Walking from Farthinghoe, Halse Copse is visible on the horizon across the valley at the source of the River Great Ouse. Crossing the ridgeline at Halse Water Tower, the whole expanse of the woodland, running downhill from the Radstone-Stutchbury bridleway, comes into view – with the route of HS2 running directly in the foreground.
HS2 passes over Halse Hill in a deep cutting – almost wide enough to swallow the copse itself. The cutting shears off the side of the woodland. The footpath will rise-up on an embankment to pass over the trackbed, keeping on its present alignment.
The ploughed fields at the top of Halse Hill show a cornucopia of glacial erratics – dumped here two million years ago by a retreating glacier at the end of an Ice Age. There are all sort of rock types, from sandstone to mudstone, to flint and jasper-like nodules. Some of the most obvious are the dark black, glassy dolorites – possible relocated here from the Black Country or Charnwood Forest. Then there are the really big cobbles, some 20 to 30 centimetres across, mostly of rounded red sandstone.
The glacial superficial geology is what gives Halse Copse its character; a high water table, creating a damp woodland rich in ground flora, and with mosses covering the rotting wood. At this time of year the bluebells are just beginning to carpet the floor of the woodland.
The overpowering impression at this time of year though is the birdsong; or rather the minimal sounds of songbirds being drowned out by the calling of crows. There are rooks nesting, generating the most noise, but these in turn – judging by the remains of eggs scattered on the field around the woodland – are prey to both the carrion crows and buzzards circling around the rookery.
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The greatest impression I get of this place though is the hares. I see more hares in the fields around Halse Copse, all darting for cover in the woodland as I approach, than I've seen for a number of years. As I circumnavigate the woodland on the rights of way I see five in a short space of time.
Halse Woods isn't "significant". It's 'just another bit of woodland' in the scheme of things – but that's the whole point here. This is one of many 'insignificant' pieces of habitat HS2 will pass through. What it illustrates through is how the patchwork of small woodlands supports a diversity of life. And in particular, how the severance created by the passing rail cutting could affect the movement of species across the landscape, such as hares. It's that process of diffuse, generic damage to biodiversity that recent research shows is so damaging to ecology in general.