Located in the gorge of the River Wye on the boundary between England and Wales, Lady Park Wood is part of the Highmeadow Woods within the Forest of Dean. Formerly a coppice wood yielding charcoal for the iron industry, the 36-hectare wood has been completely unmanaged since 1944 and is designated as a National Nature Reserve overseen by the Forestry Commission, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. Some parts of the wood have remained untouched by people since 1870. In 1983, an 8-hectare compartment was added adjacent to the reserve and managed as a mixture of locally-native species by thinning and natural recruitment. The enlarged reserve therefore includes a comparison between unmanaged and managed mixed broadleaf woodland.
Changes in Vegetation
The trees and shrubs in several 20m wide transects were identified, mapped and measured in 1945 and at irregular intervals since. The results have been reported in a series of papers from 1985 onwards. In addition, plots established in 1979 have enabled changes in the ground vegetation to be tracked. The permanent plot records have been supplemented by other observations and the findings have been brought together in a 286-page publication titled Woodland development: a long-term study of Lady Park Wood. Access the full reference via the publications link above.
Several short-term research projects have been based around the basic record from the permanent transects and plots. The studies of long-term change in the ground vegetation and of the impact of drought on beech and oak have contributed to continent-wide analyses.
Conclusions and Outcomes
The overall outcome is four kinds of stand:
Old-growth. Not felled in 1942-4. Now 145 years growth since coppicing.
Young-growth. Felled in 1942-4. Now 70 years growth since felling.
Stand below the cliff. High-graded 1942-4. Now a mixed structure.
Managed stand. 70 years growth since felling; twice-thinned. Not fenced against deer.
The properties and behaviour of near-natural woodland have been demonstrated to many groups of foresters, naturalists, nature conservation people and re-wilders. The reserve is increasingly valuable for 'outreach' in the broadest sense and as a platform for the ecological research community to use.
Further site details, including species present and a detailed history of both the reserve and the adjacent managed compartment, are available here.