History & Notes on Larkey Valley Wood

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Map of Larkey Valley Wood, Thanington Without
Mouse of Larkey Valley Wood, Thanington Without
Butterfly of Larkey Valley Wood, Thanington Without

Larkey Valley wood lies on the hillside above the Stour Valley part in Thanington Without and part in Chartham. The 107 acres (43 hectares) of woodland are remains of a much larger forest and most of this site has been continuously covered with woodland since mediaeval times or longer, and is described as Ancient Woodland.

In 1932 the mayor of Canterbury, Alderman Frank Hooker, presented the wood to Canterbury City Council in order that it "should be reserved to the public for ever".

The importance of Ancient Woodland is that the plants and animals, including those living in the soil, have co-existed and evolved together since the wood first developed. Ancestors of today's wealth of trees, flowers, birds, insects and mammals may have lived together on this same site 500 or more years ago. Therefore this site is an important reservoir of wildlife and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Two disasters have hit the wood in recent times. About 20 years ago Dutch Elm disease started to kill the large Elms and in October 1987 a great storm devastated many of the woodlands in the South East of England and took its toll on Larkey Valley.

Most of the magnificent large Beeches growing on the thin chalky soil on the east and west sides of the wood blew down as did some of the Oak standards on the heavier moister soils in the central valley of the wood. Some large specimens of sweet Chestnut, Birch and Hornbeam have survived. Also present are Wild Cherry, Field Maple, Whitebeam and Aspen. The underwood or shrub layer is mainly of Hazel and Hornbeam with some Holly.

Management of the wood was traditionally based on a coppicing system where periodically trees were cut to ground level. Several new stems grew from the stump or stool and were eventually cut again. This was a quick way to produce timber for posts, buildings, baking faggots, etc. and a stool can live for hundreds of years. Species coppiced every ten to fifteen years include Hazel, Hornbeam, Ash and Sweet Chestnut. For production of larger timber such as planks Beech and Oak were grown on their original stems as standards but it was 120 to 300 years before these were ready to cut. Standards were often interspersed with coppice or grown together as high forest.

Where storm damage is worst young tree seedlings and saplings will be allowed to grow and much dead timber will be left to decay as insect and bird habitat.

The effect of regular cutting of coppice compartments was to open up different parts of the shady wood to periods of light and warmth giving a patchwork of valuable habitats favoured by wild flowers, insects and birds.

Shrubs typical of chalk soils such as Wayfaring tree with white flowers and red berries, the red-stemmed Dogwood and wild Privet are found, sometimes festooned with old mans beard. Brambles are common in the centre of the wood.

In spring the ground flora blossoms into sheets of wood anemones with scattered Violets followed by Bluebells with primroses in damper areas. Also on the chalky soils are woodsanicle, Moschatel, Sweet Woodruff, Yellow Archangel and a number of Orchid species. These finish flowering as the leaves on the trees unfold and wood takes on its summer shade.

Resident mammals include Fox, Grey Squirrel, Mole, Stoat, Weasel, Vole and Wood Mouse Mny of which live in burrows or trees and feed on nuts, berries or other animals including insects.

Quiet and patient visitors may see some woodland birds such as Nuthatch cracking nuts on high branches or Treecreeper edging up trunks. In spring the wood resounds with song of Thrush, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and on warm days and nights, the Nightingale. The drumming of Woodpeckers is heard throughout the year.

Insect life is rich and varied including Flies, Beetles, Wasps and the large Wood Ant which build great mounded nests. Butterflies frequent sheltered but sunny areas within the wood.

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