Today, our volunteer group went to Nugent’s Wood, on the edge of Portaferry, on the Ards Peninsula. This strip of mixed woodland was once part of the Nugent’s Estate but is now owned by the National Trust and is a short but interesting walk.
The land here was given to an Anglo-Norman knight called Savage who came to Ireland in 1177 with John de Courcy. A grand house was built within the walled estate and a large woodland planted. The name changed to Nugent after marrying into that family and the descendants of the Savage family still live in Portaferry today.
In addition to the great views across Strangford Lough, there is plenty of wildlife to see at Nugent’s Wood. Some of the big, old, hollow trees are very important for roosting bats. We try to leave as much dead wood as possible which provides habitats for a great diversity of fungi and invertebrates. There are also Red squirrels, badgers and lots of different birds. In the Spring, there is a good display of bluebells and other woodland flowers.
However, all is not well in the woods. The aggressively growing rhododendron is spreading throughout the woodland. This evergreen shrub blocks out all the light, competes for nutrients and water, and even alters the soil chemistry in such a way that it prevents anything else from growing. If left unchecked, it will quickly take over the entire wood. Rhododendron is also a host for the plant pathogen; Phytophthora ramorum. This deadly disease is spreading across the country and once established in Rhododendron, it can quickly infect other tree species near by.
So our task today was to clear some of this rhododendron away.
Once it was cut, we gathered up all the branches and leaves into large piles which will rot away, over time. As we did this, we uncovered many bluebell shoots which will hopefully now find it much easier to thrive.
We also found all sorts of interesting fungi such as these Scarlet elf-caps.
To prevent it from regrowing, the rhododendron stumps were painted with a herbicide which will get drawn down into the roots and hopefully kill the plant, without harming anything else around it.
Unfortunately, we only had time to clear a small section of the woods today. There are masses more rhododendron which will require many more visits. But we are determined to persist and are looking forward to seeing the diversity of wildlife steadily increasing over the coming years.
If you’re ever passing Portaferry, we would definitely recommend a stroll around Nugent’s Wood.