Sales Bank Wood, near Oxen Park in the southern Lake District is located between Coniston and Windermere.
It is a rich ancient semi-natural wood, likely to have been woodland since the end of the last ice age.
Sales Bank Wood is mentioned in an Elizabethan charter of 1567 as “Saile Bank…… 300 acres of hollin, ash, crabtree, thorn, birch, oller & hasel undergrowth, 100 timber trees 100 saplings and 100 dotered oaks”(dotered is likely to mean old). This combination of oak, holly, birch and hazel on the drier areas, with alder and willow in the wetter parts remains the same to this day.
Like most woodland in Furness, the wood was once likely to have been owned by Furness Abbey and then the Crown, hence the charter. Sales Bank eventually fell into the hands of the “iron men” of south Lakeland for making charcoal to fuel the furnaces and when iron making became less important and coke took its place, the wood was sold to the owner of a cotton mill – probably so he could secure the supply of bobbin wood. From the early 20th century onwards, the wood was owned by a series of local businessmen and used mainly for shooting. The wood was last coppiced in about 1960 by local coppice merchant, Jack Allonby; at that time, the produce was mainly bobbin wood and crate wood (used to make crates for the potteries). In 1998, Brian and Louise Crawley began re-instatement of the coppice rotation, and in 2003 Edward Mills continued this management to the present day; the woodland is privately owned.
The woodland is managed on a coppice-withstandards system with a variety of coppice rotations – the shortest about 10 years and the longest about 20 years. There are substantial parts of the wood where access is impossible and these will be managed as “high forest”. The main objective is to enhance wildlife, but also to grow firewood and wood for many other uses, as well as providing an educational resource.
There is a public footpath which runs from the corner of Bessy Bank Lane near the Forestry Commission forest gateway, through the wood and right along the eastern boundary. The remainder of the wood is private but if you would like a guided tour, please enquire. The footpath used to be known locally as the snake track due to the frequency of adders – unfortunately, these are now much rarer than they used to be.
The wood has a diverse mosaic of high forest, neglected coppice and many different coppice coupes; it has dry, acidic knolls characterised by oak, birch and holly with wood sage, bilberry and honeysuckle. There are wet areas with alder, bird cherry and willow, which are much richer and plants include bugle, meadowsweet, marsh thistle, fragrant agrimony, ragged robin, sweet woodruff and figwort. In between, the wood is made up of patches of oak woodland with some sycamore, crab apple, a few ash, scattered small-leaved lime and an understorey of hazel. In the spring, these areas are a riot of colour with bluebell, stitchwort, wood anemone, dog violets, primrose and pignut. Some of the less common species of ground flora include toothwort, tutsan, twayblade, broad-leaved helleborine and common cow wheat.
In all, 137 species of plant have been recorded, and 21 are characteristic of ancient woodland. The wood has a good assemblage of bird species including several that have suffered drastic declines in population over recent years; these include: pied flycatcher, nuthatch, willow and garden warblers, spotted flycatcher, goldcrest and woodcock; recently, red kites have been introduced at Grizedale Forest and these can regularly been seen from the wood.
There are some fabulous insects to be found here if you know where to look.
The butterfly list is rather modest at only 10 species, but just 4 moth traps in 2011 revealed well over 100 moth species, including some ancient woodland specialist moths and some that haven’t been recorded in the area for many years; with more trapping, the moth list will grow much longer. The wood is also home to roe and red deer, adders, wood mice, shrews, frogs, toads, foxes and badgers but we haven’t found any dormice yet!