Natural England - Highbury Wood NNR

Highbury Wood NNR

Highbury Wood NNR is a link in an almost unbroken chain of ancient woods stretching from Chepstow to Ross-on-Wye.

Highbury Wood NNR

Where: Gloucestershire

Main habitats: Woodland

Why visit: Highbury Wood lies on the eastern bank of the River Wye and is a prime example of the very rich and diverse woodland for which the Wye Valley is internationally important. The site is noted for its variety of woodland types, reflecting the wide range of soils, aspect and drainage on the site.

The wood, which covers 46 hectares, was bought by English Nature in 1986. It is managed to conserve its features and wildlife. An information leaflet: (135kb)pdf document is available.

Star species: Large-leaved lime, which is restricted to the Wye Valley, wild service tree and whitebeam are among the scarcer trees of Highbury Wood. Some yew trees found on the site are more than 300 years old. .

Newly-coppiced areas provide open ground conditions which favour light-demanding flowers such as primrose and early purple orchid. Wood spurge also emerges with increased warmth and light.

These conditions favour insects which feed on the abundant nectar and benefit from the shelter of the surrounding trees, such as butterflies and dragonflies.

As the coppice re-grows, the habitat offers protection and food for scrub-nesting birds including blackcap and garden warbler. Although now scarce in Britain, dormice should be helped by coppicing encouraging a wide range of nuts, berries and, critically, honeysuckle to emerge. Their numbers are being carefully monitored on the reserve.

In the non-intervention zone, standing and fallen dead wood is left in-situ and is used by insects and fungi. Woodpeckers, great tits, nuthatches and treecreepers are amongst the birds that find food and nest sites here.

Limestone outcrops in these old stands provide refuges for fox and badger whilst the rocks themselves are rich in ferns, mosses and liverworts.

Managing the reserve

Because of the wood’s long history of coppicing and the presence of many species associated with the open and early stages of growth, Natural England has revived this form of management in part of the reserve.

Fallow deer have caused considerable problems by browsing the new shoots of coppice stools and hindering re-growth. Culling has reduced numbers, but deer move in from the surrounding woods where they are not controlled, so a large proportion of the reserve has been deer-fenced to prevent further damage.

The tracks and rides within the reserve are managed to offer the widest range of conditions for wildlife and act as connecting ‘corridors’ between coppice coupes. Elsewhere, the wood is deliberately left unmanaged, except for the removal of hazardous trees above footpaths, and the occasional re-pollarding of limes to retain these feature trees.

The reserve is surveyed and monitored to increase understanding of the wood and to study the effects of management.

History and culture

The wood has survived through to the present day due to its inaccessibility and steep slopes, making clearance for agriculture impractical. The ancient woodland, therefore, has unbroken links with the ‘wildwood’, which colonised the valley slopes after the last Ice Age, retaining a great variety of plant and animal species.

The oldest sign of human influence at Highbury is the prominent section of Offa’s Dyke which runs the length of the wood. It is part of an earthwork constructed around 780AD, stretching from Chepstow to Prestatyn, which once marked the western boundary of the Mercian empire. Today, a National Trail follows the route of the Dyke.

Old records indicate that the wood was once sub-divided into a number of parts - Bells Charity Wood, Kiln Wood, and Davids Grove are all identified on early maps - and their boundaries are still discernable from old pollard trees and banks within the reserve.

Charcoal was produced at Highbury in the 17th century. The blast furnace at Lower Redbrook provided a ready market for all that could be supplied and, later, a copper smelting works also relied on locally-produced charcoal.

Lime kilns are visible throughout the reserve - evidence that people once relied on the availability of limestone which outcrops in Highbury Wood. Originally built to use wood, it appears coal was later used to fire the kilns.

How to get there

We encourage the use of sustainable transport whenever possible. Highbury Wood is four miles south-east of Monmouth, near the village of Redbrook.

By train

The nearest train station is in Chepstowexternal link.

By bus

There are bus services along the A466 from Chepstow to Monmouth via Redbrook. See the Transport Directexternal link website for details.

By car

Access to the reserve is via minor roads from the A466, A4136 and B4228.

On foot

Offa's Dyke National Trailexternal link crosses the reserve. The Wye Valley Walkexternal link runs nearby.

Visiting the reserve

To avoid disturbing sensitive plants and wildlife, please keep to the waymarked public rights of way. These paths form a circular route (2.5 km) through the wood which passes many of the main features of the reserve. Please help us by keeping your dogs under control and taking litter home.

The nearest toilet and refreshment facilities are in local towns and villages.

Further information

To find out more about the reserve, contact site staff on 01452 813982.