Grubbins Wood - what makes this unusual woodland special?

PUBLISHED: 11:50 13 January 2014

Grubbins Wood - John Morrison

Grubbins Wood - John Morrison

Not Archant

Grubbins Wood is a hidden gem, enjoyed by locals for its quiet serenity and its easy reach from Arnside writes Charlotte Rowley, of Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The normal cycle of life found in English woodlands - dappled light in summer, bronzing leaves in the autumn and bare trees through winter into spring - doesn’t apply for a good part of Grubbins Wood Nature Reserve. Although there are open meadows and deciduous trees in the nature reserve, the overwhelming impression left on your senses is of the year-round dense and dark canopy of this unusual yew woodland.

Although sunlight doesn’t often hit the ground, there is still a welcoming feel to the woodland. A series of footpaths guide you among the yew trees into the open meadows, finally sending you out onto the edge of the estuary.

John Dunbavin looks after a few of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves in the south of Cumbria and is usually found at Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve, just over the water near Witherslack, overseeing the huge restoration of the peatbog there. At Grubbins Wood there is less to do day-to-day and John is assisted by volunteer warden, Lizi Langston who keeps an eye on things.

‘Grubbins Wood has probably been woodland since pre-mediaeval times when it would have stretched more or less unbroken from the summit of Arnside Knott to the shore of the Kent Estuary,’ says John. ‘It’s a yew woodland with beautiful wildflower grassland and is home to Lancastrian whitebeam, a species of tree only found on the limestone areas around Morecambe Bay.’

Pure yew woodlands are fairly rare in Europe and the trees in Grubbins Wood have clearly been planted as they are a similar size and evenly spaced. In the past yew trees would have been harvested for their amazing wood.

Yew timber has many useful properties A- it’s heavy yet elastic and is said to be so hard that a yew fence post will outlive one made of iron. Its elasticity means it’s great for making longbows and spears and the world’s oldest wooden artefact is a yew spear head found in Essex estimated to be 450,000 years old.

Only a few flowering plants can survive in the low light of the woodland. Dog’s mercury is ones of these and its fresh green leaves and small white/green flower spikes can be seen emerging and flowering in early spring. Shrub layer trees and ground flora found in a typical deciduous woodland are absent, instead you will find ferns, mosses and liverworts (a sort of flattened moss) which thrive in the dark, damp microclimate. Look out for hart’s tongue fern, a medium-sized strikingly green fern that loves growing in damp, shady gorges and on banks in woodlands, as well as on rocks, walls and mossy branches. 60 species of mosses and liverworts have been identified and recorded at Grubbins Wood.

And while you’re peering at the ground looking for a hart’s tongue fern you may notice mysterious mounds of woodland debris. These are the nests of southern wood ants, large red ants sadly now in decline in our area.

‘Until recently these ants were found in woodlands across the southern Lake District, but whether through climatic changes or changing woodland management practices, Grubbins Wood is now the most northerly place they can be found,’ explains John. ‘They build their nests from twigs and needles in locations carefully chosen to be warmed by the sun on one side but also sheltered from wind and rain on the other. Look out for the ants from March to October when you can see them climbing up trees to collect honeydew produced by aphids. If you look closely you can see the ants coming down the trees are fatter than those going up as they are swollen with honeydew, which they feed to the larvae in the nest.’

Wood you visit

Grubbins Wood Nature Reserve is open to the public all year round and the main entrance is just off New Barns Lane to the south west of Arnside.

To find out more about the wildlife download an audio trail from

To support the conservation of Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Grubbins Wood Nature Reserve, become a member from as little as £2.75 a month. Join online at

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