'Incredible' donation pays for expansion of Norfolk's largest ancient wood

A blanket of bluebells in full flower at Foxley Wood, managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Picture: Ia

A blanket of bluebells at the ancient Foxley Wood, which is being extended after neighbouring land was bought by Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: Ian Burt

Norfolk’s largest ancient wood is set to reclaim a piece of land it lost more than 1,000 years ago – thanks to an "incredible" anonymous donation to buy a neighbouring field.

A five-hectare patch of farmland next to Foxley Wood, between Norwich and Fakenham, will be restored to native woodland after it was secured by Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) for a sum that has been kept confidential at the request of the donors.

The trust says this "crucial piece of land" has been a missing piece of the wood for at least a millennium, and being surrounded by ancient trees on three sides provides a unique opportunity to re-establish rare specialist species.

The 124-hectare reserve is home to a rich array of native plants, from the wild service tree to the greater butterfly orchid. In spring it is carpeted with impressive blooms of bluebells, early purple orchids and wood anemones, giving way to summer displays of common spotted orchids, fleabane and water avens.

View from woodland onto neighbouring fields through Foxley enclave

Norfolk Wildlife Trust will extend its Foxley Wood nature reserve after purchasing the neighbouring field at Foxley Enclave - Credit: Nik Khandpur

Many woodland birds can be seen here, including green and great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper, willow warbler and jay. It is also a hotspot for butterflies including white admiral, speckled wood, ringlet, purple hairstreak and silver-washed fritillary. 

Last year, experts confirmed the purple emperor butterfly had returned to the wood – nearly 50 years after it was declared extinct in Norfolk. 

Purple emperor butterfly in Foxley Wood Norfolk

Purple emperor butterfly, recently returned to the restored Foxley Wood  - Credit: Barry Madden

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NWT nature conservation manager Steve Collin said: “This new area of land is perfectly placed for us to expand Foxley Wood and give more space for wildlife.

"It will be restored to woodland habitat with native trees and plants, providing home and food for the wood’s birds and butterflies.

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"It is likely to also provide foraging habitat for bats and hunting grounds for birds of prey. In the future we will look to add trails for visitors to enjoy and to create space for education groups.”

Nik Khandpur, director of development and engagement at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, added: “Foxley Wood is one of our most popular nature reserves, not only with our members but also the wider public in Norfolk.

"This exciting next step for Foxley has been made possible by anonymous support specifically to help protect this ancient woodland.  It was quite an incredible and moving gift to receive for the good of wildlife and enjoyment of people in Norfolk.”

Primrose Primula vulgaris growing in Foxley Wood Norfolk spring

Primroses growing in Foxley Wood - Credit: David Tipling

Foxley Wood is a National Nature Reserve, mentioned in the Domesday book. It was acquired by NWT in the 1980s, with further acquisitions in 1991 and 1992. Large ancient woodlands cover less than 2pc of the UK today, and fewer than 500 on the scale of Foxley survive nationally.

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