by David Bonsall

In the upper part of the Brede Valley, between Brede and Sedlescombe, lies Powdermill Reservoir, constructed in 1933. Brede High Woods form a large part of the reservoir’s catchment area, set aside for protection from development by its acquisition by Hastings Corporation at the time. Some of the original woodland retains its broadleaved character, with hornbeam and sweet chestnut coppice, while other parts were replanted with conifers. Most of the patches of farmland between the woods were planted with larch, pine, beech and sycamore.

Under these plantations are the remains of a typical High Weald landscape – woods and small fields connected by shaws and hedges, with evidence of boundary banks, ditches and sunken lanes. In the Iron Age and during the Roman occupation ash and hornbeam coppice in the woods was used to produce charcoal for iron smelting. Later the area was for centuries an important centre of the post-medieval iron industry, based on Brede Furnace. The site of the original furnace, converted into a gunpowder mill in 1796, was eventually submerged under the modern reservoir.

The open heathland, bluebell-carpeted coppice, fern-lined ghylls and acid grassland of Brede High Woods provide habitats for a huge range of wildlife. They support beetles previously thought to be extinct, herds of fallow deer and many other plant and animal species.

The Woodland Trust has been successful in purchasing no less than 647 acres of this wonderful area. The Trust will manage Brede High Woods to benefit both wildlife and people. Plans include restoration of the areas of heath and grassland which have been planted with trees, and gradual removal of conifers from the areas of ancient woodland.

A full management plan, including measures to improve the biodiversity of the site, will be published in 2008. For further details of the Trust’s widespread work please visit their website:

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