We had a chat a couple of weeks ago with the National Trust in Leigh Woods. Sadly, it wasn’t a social gathering – they wanted to explain to us the reasons for the no cycling signs in parts of Leigh Woods, and the tree felling that’s happened recently across some unofficial trails.
The National Trust owns and looks after the area south east of the Parish wall and some to the north west too. Essentially the green bits on this Google map:
Ever wondered why the National Trust only owns part of the wood? It’s because this bit is the older side of the woods – the rest of it was replanted in the 1930s as plantation by the Forestry Commission, who still manage that part. The National Trust’s goal is to preserve these ancient parts of Leigh Woods, which have been essentially unchanged for 100 years.
The iron age Stokeleigh Camp to the south east of the wall is one obvious site of historic interest, but there are other important features in the ancient woodland to the north west of the wall too. There are hundreds of veteran oak trees that the Trust have surveyed – some up to 500 years old. These oaks would have provided a lot of the wood used in Bristol’s old buildings, and Leigh Wood has many trees which have been pollarded to harvest timber.
This 400-ish year oak was cut back sometime in the past, and it’s quite possible that its branches are forming the beams of a hipster bar on King Street:
Apparently if you want to stunt a tree’s growth, or even kill it, there are two surefire methods. One is to salt the soil surrounding it, the other is to compact the soil. The soil in Leigh Woods is shallow, so the veteran oaks are even more vulnerable to soil compaction. So the Trust want to make sure that the trees don’t get damaged by users of the woods. And that includes us, hence the signs and felling.
So, if you’re wondering why some trails have been taken out of commission, it’s not because they hate mountain bikers – it’s because they want the trees to be around for another 500 years. There are other places where building and riding on challenging trails is happening with full approval, like 50 Acre Wood and Belmont, and if you help build at these spots, there’s much less chance your hard work will go to waste.