I parked in a gateway across the road from the entrance to Slantry Wood – an area of land adjoining the M12 Motorway, just where it finishes at the Carn Roundabout near Portadown. Passing from the bright light of the open countryside into the shade of the maturing woodland, I noticed how the foliage helped to deaden the traffic noise from the road, and allowed me to pick out the metallic sounds of a chiff chaff, the trilling song of a wren and the harsh rattling call of a mistle thrush.
Most of trees at Slantry were planted in the 1960s on what was once agricultural land. The species mix includes poplar, sycamore and oak. Some of the ground is quite damp, creating habitat known as wet woodland, where willow and alder are dominant. It was now late June and the tree canopy was in full leaf. The spring flowering plants such as lesser celandine, bluebell, wood anemone and herb Robert were over, but I found Lords and Ladies and herb bennet still in flower, particularly alongside the path where light levels were higher.
There is a single path running through this linear site, but at one point I left it and wandered into a clearing among mature oaks and ash trees. It began to rain, and soon I was surrounded by the sounds of water dripping off the leaves. I stood knee deep in ash seedlings and grass that was adorned with ‘cuckoo spit’, some of which brushed off on to my clothes. The frothy spit is produced by the larvae of the common frog hopper for protection against predators. When fully grown the larvae emerge as mottled adults, a few of which I spotted sitting on grass leaves. They leapt off when I moved my hand towards them.
I retraced my steps to the main path, where I noticed several large tree trunks clothed with scented honeysuckle, and one with a rambling dog rose whose pale pink single blooms seemed to glow in the dim light. I noticed too trunks with bird boxes attached, a sign of human involvement in the site, which was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 2008, in response to requests from the local residents.
At the northern end of the wood there were signs of circular paths which suggested use by mountain bikers. I followed one which doubled back in the direction I had walked and from it I could see through the trees and across the fields. During the tree planting of fifty years ago, some of the ground at Slantry was left as meadow and a number of the original hedgerows retained. I could see these from the edge of the woodland. I watched a single and somewhat bedraggled meadow brown butterfly flutter intermittently across the wet grass. On a good day I suspect this vista would include countless green-veined white, meadow brown and ringlet butterflies, moths, bees, flies and swallows, all flying over the flowerheads of cat’s ear, knapweed, meadow buttercup and the like.
The mosaic of habitats that makes up Slantry Wood - wet woodland, mixed woodland, lowland meadow and hedgerow – provides shelter and food for a surprising range of wild plants and animals. It illustrates how even a relatively small reserve can assist our local biodiversity, while providing us with the benefits derived from walking in ‘green’ places and experiencing wildlife at first hand.