Pathways bathed in dappled sunlight, snaking beneath the spreading canopies of trees, are set to bring a new dimension to life at Woodcote Park. Work is underway to open up 12 acres of woodland with a network of paths to connect the clubhouse, Cedars Sports, the new car park and the walled garden, where the new facilities for children and families will open next year.
At the same time the woodland site will be split into zones, each with its own distinct character, to fully deliver its potential as a magical spot for children and adults alike. Pieces of art, whether chainsaw sculptures or woven willow, will be used to add a certain ‘wow’ factor to the woodland, which will also be furnished with picnic tables, bins, ‘bug hotels’ and other features. “We want to create a safe and exciting place that people can explore and where children can play,” says Head Gardener Enrico Mailli. “In the biodiversity area they’ll get the chance to get close to nature and learn about it, along with a venue for talks and storytelling. There will be an element of fun and surprise.”
The plans for the woodland, drawn up by the Club with the help of landscape designers and in close co-operation with conservation experts and tree officers from the local planning authority, represent the latest stage in the ongoing transformation of Woodcote Park. The site will be opened in time for the start of the school summer holidays, when many of us yearn to escape the summer heat by diving under the cooling canopies of trees, with more features added over the following months.
Enrico and his team are closely involved with the project and they are excited about how it will come together. They’re especially looking forward to uncovering its collection of stately oak, silver birch, lime, horse chestnut, yew, beech and hornbeam trees by removing smothering tangles of sycamore, ash, cherry laurel, rhododendron ponticum and holly, not to mention the ivy that wraps its long hairy arms around tree trunks. “The woodland includes an arboretum, the outline of which can be seen from the golf course, along with little groves of trees, but nobody can see them properly the way things are at the moment”. Enrico explains. “There’s a big difference between a managed and an unmanaged woodland. We’re looking forward to revealing the woodland’s true beauty.”
Work already underway to remove invasive trees and shrubs will soon have an impact, and Enrico is confident that a new balance will be found over time, allowing an even more biodiverse site to be shared by the natural world and humans. He’s especially keen to create an environment in which woodland plants can flourish. “At the moment there are no ferns under the trees and it’s too dark for many things to grow; we need to let in more light. From time to time we see glimpses of flowers such as snowdrops and daffodils on the edge of the woodland, struggling to emerge. There are bulbs and seeds lying beneath the soil and we’re curious to see what will pop up. Every stage of this project needs to be carried out very carefully, with due consideration to the local ecology; one step at a time. In time we’ll be adding a few new trees, but we will take our time and chose specimens for their reliability, adaptability and longevity.”
Anyone familiar with the grounds at Woodcote Park will know that Enrico and his team are passionate about re-using materials rather than sending horticultural refuse off site, and the work on the woodland will continue this ethos. Felled sycamore and other unwanted saplings are set to be chipped up and used on pathways, while tree trunks will be employed for seating, balancing beams and stepping stones and hollowed out to provide tunnels for children to crawl through or climb over. Elsewhere wood is to be left in attractive piles or as standing totems to rot naturally and provide a home for beetles and other invertebrates that will slowly assist in breaking them down, releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil as they do so.
The work on the woodland is the latest in a series of measures to transform Woodcote Park into a truly family-friendly country club. “Since 2014 we have been investing significantly in Woodcote Park,” says the Club’s Chief Operating Officer Daniel Pereira. “We’ve been restoring and updating our facilities and making the most of our heritage, whether that’s our beautiful buildings, grounds or golf courses. This project is the first step in opening up more of the estate to our members and will add significant value to the overall member experience.”