Humphry Repton’s plans for Warley Park, laid out in a Red Book in 1795, outlined ways that an attractive park could be made from the fields in front of Warley Abbey. He suggested planting trees at the top of the hill by Barclay Rd, including some specimen trees and incorporating existing woodland, the Great Copse, to give a vista. The vista is still there but he would be surprised by some of the specimen trees growing in Warley Woods now. Why would he be surprised? He was thinking of oaks and beech, but there are trees growing in Warley Woods now which were unknown to him, one species even unknown to the wider world until the C20th. We are producing a new leaflet to guide you to some of the interesting trees in the Woods and help you identify them.

The woodland you can see growing near Lightwoods Hill is part of the Great Copse, described as ‘ancient woodland’ because it is on record as being there since 1600 AD, though it’s possibly older. This woodland area would have been a useful source of food, fuel, and particularly timber. Oaks were often planted close together to encourage tall straight trunks for ship masts and buildings, but in Warley Woods we can see evidence of coppicing. This is the practice of cutting down the trunk of a young tree so that several new strong shoots grow from the stump forming new trunks that can be cut for general timber or by charcoal burners to make charcoal.

As you stroll along the Main Drive have a look for some of the less common species. As you pass the Rose Garden your eye will have drifted towards the meadow over what looks like a large clump of bushes with a couple of taller conifers and a flowering cherry. Walk into the little grove and look more closely at the pine in the centre – it could have been an extra in Lord of the Rings. That amazing trunk with flaking bark and twisting broken branch stubs is not the work of vandals, that’s how a Monterey Pine grows. Second glance you realise something else is odd - it has clusters of three pine cones round its branches but they point backwards down the branch like so many little thruster rockets and hang on for years. 

Repton couldn’t have specified this tree as it was not described botanically for another forty years, identified in its home in a small area on the Monterey peninsula in California. It likes our dry sandy soil and though there aren’t many left in its native habitat, these rapidly growing pines are planted everywhere now for commercial timber. A couple of metres away is the slender fibrous red-brown trunk of an even newer conifer, though in fact it is actually a very old species. This is a Dawn Redwood. To see the foliage take a stroll down to the bridge where there are another two loving the damp soil.

Paleobiologists and fossil hunters knew Dawn Redwood fossils, found from 100 million years ago while the dinosaurs were still roaming until they were thought to have died out about 5 million years ago. The story of the discovery varies but in the mid-1940s Professor Cheng, a botanist in China, heard about a group of unidentified trees round a shrine near a remote village in Szechuan, and an expedition went to investigate. Later Professor Hu identified them as living Dawn Redwoods. The Redwood is an endangered species in its original home but seeds that were collected eventually found their way into the world to be grown in parks and gardens everywhere. It is a deciduous conifer, turning a beautiful reddish gold in the autumn before losing its leaves, then pretty new foliage appears in spring, soft pale green flat needles with a pink tinge. 

Some trees just hit you in the eye with colour. Deep crimson copper beeches by the playground, the former Rose Garden and elsewhere stand out, but in the autumn, they have serious competition from Red Oaks. There’s one by the lawn in the former Rose Garden. This Eastern USA tree has a similar ecological role at home to our English Oaks, supporting a web of wildlife with their catkins, leaves and acorns. It loves our well-drained sunny bank of sandy soil and if you are feeling adventurous there is a grove of red oaks, some selfseeded, deep in the plantation. Its matt deep green leaves are huge, as big as your hand, and oak leaf shaped but with pointy lobes. Most of the year the tree blends in with the others but in late September it is unmissable as the leaves turn a stunning rich scarlet red. 

How did such diverse trees arrive in Warley Woods? Some were planted by the owners of Warley Abbey, others by Birmingham City Council, particularly when the Woods were being used as a tree nursery by the Parks Department growing young trees for planting all over the city, and we are now seeing the benefit.

 Jane Taylor

You can now Jane’s route and observe the trees she describes with the help of our new tree leaflet which includes a numbered map guiding you to these trees, which are tagged with a special red numbered disc.  We don't recommend you print the leaflet as it is not A4, so pick one up in the Shop at the Pavilion before you start your walk.

If you love the trees in Warley Woods as much as Jane does, please give a donation to the Trust which will help support their maintenance.

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or you could even adopt a tree

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