Sherrardspark Wood
Welcome Location Nature Events Books & Maps Links Gallery Site Map

A Hertfordshire Wood

A Hertfordshire Wood

Sherrards Park Wood
Welwyn Garden City
by
W. R. Hughes, M.A.



Published by the Regional Survey and Museum Committee of the
 Welwyn Garden City Educational Association
1936


1

The Reddings Fir-wood

The Reddings Fir-wood

2

Foreword

    This booklet is an invitation, an introduction, and a plea.
It invites you to come to our ancient woodland in Welwyn
Garden City; it introduces you to some of its stones, trees,
flowers and the creatures that live among its green leaves
and grasses; and it pleads with you to see that nothing that
hurts or destroys should enter here. We do not wish to
be shamed at last by the epitaph, "Here was once a lovely
wood."

    It is hoped that the booklet will find its way into most
of the homes in the Garden City and the district round it.
If any profit is made on sales, it will be used to provide nest-
ing boxes and seats, or for the protection of the woods.

    The Regional Survey Committee hopes to receive from
time to time, as a result of this publication, offers of help
and notes on the wild life of the wood. These should be
addressed to the Secretary, 21 Elmwood, Welwyn Garden
City.

    We are indebted to the following Garden Citizens for
the photographic illustrations: Mr. John Chear, F.R.P.S.,
(pp. 11, 13, 21, 26), Mr. A. E. Hick (pp. 23, 24, 29), The Lisa
Studio, Welwyn Garden City (pp. 9, 19), Mr. C. J. Ash-
worth (p. 2) and Mr. A. C. Auker (cover). All the
pictures were made in the wood - save that of the hedgehog,
which had wandered into a neighbouring garden. The air
photograph on p. 6 is by Aerofilms Ltd., and was kindly
lent by Welwyn Garden City Ltd.
W. R. HUGHES
May, 1936

3

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow

A. E. HOUSMAN (died April 30th 1936)

4

SHERRARDS PARK WOOD

    The most striking natural feature of that corner of
rural England which the late Sir Ebenezer Howard
chose as the site of the second Garden City was a large
tract of native woodland. It crowned the estate, occupying
the highest land between the two river valleys - those of the
Lea and its tributary the Mimram - which bound the Garden
City on the south and the north. At the "six want way"*
junction of bridle paths, the wood rose to its highest point-
412 feet above the sea level, and it is natural to find now near
this spot the reservoir from which the whole new town is
supplied with water. 

    The woods were part of the Panshanger estates of Lord
Desborough, and formed the southern portion of the demesne
of the Manor of Digswell. From the manor house near the
old church of Digswell, the southward view is bounded by
the woods on the skyline, crowning a steep semi-circular
ridge.

    Here, in 1920, all was peaceful. The woods were preserved
and parts of them retained the natural features of the im-
memorially ancient oakwoods of Hertfordshire. But a heavy
blow had recently fallen upon their solitudes. During the
latter stages of the Great War, wooden camp buildings
appeared, from which groups of German prisoners issued
daily, and scores of the ancestral oaks were soon lying on the
ground, minor casualties in the tragedy of war. As soon as
the Garden City Company obtained possession the remaining
timber was reprieved, and fortunately the mature trees are
still standing over a large part of the woods. In some ways
the clearing has added a new beauty of variety. We have
now not only the shady and solemn oak wood, but also the

    *"Want" or "wants" is used in this way in Eastern England to indicate places
where paths meet; etymologically the word is probably connected with "wend."

5

sunny open spaces covered with bracken and young trees,
mostly silver birch. Other parts are planted with young
firs, and some of the cleared portions became in a year or two
an almost impenetrable thicket of hornbeam coppice.

    I well remember my first walk through the woods - in
the spring of 1921. The more open spaces were carpeted with
primrose and violet and the chorus of spring bird-song filled
the air. This was certainly one of the attractions that brought
me and my family to the new town. Since then we have
enjoyed the woods afresh each spring, and at other seasons

Aerial view of the wood

 "The Marriage of town and country" - Ebenezer Howard.
Air view showing large part of Sherrards Wood and part of residential area of Welwyn Garden City.


also. We have watched the wild flowers diminish, and seen
some other signs of destruction and untidiness. But the
great wood remains a wood, full of varied life and interest.
Though the thoughtless may carry off blossom and root up the
flowering plant, to take home an oak-tree is still beyond
their power !

    The Garden City Company has, most wisely and naturally,
announced its intention of preserving a large part of the
wood as permanent open space. The rest, however, has been
planned for residential development and much strong feel-

6

ing has been expressed that this development would be of
such an extent and nature as to destroy, to a very large
extent, the characteristics of the area as an extensive natural
woodland of varied type. The Urban District Council
has suggested a limitation of building to the areas shown in
shading on the map at the end of this booklet, thus pre-
serving the main central wood as an unbroken whole. I do
not wish to discuss this matter in detail, but on behalf of
the Regional Survey Committee and those who have special
interest in the study of nature, I am bound to express the
most earnest desire that we may see the Council's suggestion
carried out. But whatever the ultimate area of the woods
may be, the main problem remains - how far is it possible to
preserve the natural characteristics of such a woodland as it
becomes more used by an increasing local population. The
objects of this booklet are to describe some of the special
features of interest of the wood, to appeal to every Garden
Citizen and visitor to act as a voluntary guardian of its
beauties and to make some specific suggestions for safe-
guarding and increasing them. The widespread provision of
food and nesting places for birds in the gardens of the Garden
City is evidence of a love for living creatures which we may
hope to see extended to the preservation of all forms of life
in the great "common garden" of the town - Sherrards
Park Wood.

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note Unto the sweet bird's throat?
Come hither, come hither, come hither !
SHAKESPEARE.

7

 HISTORY OF THE WOOD

    It is not to be expected that the wood should have a
recorded history. We can, however, take note that there
is evidence that mankind was living on or near the site
somewhere about three or four thousand years ago, for I have
picked up dozens of flint flakes in different parts of it - par-
ticularly towards its eastern boundary - and a few implements,
which may be seen in the local regional museum. Among
these is a good "celt" or axe-head, about five inches long,
several "scrapers" and some small blades. These were all
from the surface layer of soil and belong to the neolithic or
early bronze ages. No palaeoliths have so far been found.
The woods are crossed by banks and trenches in a number of
directions, and although their directions are sometimes
puzzling, it is probable that they are all boundary lines, of
different dates, and not evidence of human occupation. At
one spot (marked "A" on the map) I found a single fragment
of ancient pottery and a little trenching in this neighbourhood,
where several banks meet, might produce evidence of Celtic
occupation.

    The wood is mentioned, by inference, in Domesday book,
as part of the manor woodlands that provided mast sufficient
for a hundred and fifty Digswell swine. Digswell at that day
was apparently as important a village centre as Hatfield or
Welwyn. There is written record of a wood in this neigh-
bourhood dating back to the year 1285. In that year Lawrence
de St. Michael was Lord of the Manor of Digswell, and as
such he obtained a licence "after inquisition ad quod damnum,
to stop a way in his wood of Slirigge, Co. Hertford, which
leads from the town of Dykeneswell to Hatfeld Bishop, and
to hold the same for ever, provided that he construct another
way on his own ground without his said wood on the east
side, of the same length and breadth and running into the

8

said wood to Hatfield."*  As Lawrence held also at that time
 the manor of Ludwick (Hatfield Hyde) his estates must have
been fairly extensive, and we cannot with certainty identify
"Slirigge" with "Sherrards Park". Nor are the names quite
similar enough to suggest a connection. The origin of our
wood's name invites discussion. In some eighteenth century
maps it appears as "Sherwood", but in the tithe apportion-

Neolithic Flint Implements

Neolithic Flint Implements found in Sherrards Wood.
Left: "Scraper." Centre: "Celt", or Axe-head, 5 inches long. Right: Blade.


ment map of a hundred years ago it bears its present name of
Sherrards Park Wood. In common speech this is often short-
ened to Sherrards Wood. Now "Sherwood" and "Sherrard"
are sufficiently alike to suggest that one is a corruption of the
other. I have always thought it probable that "Sherrard"
was the corrupt secondary form, so that to add "Park" or
"Wood" is really redundant. The "Park" may have been

* Cal. Pat. 1281-92. p.214

9

 added in the 18th century by someone who thought it gave
a touch of lordliness ! I have lately come across a piece of
evidence which points the same way. In 1848 the Rev. R. H.
Webb, rector of the neighbouring parish of Essendon, pub-
lished the first "Flora of Hertfordshire". He gives par-
ticulars of the localities in which the various plants had been
observed in Hertfordshire, and the name of Sherrards Park
Wood occurs frequently. But in one place - in the preface,
where he is mentioning the swallow-holes - he calls it "Sher-
wood's" Park Wood. This surely indicates that he had
slipped back into an older form of the name that still sur-
vived in popular use, and that "Sherrard" was originally
"Sherwood".

    I had written the above paragraph before receiving an
answer to an enquiry on the subject which I had addressed
to Professor Allen Mawer, who with his colleagues of the
English Place-name Society, is preparing a volume on the
place-names of Hertfordshire. I leave it as written, partly as
a warning to amateur philologists ! For I have just received
the awaited answer, which proves me wrong, and shows
that "Sherwood" is the corruption of "Sherrards" and not
vice versa. Three additional early references to the wood have
been found. The first, date 1270, gives the form "Scheregge" ;
and the other two, of 1287, read "in bosco suo de Shirigge"
and "Sheregge in Dycheneswell" (Digswell) . The meaning
of the name is given as "bright ridge", and Professor Mawer
adds the note that the normal development into a modern
form would have given us "Sheredge" - the substitution of
ds for dg can be paralleled in other instances. The ridge is
certainly there, and for the "scirt", or "bright", I can only
suggest a reference to the white chalk that comes to the sur-
face along the Templewood ridge.

    The boundary between Digswell and Hatfield ecclesias-
tical parishes (which is also the boundary between the Parlia-
mentary divisions of Hitchin and St. Albans) runs along the
older southern boundary of the wood (north of the larch
wood), and the boundary between Digswell and Welwyn
parishes goes through the N. W. of the wood - and also
right through Digswell Place House on its borders, which
was formally the rectory house of Digswell.

1 Feet of Fines 1270.     2 Assize Rolls 325. m26.

10

    Certain parts of the wood bear special names. Temple
Wood, the north-east spur, has no known connection with
any temple; the ruined brick erection, mostly underground,
which it contains, was an ice-house, used for storing ice from
the lake at Digswell House for summer use. Monks Walk -
the fine avenue of old limes which leads from the wood down
to the manor house garden - is also, almost certainly, merely
a fanciful name. The sections named New Wood and Conduit
Field explain themselves. They are both shown as clear of
trees in the Digswell Tithe map, and a walk through them

The Larchwood in Winter
 The Larchwood in Winter

confirms this at once, for the trees now standing there are
all comparatively young. The well that collected water for
the conduit, which took it to a reservoir at the bottom of
the hill and thence by pipe to Digswell House, may be found
in a ruinous condition in the middle of this part of the wood.
In Conduit Field there remained a small, nearly circular,
piece of wood, known as Roundabout Wood. The rest of

11

the field was never planted again, but has gradually grown
to its present size within living memory.

    The fir wood, mainly of larch, which now forms the
southern part of our Wood, adjoining the railway, is known
 as "Reddings plantation", named after the largest of the
fields that once covered this site. "Reddings", which occurs
in other places more often in the form "riddings", means a
site that has been cleared or "rid" of its trees. This is a very
popular part of the woods for children and old people and
includes the large hollow or "dell", which has often been used
for concerts or Shakespearean plays. The plantation was
made in 1901-1903, by the last Lord Cowper of Panshanger,
shortly before his death. The main reason was the difficulty
and danger of haulage over the level crossing, and the land
was also of poor quality for cultivation. This was almost
the first area which Lord Cowper allowed to be planted with
soft wood. He always kept Sherrards Wood in his own
hands and the rides and waggon-ways were maintained in
perfect condition.

    The whole of that part of the wood which lies to the
west of the railway is known as Brocks Wood. This is
now partly open and partly covered by small trees and coppice,
and is a favourite part for bird-lovers. It is, however, except
for the slopes above the railway, scheduled on the town plan
for future building. The name is probably descriptive of
the wood as a residence of badgers, since "brock" is the
Old English name for that animal. Maybe he is still there !
(See page 22)

    The Hatfield tithe map of 1838 gives us the names of
detached parts of the wood along its southern border. These
were Mobs Burrow Wood and Densley Barrow Wood, near
where Brockswood Lane now runs, and on the site of the
"Campus" we find in succession Pightle Wood, Lord's Wood,
Grey Pightie Wood and Pear Tree Wood. A tracing of this
map, which shows all the old field-names, which have been
so freely used in naming the roads and closes in the Garden
City, may be seen in the local museum. Pightie, by the way,
is a word that is found on very many such maps; it is an old
word for a small field or enclosure.

    There is one old cottage standing within the boundary
of the wood. It is the timber-framed brick cottage in Brocks

12

Wood fronting the North Road and Ayot Green. It seems
highly probable that this is the cottage whose building is
recorded in the rolls of Welwyn manor, of which the rectors
of Welwyn have been lords since the days of Edward the
Confessor. In 1723 the Lord of the Manor gave a piece of
his waste to Henry Bethell and Mary his wife to build a
cottage. The site was "scituatum super orientalem partem
viae regis prope le Brickwall . . . . erga Lemsford Mills
" - situated
on the east side of the King's highway near "the Brickwall",
towards Lemsford Mills. "The Brickwall" may refer to the
Brocket boundary wall itself but more probably refers to the
Brickwall farm and Angel posting Inn, which stood a little
further down the road. The domestic well of this establish-
ment may still be seen on the golf course. This old cottage
was formerly the turnpike keeper's house, and old people of
the district can still remember seeing the woman pike-keeper
running out to stop riders from dodging the gate by going
round Ayot Green.

Bullfinch on Nest

Bullfinch on Nest

13

NATURAL FEATURES AND GEOLOGY
OF THE WOOD

    It has already been pointed out that the wood occupies
high ground between two eastward-flowing rivers. The
scarp slope is towards the north, where there is a rapid
drop of about sixty feet. Towards the south the ground dips
more gently, and here we notice the beginnings of three
shallow valleys, which are continued on through the Garden
City estate - two of them down the golf links, and the third
along the line of Valley Road. After rainy weather, the head
lengths of these valleys contain lively streams of water,
which run through miniature gorges for days on end. The
lower parts of the valleys are, however, always dry. This is
because the surface streams sink into the earth through
"swallow-holes" or "swallets", such as occur on a larger
scale at Hatfield Rectory and at "Water-End" near North
Mimms. Of our three swallow-holes one, the smallest, is in
the wooded hollow on the golf links. The other two, more
striking in their operation, are both within the wood. One
is a large circular hollow on the line taken by the water main
from the reservoir. The other is a pit by the side of the Luton
branch single-track railway which runs through the woods,
going through a deep cutting as it approaches the Great
North Road. This hollow gave the fence-makers of the rail-
way property some trouble. In taking the fence over the dip,
they built it more than double the usual height; but even so,
it is often covered by water, which collects here to a depth
of about twenty feet in rainy periods. Under the whole of
our region stretches the great chalk-bed of the London basin;
and into the chalk our surface streams find their way, down
channels which they have made through the overlying beds.
The chalk is our inexhaustible reservoir of pure water,

14

saturated, in this district, up to within about fifty feet below
the valley level. The water in the bore-holes of our pumping-
station at Digswell, actually stands as high to-day as when
the continuous pumping started thirteen years ago.

    The chalk comes to the surface in some places, noticeably
in Temple Wood, where it was at one time quarried. But
usually it is covered by beds of clays, sands and gravels.
Most of our clays and gravels are glacial deposits of com-
paratively recent date, and have brought to us alien stones
from the midlands and the far north. A bed of brick-earth
in the wood has provided material from which many Garden
City houses have been built, and a second deposit, on its
borders, the source of the bricks used in building the great
Welwyn viaduct, is now being worked again.

    It is the higher levels of the wood, however, which are
the most interesting to the geologist, for these form part of
what is well-known in the geological literature of the London
region as "the Ayot outlier". The brick-pits at Ayot have
conveniently provided sections for at least seventy years past.
This top ground is one of a group of isolated heights whose
surface strata correspond with those of the Eocene deposits
which stretch from Hatfield and Essendon towards London.
It is clear that there was once continuity between these
similar beds, roughly on the 400 ft. level, but an erosion has
taken place along the course of a shallow valley, about 200 ft.
high running N.E. and S.W. Many geologists believe that
this was the original course of the river Thames, journeying
towards the Wash. The Eocene beds, thus remaining on our
hill-top, consist here of London clay overlying the so-called
"Reading beds" of sand, clay and gravel. The London clay
 was a marine deposit and yields shark's teeth and various
fossils. The Reading beds were the source of the frequently-
found local blocks of "Hertfordshire pudding stone" - a
conglomerate of flint pebbles concreted together by a natural
silica cement. A number of large pieces of pudding stone,
some of them curiously smoothed, were found in excavating
the reservoirs in the wood. These are preserved in the local
museum, where may also be seen parts of two ancient hand
millstones, or "querns", of this material, found in the Garden
City.

    The details of the distribution of London clay, Reading

15

beds and glacial deposits in and about Sherrards Wood, as
given in the official geological survey-map, are certainly in-
accurate. Mr. E. C. Martin, who made an able detailed
geological survey of the district for the Regional Survey
Committee, draws special attention to the interesting local
problems involved . He poses the question, for example,
whether Sherrards Park Wood does not contain examples of
the "pebble gravel" which is a widely-studied variety of
gravel, hitherto supposed to occur only to the south of the
Lea. The gravel in the small pit near the golf links "contains
abundant quartz pebbles - some up to five or six inches in
diameter, but mostly small - a few Lydian stones and num-
erous flint pebbles. There were also one or two pieces of
Hertfordshire conglomerate lying on the floor of the pit, but
the far-travelled material of the glacial gravel, except possibly
pebbles of Bunter quartzite, appears to be absent. It is
certainly a 'Pebbly Gravel' very similar to the Pebble Gravel."
We hope that other local geologists may resume this study
and give us a more accurate map of what underlies the wood.


For him the woods were a home and gave him the key
Of knowledge, thirst for their treasures in herbs and flowers.
The secrets held by the creatures nearer than we
To earth he sought, and the link of their life with ours.
GEORGE MEREDITH

16

THE TREES AND FLOWERS OF
THE WOOD

    We all enjoy at first sight the changing beauties of the
trees and flowers in the wood; to study them in
detail would be a labour of years. Some time
ago the Regional Survey Committee began a botanical
survey of the wood, but found it rather too difficult a job to
complete. A previous survey, extending over several years,
was made by Dr. E. J. Salisbury, the well-known scientist,
assisted by various friends. This was part of a general
survey of the oak woods of Hertfordshire, and the results
may be found in the Journal of Geology; Sherrards Park
Wood is especially dealt with in the number for March 1918,
and in the following notes I am drawing chiefly on this
source. In sending a copy of this Journal to the Garden
City Company in 1920, Dr. Salisbury wrote, "I do not know
if it will be possible to retain what remains of the wood in
its present condition. It would form a very interesting
and suitable nature reserve if left untouched, and would be
an added attraction to the district. I hope you will do all
you can to preserve it from being 'improved', especially by
the planting of conifers. If you find it necessary to plant,
I hope you will use Quercus sessiliflora and not Q. robur, so
that the natural character is retained."

    All modern biology is "ecological", which means that
the trees and plants are not studied as separate individuals,
but as members of a local community, influencing each
others' life and growth in all kinds of ways. So we have
various types of tree, bush, and ground-plant association in
our wood, depending on soil, moisture, shadiness and the
dominant types of growth in each vegetative layer.

    Our wood is described scientifically as of the "Quercus

17

sessiliflora - Carpinus" type, which means that its typical
trees are Durmast oaks as dominant, with hornbeams, as
smaller trees or coppice-growth, beneath them. There are
two main types of British oak, which dispute for the title
of the original "old British oak". The commoner is Quercus
Robur, but in our wood almost every tree is of the less common
variety known as sessiliflora or "sitting blossom", because
the easiest way to distinguish it is to note that its fruit or
acorns have practically no stalks, while on the common
oaks they grow, usually two or three together, on a fairly
long stalk. With the leaves, the case is reversed, for those
of the robur have practically no stalks, while our Durmast
oaks - to use their English name - have stalked leaves.
Dr. Salisbury, after examining many oak-woods, comes to
the conclusion that the Durmast oak thrives better than its
competitor on soils that are not chalky and that are deficient
in mineral salts.

    Our second typical tree, the hornbeam, is unknown to
many people. It is an undistinguished tree, overshadowed
by its noble companions, growing something like an elm,
but with leaves like a non-glossy beech. Its trunk is usually
of noticeably irregular section, and is composed of one of
the closest and hardest of British woods.

    The fir plantations, mainly larch, with admixture of
Scotch fir and spruce, form quite a different kind of wood,
and we have also mixed woodland, containing all the common
British trees. The most frequent are birch - in various
hybrids - silver birch, ash, sycamore, and hawthorn. Beeches
are rare, but there are two or three magnificent specimens
on the chalky ground at the foot of Temple wood. The
wild cherry trees, though not so numerous as in other local
woods, are well grown and a fine feature in spring-time.

    The alien rhododendrons cover two considerable areas.
Other trees to be found include maple, holly, mountain ash,
elm, wych elm, Spanish chestnut, hazel, elder, wayfaring tree,
guelder rose, and blackthorn.

    When we look below the trees, among the shrubs and
larger plants, we find a diversity of societies.  Some areas
are bare. Others, particularly on the higher levels, are
dominated by bracken, or by bramble.  As we go down the
 slope to moister ground, we find first sheets of the humble

18


Our Wood

"Our Wood"

19

 dog's mercury, and lower still stretches covered by lesser
celandine, sometimes with patches of the dainty little mos-
chatel. The bracken keeps the ground almost entirely in
its own possession, but among the brambles we find much
honeysuckle - deadly to young trees - and smaller plants.
We may notice also minor areas which are occupied or
dominated by one particular plant. In some parts it is the
hyacinth or bluebell-growing here upon unusually pebbly
ground. In others it is ground ivy, bugle or wood sage,
and in one section the ling has taken possession. The anemone
is not frequent.

    Our next study would be that of the ground flora in
detail. We should find different groups in the darker parts
of this wood, in and about the footpaths, or under the bor-
dering hedges. In this type of Hertfordshire wood, Dr.
Salisbury enumerates 269 species of vascular plants, of
which 48 represent trees and shrubs and 221 are small plants.
As our wood contains other types than the standard oak-
hornbeam, it is probable that we have within its borders
rather more than this number of plants. It is hopeless there-
fore to try to give a list here, and I can only suggest that
readers search for themselves, and when they find a new
flower - refrain from picking it !

    Already, before the Garden City brought a new popula-
tion to its borders, the lilies of the valley, which used to
grow in the middle of the wood, had vanished; and since
we came, the flowers of the wood have shown melancholy
diminution. The foxgloves, which used to grow in fine
colonies, have been reduced to a few straggling plants in
hidden corners; the white violets have also practically dis-
appeared; the primroses, once so thick on the ground, are
now few and far between. The sheets of blue-bell leaves
are still there, but we never see the full glory of the blue
sea of blossom, for day by day the flowers are picked off,
still in bud. This is a sad story; yet we hope, that by edu-
cative effort, the course of spoliation may be checked and
even reversed. Meanwhile, the woods will not be without
flowers, for there are innumerable plants that survive to
bloom, because of their vigour and their commonness.
We think of the wood pimpernel, the rose-bay willow-herb,
the mulleins, the St. John's Wort, bugle, ground-ivy, and

20

violet, enchanter's nightshade, woodruff, speedwell, and other
humble and persistent friends, and our spirits rise again.
In spite of our efforts to appropriate what should be common
and enduring delights for the temporary adornment of our
mantelpieces, prodigal nature insists on decorating the woods
for us anew.

    Among the rarer flowers are the orchids. A few speci-
mens of the early purple orchid still flower every year, and
the fly orchid has been found in one spot, and the broad-
leaved Helleborine (Epipactis) in another. Just outside the
wood, on what is now the golf-course, the bee orchid used
to grow very freely, and it still appears in smaller numbers on
neighbouring sites. We have found one plant of the great
bell-flower and one bush - over six feet high - of the bella-
donna, or deadly nightshade. From the records of the early
county Flora it appears that this plant was formerly fairly
common in the district, but no doubt it was hunted out and
destroyed because of its dangerous properties.

    Coming down to lower and humbler forms of vegetation,
we find that the mosses in our wood are more varied and
numerous than in woods of the common oak. About fifty
varieties of moss have been noted and about thirty
liverworts and thirty-five lichens. Anyone who has walked
through the woods in damp autumn weather will not need
to be told that the fungi are extraordinarily numerous and
diverse. A scientific search through the wood has brought
to light somewhere about 450 species.

    If any individual or group wants a scientific hobby, why
not use Sherrards Wood as a happy hunting ground ?

Amanita Rubescens "The Blusher"

 Amanita Rubescens. "The Blusher"
One of more than 400 Varieties of fungus found in Sherrards Wood.

21

THE BEASTS OF THE WOOD

    We have already seen that one part of the wood
indicates by its name that it was formerly a haunt
of the night-wandering badger. It is interesting
to know that during the last year a badger has been seen in
this region again. Possibly he is the carrier of an unbroken
family history, but the small earth to which he was traced
shows no sign of family occupation, and he was probably an
old dog-badger seeking new hunting grounds.

    During the earlier days of the Garden City a fox had its
earth in an outlier of the wood, and residents who knew the
secret could go and watch the lively youngsters playing at its
mouth. Another earth is still in occupation just outside the
boundary of the wood in another direction. Hares, of
course, prefer the open country, and may still be seen zig-
zagging about on the Garden City's fields; the little brown
creatures who dash for their burrows in the sandy patches
of the woodland as we stroll through it, are the ubiquitous
rabbits.  Sometimes we may catch sight also of their
 deadly foe, a weasel or a stoat, snaking its restless way
through the undergrowth. The smaller fry, shrews and mice,
voles and moles, are there in plenty, but the only other four-
footed animal which the casual stroller is likely to see is a
modern, and not very welcome, importation, the grey squirrel.
These have been numerous in the wood for years past and
their "dreys" or nurseries, are to be seen in many trees. I
have never seen more than three squirrels together, but have
been told that as many as eleven have been counted in one
tree. Their total number, however, does not seem to in-
crease rapidly, possibly because they are shot as vermin by
neighbouring farmers and land-owners. They are accused,
not only of destroying birds' eggs and young, but also of
exterminating the native red squirrels. These were regular

22

inhabitants of the Wood until a few years ago; the last local
red-coat reported was found, over a year ago, inside a house
in High Oaks Road. It had apparently come in for a drink,
during a hot summer night, and met its death by drowning.

    The most renowned of our woodland beasts are foreigners.
For the first year or two the early settlers in the Garden
City repeated to each other a rumour that "there are deer in
the woods", without knowing whether it was true or false.
But by degrees these shy creatures, who usually lie closely
hidden during most of the day, seem to have become rather
less shy, and are frequently seen crossing a glade or, in the
early morning, even in the gardens of houses in the town.
They are Himalayan muntjaks - or barking deer, hornless
animals about the size of a mastiff. It is known that they
breed with us, for, in the depth of last winter, a baby muntjak
was seen with its mother, and, in a neighbouring garden, two
youngsters took nightly refuge under the straw covering of
a rhubarb patch. I understand that these deer are now
established in a number of woods in the countryside; they
were probably originally wanderers from Woburn Park or
other private Zoo. They have sharp little tusks and can
defend themselves against dogs.

A Sherrardian Hedgehog

A Sherrardian Hedgehog

    Another animal that is commoner in our area than is
usually thought is the hedgehog. Families haunt many gardens
in the town, and rustlings in the undergrowth of the woods,
in late evening hours, are often evidence of a hedgehog
on the hunt.

    It may be added that we have no record of snakes having

23

been observed in our wood.  No doubt there are blindworms;
I have seen one dug out of a trench, not far from the wood,
in a state of hibernation.

    The most numerous of the living creatures in the wood

Elephant Hawk Moth

 Elephant Hawk Moth

are of course the "creeping things innumerable", little
noted and little loved. Beetles, wood-lice, centipedes and
their friends hurry out of our sight wherever we turn over a
stone or a piece of dead wood. The smaller creatures we

24

don't see at all; it is said that over two thousand varieties
of insects and their parasites find their means of life from the
oak trees, and patient observation has discovered the mar-
vellous and complex life stories of many of them.

    Then there are the butterflies and moths, with their
larvae, another rich field of study. We are forced into
attention when we discover the grotesque larva of a hawk-
moth, or when the armies of tortrix viridana in some seasons
denude the oaks of their first leafage and make them do
their springtide work over again. The butterflies, from the
orange-tip in spring onwards, are everybody's darlings.
The pearl-bordered fritillary is one of the less common
varieties that haunts our woodland bracken.

    A special study of the snails in Sherrards Wood was
made some years ago by Dr. A. E. Boycott, F.R.S. In the
oak-hornbeam wood he found only two species (Helix
rotundata and Arion hortensis), while under the beech trees
below Temple wood no fewer that eighteen varieties were
found. The number of beetles and spiders showed a similar
difference.

Music of England ! - every woodland tree
Passing the quiet wind-borne notes along,
Till suddenly enters a wild ecstasy
From little feathered balls of quivering song.

25


 Willow-warbler

The Willow-warbler in Sherrards Wood.
Above: Mother bird over the nest. Middle: The domed nest, on the ground.
Below: Two of the fledglings.

26

THE BIRDS OF THE WOOD

    Sherrards Park Wood, with its variety of trees and
undergrowth is a great place for bird-lovers. It is un-
fortunate that the most populous parts - the more open
spaces with rough herbage and thick cover-bushes beloved
of the smaller birds - are just those that are threatened with
building development. But, given protection and encourage-
ment, a great variety of birds should always make their
homes in or about the wood. The birds, unlike the beasts,
announce themselves to us, not only by flying overhead or
along the track-side, but chiefly by their varied cries and songs.
One may walk through the woods and see little; but the
ear has reported twenty different songsters, and is always
alert to capture the notes of a new friend.

    To begin with an old story, Sherrards Wood is one of
the places in England in which the golden oriole has tried
to breed. An old man in a neighbouring village, himself a
great bird-lover, once told me how, with a young under-
keeper of the wood, he had watched a pair of orioles building
their nest here. Unfortunately, before an egg was laid, the
head keeper shot the hen bird - and then asked the indignant
bird-lover to stuff it !

    The most blatant birds of the wood are the jays. There
are too many of them; not merely because their voices are
harsh, for on the other hand their feathers are gay; and not
merely because they raid the peas and fruit from Garden
City gardens while the owners are still abed; but chiefly
because there is no doubt that they attack the eggs and young
of smaller birds. It is difficult to say whether the grey
squirrels and jays between them have diminished the average
number of small birds in the area, or not. Perhaps for the
time being they may be given the benefit of the doubt.

    The next most noticeable of the all-year-round residents
in the wood is perhaps the nuthatch, advertising its presence

27

in winter by hammering nuts open in some crevice of an oak
tree, and in the spring by its loud repeated whistle. The
smaller trunk-and-bough-hunter, the tree-creeper, is also
common. Tawny owls and little owls frequent the wood and
their residence would be assured if suitable nesting places
were provided. Woodpeckers - green and spotted - are again
good advertisers of their presence and cannot be overlooked.

    From the end of March onwards the woods and hedges
fill up with the summer migrants. First the chiff-chaff - we
have usually three or four pairs - then a crowd of willow-
warblers, most delicate musicians, whose strain we should
miss more than any other - followed by blackcap, garden-
warbler, cuckoo, whitethroat, turtle-dove, tree-pipit and fly-
catcher. Three of the summer birds are of special interest.
First the nightingale, bird of legend and poetry. We always
have several songsters in the wood, but dread that the
"tidying-up" of wild bushes by order-loving townsmen may
eventually drive them further afield. Then the night-jars,
birds of the queer song and queer habits, a pair of which
return to us most years and often breed in the wood - laying
two eggs on the bare ground and trusting to protective
colouring to avoid notice. And lastly the wood-wrens,
reputed to be shy birds of the tree-tops, but with us singing
freely and fearlessly on the lowest branches of the larches.
I have already noted five pairs this year, and watched one
building its nest.

    Nor must our commoner friends be forgotten - black-
birds, thrushes and mistle-thrushes, the backbone of the
morning, chorus; the homely robin, wren and dunnock,
that sing the year round; the army of tits, with its five
varieties of feathering and fifty varieties of note; and that
other army of finches, for chaffinch, greenfinch, bullfinch,
goldfinch and hawfinch have all nested in the wood; the
yellow hammer with golden bonnet and the little wren with
the golden crest, whose thin song is heard among the larches.

    Even so, the list is not exhausted; there are the more
casual visitors, such as wryneck, grasshopper warbler and
lesser redpoll, and there are no doubt other birds which have
not yet been noted. The Regional Survey Committee is
always glad to hear of personal observations that may add to
the register of birds, beasts or flowers.

28


The Nightjar

The Nightjar in Sherrards Wood. (1933)
Above: Two eggs, laid on bare ground.
Below: Young Nightjar from one of the eggs.

29

THE PRESERVATION OF THE
WOOD

    I do not wish here to discuss the controversial question
of the amount of the wood that is to be preserved
as open space available to the public, but to deal with the
equally important question of how the natural features,
vegetation and animal life of the wood may be preserved in
the face of its growing use by the inhabitants of a growing
town. It is evident that the wood can never again have
those complete charms of solitude and freshness that a remote
woodland owns, but it would be a great achievement if by
a combined effort, the people of the new town were able to
preserve for ever a natural wood at their doors, preventing
it from becoming either an untidy, littered wilderness, or a
formal "urban amenity". The Garden City, in the imagina-
tion of its founder, was to unite the interests and attractions
 of town and country. It has become amply clear already
that to move a townsman into a Garden City is not enough
to give him the country interests; but by a definite edu-
cational effort the next generation may be made more "nature-
conscious", and we hope that the woods will always be there
as a means of such education and as a proof of its success.

    In speaking of this second meaning of the "preservation"
of a wood, I am bound to point out that the two aims are
related; the smaller the area of the wood, the more difficult
in every way will it be to preserve its natural characteristics
and charms, and its flora and fauna. I must therefore re-
iterate the strong desire of our Committee that the Council's
effort for the preservation of the area of the wood, as shown
on the accompanying map, may be successful.

    The wood is threatened by three forms of damage -
wilful misuse, thoughtless or ignorant conduct and mistaken

30

treatment by the authority in charge. Let us take these in
turn and make some suggestions as to how they may be
prevented or minimised.

    Wilful damage is very rare, and is confined to minor
slashings and breakages by occasional groups of undis-
ciplined lads. But injury by thoughtlessness or selfishness
is unfortunately commoner. Besides the flower-picking
already mentioned, we notice such things as the uprooting
of ferns and plants, the breaking of branches off flowering
trees, the unnecessary trampling over bracken or flower-
patch, the scattering of litter on the ground, the use of air
guns, the taking of birds' eggs, and the loosing of dogs to
hunt through the wood. It sounds a formidable list, but the
total damage is not so great as one might expect, and the
general standard of conduct is really good and is improving.

    It is clear, however, that some supervision and patrolling
in a regular way would be a great assistance to-day and will
become absolutely essential to-morrow. Some years ago the
Garden City Company provided an officer whose special
duty it was to act as a ranger in the woods, but now have
only a part-time watchman. What is required is not a man
with a stick, a policeman whose main aim is to chase and
threaten the careless and the mischievous, but a Warden of the
Woods, a full-time officer who shall have a real knowledge
and love of the wood and of its wild life, and who will be able
to interest visitors, especially children, in one special feature
after another - our chief adviser and educational officer and
custos sylvarum. Some price will have to be paid for the care
of the wood and, it will be worth while to seek out the best-
qualified man for such a post and to pay him well. It would
be the most effective step towards the carrying out of the
idea of a "nature reserve" for the town. We have so many
"town" officers and directors; cannot we find the place
and means for one "countryside" officer at least ?

    Such a man would need general sympathy and assistance.
Already many residents do what they can, by personal
friendly word, to check the despoiling of the wood. Could
we not have here an application of the system that is already
in operation in many rural districts, by which suitable and
responsible people undertake voluntary duty as "country-
side wardens", and are supplied with badges which carry a

31

 certain amount of moral authority. Sherrards Wood is not
the only part of the Garden City and its district which should
benefit from the services of such voluntary helpers. A
directing head of such service would also be able to help very
directly in that general education of youngsters in love of
nature and respect for life and beauty, which is already in
effective operation in most schools, scout and guide troops
and other young folk's organisations. Our Regional Survey
Committee has done something in this direction already both
among young and old, and this booklet is a modest contribu-
tion to the same end; but a great field for extension is open.

    The questions of ownership, control, supervision and
public access are wrapped up together. The Garden City
Company has foreseen possible difficulties in granting un-
restricted access and has proposed to keep the ownership,
in order to retain power to preserve the woods for local use;
one knows what damage can be done by motoring picnic
parties, or companies of flower-gatherers from London or
elsewhere. The Council, looking upon the area as the main
parkland of the town, will probably be inclined to press for
full public ownership and control. A third possibility,
which has much to recommend it, is that the woods should be
handed over to either the National Trust, or to a special
local Trust, whose business it would be, with the help of a
grant from public funds, to preserve them for ever as a nature
reserve and public open space. These two descriptions may
by incompatible; uninterrupted public use by large numbers
might in the end leave us with something very much less than
a Hertfordshire wood. I should therefore give the Trust
powers to close parts of the woods in turn for a period - even
a year or two at a time - in order to give flowers and shrubs
a chance to re-establish themselves and birds to build undis-
turbed. It might also be possible to reserve a minor part of
the wood permanently as a bird and flower sanctuary, though
this has its own difficulties. Under the leadership of the
Wood Warden, we could all help, by voluntary funds, to
provide suitable nesting boxes for large and small birds, and
to sow or plant again in the woods some of its native flowers
that have become rare or have disappeared altogether. In time
Welwyn Garden City might justify its name in a new fashion and
become famous as the town with the unique wild-wood-garden.

32


    The problem of litter is fortunately a diminishing one,
though still sufficiently annoying. We have provided a few
litter receptacles, but a better pattern is needed, and more of
them. An occasional "pin-stick parade" through the woods,
by scouts or others, especially after bank-holiday, would be
effective and educative. Other ways in which ordinary
citizens might help are in the provision of well-designed
seats and the composition and writing of beautiful and
striking notices and advices to be set up at all entrances
to the woods.

    The final danger to which the wood is open is that of
unskilled or unimaginative treatment. The surveyors of
Town Councils are not necessarily foresters and naturalists,
and Committees sometimes order a crime against nature
without being aware of it. I have had a nightmare vision
of our wood "municipalised" in the future - all the under-
growth tidily cleared away; roads and asphalt paths made
in all directions, with weedless grass verges; refreshment
chalets at strategic points; and a nice space cleared for an
"amusement park", in order that visitors to the woods may
have something to see and to do !

    The Garden City Company has, from year to year, done
a good deal of clearing of those parts of the wood that con-
sisted of thick coppice and young trees. This is quite right
from the point of view of good forestry, and of future use.
But it is quite evident that other points of view were not
sufficiently taken into account. A Wood Warden would
have directed such work so that clearing would not be
complete and ruthless; patches of thicker growth would
have been left here and there for "landscape" effect, and to
allow of a variety of undergrowth and of suitable cover for
birds. The Warden would know where his nightingales
nested and where special clumps of guelder rose were growing
and would be careful to cut round and not through these
patches.

    The price of beauty, as of liberty, is eternal vigilance.
Sherrards Wood stands to-day, a green and beautiful inheri-
tance, made lovely by the hands of nature and of time.
We receive it and rejoice in it; let us hand it down to our
children, not diminished and deflowered, but enriched and
beautified by our friendly care.

33


Map of Sherrardspark Wood 

Sherrardspark Woods Map 
|Welcome| |Location| |Nature| |Events| |Books & Maps| |Links| |Gallery| |Site Map|
© 2008-2017
e-mail: email @ sherrardsparkwood.com
Updated: 01/01/2017