Thursday, 2 July 2015

St Catherine’s Woods

St Catherine’s Woods

On the hottest day of the year so far – recorded temperatures of 32C at highest – Katalin and I decided to have a walk in St Catherine’s Woods, where the shade of the trees kept it cooler than a lot of places on the island.

Strange as it might seem, St Catherine’s Woods is one location that I have never actually been to before in Jersey. It’s a lovely woodland walk, from the reservoir, along by the small stream, with the stepping stones to cross, up towards the path meandering past a wild meadow on the right. Although we didn’t see many birds, the sound of birds singing was prolific throughout our walk, a lovely sound.

At night, bats are around and Natterer’s Bat was recorded in April 2014. The more common resident is Soprano Pipistrelle, also observed in July 2014.

This site is one of the largest woodlands in Jersey and apparently the entire woodland and its meadows cover an area of 18 hectares.

During the German Occupation (1940 - 1945), a lot of woodland was felled for fuel. Since 1941 fuel had been rationed and by 1944 the Island's supplies were pretty much exhausted. It is estimated that more than 200,000 trees were cut down and sawn into logs for heating and cooking around this time.

A lot of trees were felled in St Catherine’s Woods, but a surprising number escaped compete felling. There are large multiple stemmed trees which were cut down during this time and have since re-grown, and there are many still trees which are among the oldest in the Island.

The wood is made up of a variety of different features - natural glades, fallen trees, rocky outcrops, the stream, a reservoir (with fresh water fish, and angling allowed by permit, and wet meadowland. It is considered to be the most ecologically important woodland in the Island.

In January 2010, it was noted that three trees were cut down, apparently without permission in St Catherine’s Woods and the Environment Department appealed for Islanders with any information about who cut down the trees to contact them.

As the JEP reported: “It is believed that the trees – an oak and two willows – were cut down at the start of December. The felling was discovered on one of the regular area inspections carried out by the department.”

But commenting on this story, the Chef Tenant of part of the land said:

“To put the record straight about who owns St. Catherine’s Woods. It is a number of landowners and a small amount the Crown. It is often mistaken as 'public land' - it is not”.

“In general terms the Fief de Rozel owns the North side of the stream and some 4 landowners the south side. Included is the Fief de la Commune de la Reine which gives a number of other major house/farm owners(Chef Tenant) in St. Martins the rights to cut wood , keep livestock and enter Mont Orgueil with a cart full of belongings during time of threat. This right is at least 1000 years old and is at risk from the SSI designation which makes no comment about this deep and ancient heritage “

“Without condoning the arbitrary cutting down of trees by third parties, these are NOT yet absolutely 'protected' by the Planning Department.”

In simple terms, in Jersey, a fief was a parcel of land, owned to all intents and purposes, by the Seigneur... In the larger fiefs, the seigneur retained possession and farmed some of the land, his domaine. Possession of other lands was given to tenants who held subject to the performance of services and duties and the wastes and commons were subject to a seigneurial regime

Ancient rights, as the case of Le Pas Holdings and the Fief de la Fosse have a habit of turning up unexpectedly. St Catherine’s Woods has been a a proposed site of special ecological interest for some considerable time, with not much happening to change that, and the possession of some of the land by ancient fiefs is probably one of the causes.

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