for soothsayer, a term once applied to the wise women of a village. The name Three Hagges Woodmeadow is, therefore, also a nod to the three wise women who first set out to create it.