Croes Robert Wood is managed through coppicing to provide a habitat for one of Britain’s most threatened species of mammal – the dormouse. The coppiced wood is then burned on-site in kilns to produce barbeque charcoal, which the Trust sells locally – an outstanding example of sustainable conservation in action!
Croes Robert is an ancient woodland and lies within the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In 1982, before the Trust acquired the site, all its large timber trees were extracted. The site contains many small streams and wet flushes, creating ideal conditions for golden-saxifrage and ferns, along with the associated insects of mossy trickles.
Charcoal has been produced in Britain for the last five thousand years. It is produced at Croes Robert using the wood from coppicing – the traditional woodland management of cutting the stems of bushes and shrubby trees back to ground level. At Croes Robert, different compartments are cut every year over a 15 –20 year cycle. This creates a diverse woodland structure with well-lit glades alive with flowers, bees and butterflies. The trees, such as hazel, soon regrow from their stump or “coppice stool”, creating dense bushy growth, tangled with honeysuckle, ideal for dormice and breeding birds like garden warbler.
By the late 1800s, coppicing was on the decline in Britain, and few woods are coppiced today. The Trust’s work at Croes Robert Wood keeps this traditional craft alive, hand in hand with conserving the wildlife that is adapted to the coppice woodland habitat.
The charismatic dormouse is infrequently seen owing to its rarity and nocturnal habits. The range and overall numbers of dormice in Britain has declined by at least half over the past century, but Croes Robert has a thriving population which is closely monitored.
In spring, bluebell, wood anemone and yellow archangel appear in the woodland. Lesser celandine grows along the paths and wood-sorrel brightens up shady corners. By May, herb-Paris is starting to come into flower.
Wood anemoneis one of our first spring flowers. It spreads by means of a creeping root-stock which runs just below the surface, letting it form extensive carpets. It flowers from March to May, taking advantage of the early spring sun. Its flowering season ends once the woodland canopy comes into full leaf.
In the summer, common spotted-orchids flower along the edge of the rides. In autumn there is a great variety of fungi. This is the best time to find the shells of hazel nuts showing the characteristic teeth marks of dormice.
Birds recorded on the reserve include sparrowhawk, goshawk, great spotted-woodpecker and hawfinch. Mammals found in the wood include brown hare, fallow deer, badgers and yellow-necked mice. Harvest mice have been found along the woodland edge.
The reserve is on a hillside with steep slopes and muddy paths. Croes Robert is a working wood, and some of the paths are very rutted due to the vehicle access that is needed for charcoal production.
From Monmouth, go south along the B4293 to Trellech. As you enter the village, take the right turn signposted Cwmcarvan (near the entrance to the school). Follow this narrow road for 2km, and turn right down a lane also signed Cwmcarvan. Follow this lane steeply downhill for approximately 500 metres and look for a small, unpaved lay-by on the right. The entrance to the reserve is via a wooden gate at the lay-by. There is parking for five or six cars (grid ref: SO 475 059).
The Trust also manages Wet Meadow Wood, adjacent to Croes Robert Wood, where dormice are also found.New Grove Meadows, just north of Trellech, is a wonderful example of a traditionally managed species-rich meadow.
What to see around the reserve
The historical village of Trellech includes attractions such as Harold’s Stones – three prehistoric standing stones all over two metres high. Food and drinks can be purchased at The Lion Inn, Trellech.