RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: West Dean Woods

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Once again it is wild daffodil time and a chance to see the finest colony in Sussex, if not the south of England.

This walk of 1.3 miles (2kms) or three miles (4.9kms) if you take the circular route, takes you past the colony of about three million bulbs, many of which will be in flower in the first and second weeks of March.

The usual date for flowering is March 15, but they are a little earlier this year.

There is limited roadside parking under old beech trees on the minor road north of the A286 at West Dean village. This road leaves the Chichester-Midhurst A286 northward at the school and goes under the old railway bridge. After 2.8 miles and before Staple Ash Farm is the car park, SU845152. A hundred yards west down the road brings you to a sunken bridleway leading north, so turn right on blue arrow.

After nearly a mile you come to the daffodils, mainly on the right of the path. The woodland on the right of the bridleway is leased from West Dean Estate by Sussex Wildlife Trust which manages the 40 acres as an example of hazel coppice with oak standards.

This type of silviculture was for many centuries the normal forest practice in Britain and provided raw material for the full range of farm, household, factory and military goods, from butter churns to measuring vessels, sheep hurdles to fencing stakes, wooden galleons to gunpowder, furniture to parquet flooring, church steeples to altars and pews, carriages to bible boxes. Coppice wood fuelled furnaces in the making of cannons and firebacks. Tannin from the oak bark cured leather for horse harnesses and shoes.

The list is endless and now all forgotten.

Coppice cutting also just happened to make the perfect habitat for flowers, birds, butterflies and dormice.

Today those are what we need well-managed coppice woods for and here is an example.

It is cut every six or seven years, which is what foresters did since Roman times. 40 species of birds breed here, 350 species of wild flowers grow here including the wild daffodils.

Many people return now, but this walk also takes you on a circular tour as shown on my map. For this, just keep walking north up the bridleway, passing another of Andy Goldsworthy’s chalk balls, until after entering Cowdray land at a third chalk ball, this time on your right, look for blue arrow sharp left under pine trees and follow the track southwest downhill.

You will walk over Bronze Age field boundaries every 55 yards down this slope. At the bottom of the hill, join the forest track in the same direction until you meet the minor road where turn left and follow in a left circle back to the car. Pick a dry day if possible as the walk can be a bit muddy underfoot.