Birchley and New Close Woods and the Grove

Description of this historic site

Birchley Wood, New Close Wood and The Grove are managed woodlands. The woodland comprises: woodbanks, some dated; a possible early brickworks; and evidence of ancient coppicing. The woodland management may date back to the Medieval period or earlier.

Notes about this historic site

1 A complex of ancient coppice woods of 95 ha.

These woods appear to be recorded from at least the 12th century. They all seem to have been subject to common grazing rights; disputes generated unusually informative documentation. The woods were progressively enclosed for coppicing from the 14th century, as common grazing rights were restricted or abolished. By the 18th century, Birchley and New Close Woods were conventional coppice woods, although the Grove may have produced timber only. (In the 11 years 1769-1779 the Grove produced 24% of all timber from the Craven Estates in the area.) By the time of the decline in traditional coppice management in the mid-to-late 19th century, all the woods were probably coppice woods.

New Close Wood is almost entirely surrounded by a large, often sinuous, woodbank, around 8m in overall width. The Medieval documentation suggests that this was probably constructed in 1355/6, although it almost certainly replaced an earlier woodbank. Much of the periphery of Birchley Wood has a slightly smaller and flatter woodbank, although in part the boundary earthwork, if any, has been buried by modern ditching spoil. The documentation appears to show that this was constructed in 1500/1, specifically in order to make a coppice of the wood. The relationship of its earthworks to those of Birchley suggests that much of the outer woodbank of the Grove may also be of this date, although it has an inner, probably earlier, enclosure, roughly oval but damaged by later ditching. Much of the area of the Grove has a complex of pits and ditches which may be an early but undated brickworks. It is highly unusual to be able to date woodbanks and the evidence from these woods will allow tentative dating of the woodbanks of other woods in the area. More work is needed to establish a typography of woodbanks in Warwickshire.

The tree communities are more varied than those of many ancient woods in the area, partly because of the wide variation in soil types, from sand to clay. The dominant woodland type is hazel-pedunculate oak Corylus avellana-Quercus robur but there is an unusual type of alderwood Alnus glutinosa in the southern edge of New Close Wood and extensive ash-maple Fraxinus excelsior-Acer campestre wood in the Grove, with large maple stools associated with clay soils and the probable brickworkings. The highly significant ancient woodland species small-leaved lime Tilia cordata occurs in both New Close Wood and Birchley Wood. The largest stand of lime, in Birchley, of around 3 ha, is unusually abrupt and angular in shape, with notable re-entrants, compared with the shape of lime stands elsewhere (e.g. Piles Coppice (qv)). Given the known history of these woods and lime’s susceptibility to grazing, this may represent the shrinking remnant of limewood being progressively eaten away by stock but then left as a fossilised shape after effective enclosure had removed or limited the impact of grazing animals, protecting the lime from further destruction.

The woods have a rich ground flora, with many plants of ancient woodland, partly as a result of the varied soils; those on clay are especially rich.

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