Guest post by Minnie Kemp
In 2014 the Woodland Trust took on a 640 acre site just an hour outside of London. Once a First World War training ground and more recently an arable farm, the Woodland Trust have transformed Langley Vale Woods into the most wonderful natural haven in memory of those who lost their lives in the war. They have planted thousands of trees with volunteers and school children. Ancient trees sit alongside newly planted woodland, glorious wildflower meadows and open grassland. Langley Vale Woods are open to the public and well worth a visit.
My sister Willow and I joined the Woodland Trust for a wonderful day exploring the grounds, willow basket weaving and feasting on a foraged lunch with Gemma Foster who runs Mama Xanadu, the floating restaurant.
Simon Bateman, the site manager, led us through a hazel coppice and Little Hurst, an ancient woodland which was cool and shaded. It felt like a place to open your mind and be your most creative self. You can spot many of England’s native trees – oak, beech and sweet chestnut to name a few. In spring, the woodland is lined by a carpet of bluebells and in the summer you can hunt the grass chalk lands for orchids and the rare red hemp-nettle.
Langley Vale is brimming with birdlife – 59 species have been recorded on the site. It’s the perfect place to listen out for the first cuckoo of the year, watch the dramatic aerial display of strikingly crested lapwing or appreciate the melodic song flight of the skylark.
After walking past the biggest bushiest beech tree I have ever seen – we crack on with some willow basket weaving. There are many techniques but our favourite was the ‘random weave’, the perfect weave for beginners.
Armed with my hand woven willow basket, we were led through the cherry avenue with stunning views of wild flowers on rolling hills.
Lunch was a mind boggling vegan extravaganza created by Jemma Foster who had foraged plants from Langley Vale and used them to create an incredible menu, which sounds a bit unusual but was absolutely delicious!
In our lovely wicker picnic hampers we were treated to:
Douglas Fir Iced Tea
Truffle salt popcorn
Wild mushroom rolls with elderberry ketchup
Sea beet, crow garlic & wild fennel tortilla
A jar of layered salads – Coleslaw//Beans with parsley, preserved lemon, dukkah//wild greens (chickweed, sorrel, wild rocket) + flowers (gorse, borage) + meadowsweet vinaigrette
Spiced hogweed roasted cauliflower pittas with tahini, mallow & nasturtium flowers
Pineapple weed, cherries & blackcurrant sage cake
The Woodland Trust has achieved a huge amount here in such a short time. It really gives us hope that with support they can continue to protect our ancient woodlands and create more new woodland along with other important habitats. Our ancient woods are in desperate need of protection, once vast they now only cover 2% of the UK.
The Woodland Trust is a UK charity whose humble beginnings started around the kitchen table of then farmer Kenneth Watkins, back in 1972. Today the trust has acquired and protected over a thousand sites covering more than twenty six thousand hectares.
The Kemp family and Firmdale Hotels are big supporters and members of the Woodland Trust. We were even inspired to plant our own little forest in the heart of London. Visit Ham Yard Hotel and spend some time in the courtyard with our six fully grown oak trees. At thirty foot tall and over 100 years old, they add a feeling of ancient greenery to the busy streets of London’s Soho.