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Bentley Wood

Bentley Wood is a woodland covering 665 hectares 6 miles outside of Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. Sprawling between the rural villages of West Dean, Tytherley, Winterslow and Grimstead, and not far from the New Forest, Bentley Wood with Blackmoor Copse form one of the largest woodlands within Wiltshire. It is on the site of an ancient wood that made up part of the Clarendon Royal Hunting Forest but has since been cut and replanted during the post-war period with a mixture of conifers and native hardwoods. Recent planting has been predominantly with oak, beech, birch, hazel, ash, spruce and pine and is now a managed woodland, exploiting its timber for building and firewood. Chestnut, hawthorn and crab apple can also be found along the paths criss-crossing the wood. Wildflower, including violets, primroses, bluebells and common spotted orchids can be found on the verges, clearings and summer glades. It is an important area for butterflies and moths and was noted as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985. 

In 1983, prior to the woodland being given it's notification of being a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an official research report recorded forty species of butterfly including 35 resident breeding species. It is one of very few sites in the country which supports six species of British fritillary, namely the pearl-bordered, small pearl-bordered, silver-washed, high brown, marsh and dark green. In addition, it has a large population of purple emperor, white admiral and purple hairstreak butterfly. Other less common species found in the wood is the Duke of Burgundy, holly blue, marbled white and Essex skipper. The area is also important for moths, with over three hundred species recorded in the same research report. Notable species include the rosy footman, phoenix, leopard, scallop shell, lunar spotted pinion, white satin, festoon, scarce burnished brass, olive, maple mocha, beautiful carpet and several species of hawkmoth. In summer dragonflies and damselflies can also be seen darting above the surface of numerous ponds.


The forest is also noted for its deer with large herds of fallow deer but roe deer, muntjack and sika deer can also be found. Other animals include hare, badger, fox, hedgehog and grey squirrel. Birds are also abundant with robins, black birds, great tits, blue tits, long tailed tits, coal tits, wren and chaffinch found commonly throughout the wood. Tawny owls are also common but difficult to see but can be heard on most Autumn nights in numbers. This would indicate the forest is also well stocked with wood mice and dormice. Barn owls can be seen skirting the fields adjacent to the wood late in the evenings. The little owl and short-eared owl also occur in the area. Buzzard, red kites and kestrels are often in the adjacent fields and sparrow hawks are also quite common. Other notable birds are the greater spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, bullfinch, goldcrest, song thrush, nuthatch, siskin, woodcock and cuckoo. Cuckoos are hard to see but can be heard calling in the spring. The willow warbler can also been seen in the wood in the summer. 

In 1944, during the Second World War, the Americans stationed troops and armoured devisions within the wood prior to the D-Day landings in Europe. There is a train line running through the neighbouring village of West Dean and an old army base - now closed - just outside of the village. This gave easy access to Southampton and Portsmouth for the American troops stationed within the wood. Headquarters for the American devision was Norman Court, a stately home not far from the the wood, but NCOs and lower ranks were encamped in Nissen huts erected within the wood. Bomb craters can still be found in the wood from German bombs dropped during this period. It was at this time large parts of the wood were cut down due to the war effort and to exploit the timber.

After the war, in 1950, Bentley Wood was acquired by the Forestry Commission, which undertook a large replanting programme to fill in the spaces that had been cleared to accommodate military facilities during the WWII period. In 1983 the UK Government decided to sell much of the woodland owned by the Forestry Commission, including Bentley Wood. A local resident, Lady Ann Colman, widow of Sir Nigel Colman, formed a trust with the purpose of purchasing Bentley Wood for the public, which was achieved shortly before her death in 1984. It was during this period that research was undertaken to record the butterfly and moth species and to achieve its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Bentley Wood Charitable Trust that Lady Ann Colman had formed was guided initially by Ralph Whitlock, a local farmer, conservationist and broadcaster. Ralph Whitlock also formed The Friends of Bentley Wood, a group of local people whose purpose is to protect the wood as a nature reserve and develop it for the access and enjoyment of the public.

There are a number of other managed woodlands in the adjacent area to Bentley Wood and Blackmoor Copse which includes Frenchmoor Copse, Holbury Wood, Tytherley Common, Farley Copse, Pitton Copse, Hound Wood and Spearywell Wood, to name but a few. These woods are all easily accessible along the abundant footpaths in the area and I see these woodlands as a life-long project to document and capture on camera. These woodlands are synonymous of our area, villages, communities, and make up large part of the local pride and heritage. They are our recreation, our gardens, our lungs, and a wonderful place to take pictures. 


Taking pictures of forests is not easy. Capturing the mood, ambience and emotion - the way they make us feel - is even more difficult. However, I hope to try to improve my techniques and over time learn to capture even just some of the essence of these wonderful woodlands. And maybe, one day, do them some justice. What a fantastic  project this one will be.

* I researched the above from a number of online and offline resources but if there are any inconsistencies in the history of Bentley Wood or if someone has anything to add then do get in contact and I'll amend accordingly.

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