After several days of rain, the weather gods relented momentarily, the evening sun warmed the damp air and in the shelter of the woods at least the wind was calm. Perfect for BCA’s members guided walk around Corbar.
As you leave the path to enter the woods there is a large sign to welcome you.
The welcome sign at the entrance to Corbar, with a picture of people enjoying the woods is important. The woods are not only home and a refuge to flora and fauna but a vital recreational resource for the people who live and visit Buxton. People need to use them respectfully of course but also to enjoy them and learn to love the different shades, shapes and sounds that come with the seasons.
Like many other woods in Buxton, Corbar is mainly a plantation wood, but there are traces of the ancient woodland that it once was.
Under the passionate and expert guidance of BCA Chair Peter Phillipson, we set off to look at a part of the wood that is clearly plantation. This involved a bit of scrabble up hill. And as we scrabbled. we passed a den built by children during the summer holidays, an activity that reaches back through the generations and is part of the woodland landscape.
Pausing to catch our breath and too look around, you could see the trees were regimented, growing in lines, beech trees, planted by the 6th Duke of Devonshire as a way of hiding the scars of quarrying and perhaps to balance the plantation at Grinlow, which served to hide the lime burning that had gone on for centuries on the hill above Poole’s Cavern.
Though not native to the Peak District, the Beech seems to do well, but its size and the spread of its canopy mean that there is little in the way of under storey, so the vital life giving, growth enhancing light struggles to make any head way through the dense foliage and branches.
The importance of light
Move a few metres to a space created where a beech tree has come down in a storm or been felled, then the difference is marked. Light floods in, photosynthesis works its thrilling chemistry and the once dormant soil awakes and fills the space with plants and mosses.
This is the way with woods.
They are living. They change with the seasons and with time. And the wood is connected. The tree roots spread and link with each other communicating by chemical signals and all the centuries of death and decay lies dormant in the soil waiting for a chance to spawn new life.
And just as important as light is dead wood. The tree that falls or is felled becomes a host for fungi, invertebrates, bacteria and plants. A vital source of food and habitats without which the wood cannot remain healthy.
Woodsmanship so different from Forestry.
For thousands of years man has understood this. The ancient woodlands so valued and prized for their biodiversity were once common to every village. The wood was managed to provide raw materials for the villagers but by using the natural processes and having a deep understanding of the ways of the wood that has been handed down through the generations.
In Corbar Peter showed us the remains of a ditch and bank constructed to keep grazing animals out, and explained the importance of coppicing. A beech tree that had died had been pollarded and become a source of food for woodpeckers feeding on the invertebrates that in turn feed off the dead wood.
Bluebells provide an historical clue
Corbar’s beautiful secret is the spring display of bluebells, further evidence of its long and ancient history and its symbiotic relationship with man. That it has long been established is evidenced by the extent of the bluebells. Bluebell seeds do not travel far, unless helped on their way by the agency of animals. They spread slowly, perhaps only a few inches per year. Their extent in Corbar marks out the age of the wood.
The walk ended at Corbar Cross. There we stopped for a few minutes and looked down on the town. The sun was setting and in the fading light the Georgian buildings glowed softly, but they were clasped in the gentle, green embrace of the woodlands, providing a beautiful natural setting for the wonderful architecture and heritage of Buxton.
Without the woods Buxton would be a different place. A lesser place, different and harsher. We should celebrate our natural as well as our built environment and Buxton Civic Association plays a vital role in both.