How many years of human industry has Holly Hayes Wood witnessed? Well, since the woodland is mentioned in the Domesday book, the answer is all of them.

Woodlands are designated Semi-Natural Ancient, if they are shown on first edition Ordnance Survey maps, include certain tree and field layer species and show evidence of human intervention. However, Holly Hayes and several other woodlands in Charnwood have their roots in the wastes left by the last glaciation.

As the ice retreated northwards from Coalville, around 9500 years ago, pioneer species of scrubland plants and trees, such as dwarf birch began to colonise the glacial till, a slurry of clay and shattered granite, ground off of the slopes of volcanic vents.

Soon, the whole of Britain, still attached to the rest of the continent, was covered in trees, with bare mountain tops studding this green blanket. And somewhere in that great, heaving mass of life sat our little patch of that primary forest.

For those first humans, venturing into this land, perhaps following migrating herds, the forest was a place to be feared, full of dangerous animals to a species that had not yet killed off the other apex hunters.

Today, in the UK, nothing remains of that forest, we cut it down. There may be one or two small untouched stands of trees in the far north of Scotland and to get a feel for what the landscape would have looked like before we began clearing it, you would need to visit the remotest parts of the Caledonian forest, once part of the Boreal forest that crowns Earths northern hemisphere.

Holly Hayes is a survivor. Its trees have germinated and died through many hundreds of generations. Man has felled its timber and planted new trees through thousands of years of activity in the wood, preventing its reversion to the impenetrable, wild wood of ancient history. It is that intervention which has brought about the diversity of life we find in our best loved, remaining woodland and this is why we restore our semi-natural ancient woods.

Holly Hayes is home to a few veteran trees, aged giants which as saplings, would have witnessed the huge changes to the local environment as local people left the land to work in the expanding mining and heavy industries. They will have watched on as surrounding fields were swallowed by new housing for a migrating workforce and they are survivors of decades of felling to supply pits and quarry.

Some of these Sentinels of the wood are coming to the end of their lives, others are suffering the effects of disease and climate changes but with a new regime of care and conservation, their seedlings will continue the watch for hundreds of years to come.

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