In 1988 the Woodland Trust Scotland bought the 210 acres of Pressmennan Wood, which is close to the village of Stenton, a few miles SW of Dunbar. This wood is a small relic of the ancient woodland, which, thousands of years ago, covered much of the south-east of Scotland.
In 1955 the Forestry Commission bought the wood and started replanting much of the site with fast growing conifers and had plans to cut down and clear all the oaks. Fortunately some of the original oaks survived, especially on the steep banks near the lake.
The Woodland Trust stepped in to save the wood and the present management plan is to steadily and sensitively return the wood back to a semi-natural deciduous forest of Oak, Ash, Birch, Beech and Alder. Conifers are gradually being removed to increase the light that reaches the forest floor and the gaps created will encourage the regeneration of the natural trees.
Where trees get blown down they are left as dead wood to benefit fungi, insects and the other wildlife which will feed on the decaying wood. A lot of effort has also been put into cutting down and clearing Rhododendron ponticum, as its dense root system and evergreen leaves also suffocate our native plants.
In the spring and early summer there are many wild flowers such as Primroses, Bluebells, Dog’s Mercury and the Speedwells, which grow and flower before the leaves on tree canopy above open, cutting out the sunlight. Many types of fern, mosses and liverworts thrive in the shady spots where there is moist ground and a high air humidity.
Birds abound. They often move around in mixed flocks of Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. Look out for the attractive Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. On the lake there are lots of Mallard, a family of Mute Swans, Moorhens and if you are observant, Little Grebes or Dabchicks.
Ancient woods such as Pressmennan are superb places to study fungi. The Fungus Group of South East Scotland held their November foray here and recorded many species in a few hours. Some fungi live on and break down dead wood, returning the nutrients in the wood back to the soil. Others live in association with the living trees such as the Oak and Alder. Here the symbiotic arrangement has the fungi breaking down humus and directly providing the tree with nutrients and in return the tree feeds the fungi, this is to the advantage of both organisms. Many trees do not thrive without this association. Other fungi are more ruthless and will attack and kill trees.
Pressmennan Wood is open to the public. There are signposts on the A1 and a car park is provided at the wood entrance. There are several signposted paths through the wood and along the lake side. Visit woodlandtrust.org.uk for more details.