The Wooldown in Summer
The Wooldown is an area of open space in East Looe. It is a beautiful piece of open countryside - an area of fields and hedgerows that has been miraculously preserved within the town. Situated high above East Looe’s town centre, it commands wonderful vistas over the sea, the coast and St.George’s Island. It is treasured by the local community as a wonderful place to walk, to sit and contemplate the panorama and to explore the natural environment.
The Wooldown was once on the edge of East Looe, but is now bordered on three sides by urban development. Historically it was used for farming, and horses and sheep were still grazed here in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1949 it was bought for the people of Looe by Looe Urban District Council, as Trustees of the East Looe Town Trust, in a conveyance dated 12th November. The vendors were Dorothy Joan Charke and Elizabeth Josephine Charke of the Warp, Barbican Hill, and the price £2750.
The Trustees undertook ‘for themselves and their successors in title that they will not at any time hereafter erect or permit to be erected ........any buildings other than such pavilion or shelter that are usually erected in connection with public open spaces or playing fields’.
The purchased land comprised 3 fields known as New Park (2.071 acres), Wooldown (5.618 acres) and Lower Windmill (3.906 acres), plus an area of 2.76 acres between Lower Windmill field and the coastal footpath, known as Butt Park, and 2.5 acres of cliffs below the coastal path. The purchase also included a small area known as Quillet (0.5 acres) giving direct access on to Barbican Hill.
New Park is also known as Higher Windmill field, and the ruin of a seventeenth-century windmill stands at one end of it in a private garden. Wooldown field now has a beacon and imitation cannons, placed there as part of the celebration of Trafalgar Day in 2005. Lower Windmill Field is also known as ‘Threepenny-bit field’, because of the curiously shaped shelter that stands there. This shelter was a radar station during the Second World War.
The Trust also own other parcels of adjacent land on East Cliff, on Barbican Hill and in Bay View Road (giving access), which effectively are part of the ‘greater Wooldown’.
The ELTT views the Wooldown as an asset of great importance. The opening line of its mission statement is ‘to maintain the Wooldown for the recreation and enjoyment of the people of Looe’. The Wooldown is part of the local Conservation Area, and is also classified in local plans as an ‘Open Area of Local Significance’ (OALS) (in which no development will be permitted if it would significantly impair the effectiveness of the OALS).
Managing the WooldownIn managing the Wooldown, the ELTT in recent years has been guided by advice from the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) whose most recent report was in 2001.
FWAG stress that the Wooldown is not a suburban park, but a piece of Cornish countryside preserved within the town, providing a haven for wildlife. The report notes the following objectives in the management of the Wooldown:
- To retain an open space for the people of East Looe and visitors to the area to enjoy quiet relaxation
- To preserve a balance between the needs of the public, the landscape and the wildlife of the area
- Where possible to increase the wildlife value of the area
- To manage the young trees in order to give them space to become well-shaped landscape features
- To ensure that access to the views of the coast and the Looe valley is maintained.
Because the Wooldown has not been re-seeded, fertilised or treated with pesticides in recent years, it has a good mix of wild flowers among the grasses, and Higher Windmill field in particular is a species-rich wildflower meadow. The 2001 report noted however that there had been a decline in the number of species in the previous decade, and made recommendations about the grass-cutting regime. The report also stressed the significance of the Cornish hedges and of the wild impenetrable areas around the edges of the Wooldown and on the steeper slopes as shelter for wildlife.
The Wooldown is not simply three open fields: it is an area of fields, hedges, copses and scrub where the ecological value and biodiversity of the site is considerably enhanced by the relationships between the different components.
Wildlife of the Wooldown
Despite high levels of disturbance by people and dogs, the Wooldown is home to a healthy range of creatures. This is mainly because the fields are bisected and fringed with hedgerows and thickets which provide food and shelter. Ecologically the ‘hedges and edges’ are as important as the three fields.
Over twenty species of bird have nested here in recent years, of which the most notable are common whitethroat, bullfinch, song thrush, goldcrest and long-tailed tit. Common species like robin, dunnock, blackbird, wren, chaffinch, wood pigeon and blue tit are plentiful all year round, and in summer there are chiffchaffs and blackcaps, some of which over-winter in the dense thickets. Among the larger birds, carrion crows and magpies are common, and overhead herring gulls are of course abundant. Nor is it unusual to see a buzzard or kestrel above the Wooldown, or a sparrowhawk dashing through. At night there are tawny owls. In summer swallows visit the fields hawking for insects. In the harsh winter of 2010-11, redwings were a common sight. Of course, the Wooldown also offers the chance to see distant seabirds.
Among the more unusual visitors in recent years are firecrest, peregrine, wheatear, willow warbler and a little egret, the last observed feeding near the beacon one Christmas Day.
Mammals are more difficult to see as most are nocturnal, but there is a small population of rabbits and grey squirrels, and there are field signs and occasional sightings of others including foxes and badgers. There are plenty of small rodents, particularly shrews and voles. Roe deer are very occasionally seen by early morning walkers. Among reptiles, adder, common lizard and slow worm have been recorded.
The Wooldown is a good place to see butterflies in summer, as nettles, brambles, ivy and other food plants in the surrounding hedges are attractive to many species; over twenty have been recorded. The commonest butterflies are speckled woods, and there are usually plenty of meadow browns and ringlets. Red admirals, peacocks, commas and large whites are also common. In May 2009 there was a large influx of painted ladies in Southern England (they migrate from North Africa) and lots turned up on the Wooldown. Other regular sightings include gatekeeper, small copper, common blue, orange tip, small tortoiseshell, small white, marbled white, wall brown and holly blue.
The Friends of the Wooldown
The Friends of the Wooldown is a group of people dedicated to the preservation of the Wooldown in its entirety as an open space available to all.
Membership is open to any adult who supports the view that the Wooldown should be protected from all forms of ‘development’ for whatever purpose, and that no additional artificial structures or buildings should be introduced. Members are also opposed to any attempt to divide up the Wooldown, or create segregated areas.
Members agree to a code of behaviour on the Wooldown which involves maintaining an environment free of litter and dog dirt, and respect for other users.
There is a £1 joining fee to cover administration costs. For more information about membership contact:
Penny Sykes (01503-264750)
Derek and Christine Spooner (01503-265590) or
Alison Bishop (01503-264462)
Regular (monthly) working parties are held to assist the East Looe Town Trust in the maintenance of the Wooldown. Contact Penny Sykes for more information.
The organisation first came into existence in the 1970s. It was known initially as the Wooldown Preservation Society. It was linked to the Looe and District Amenity Society, founded in 1976 by the late Jean Grimer, a retired schoolteacher living at High Windmill, a house backing on to the Wooldown. Jean was an ardent conservationist, and served on the East Looe Town Trust, as well as Caradon District Council, where she chaired the environmental committee. She was the secretary and driving force behind the Looe and District Amenity Society.
Jean’s memorial seat stands just inside the Bay View Road entrance to the Wooldown. Many local residents became Friends of the Wooldown in the 1970s, and some still possess the original green membership cards. The group kept a vigilant eye on the protection of the Wooldown from a variety of threats, especially building proposals. In 1973, for example the Trust, short of money, discussed selling off three and a half acres for building, and considered approaching the Misses Charke to see if they would release land from the covenant. The proposals were dropped in the face of vigorous opposition.
In 1978 a massive row erupted over a plan to lease the fields to a tenant for sheep grazing and to erect barbed wire fences. A wire-cutting protest was led by local resident Mr Geoffrey Ginster. A public meeting held by the Looe and District Amenity Society on 21st April 1978 at the County Secondary School was attended by over 300 people, including MP Robert Hicks. The upshot was removal of the fences.
In this and other disputes, the Friends rallied successfully to oppose any forms of development and any restrictions on freedom of movement within the Wooldown area. Issues continued to arise about unauthorised entry on to the Wooldown by motor bikes, and this led the Friends to restore the restricted entrance. The stile was rebuilt by John Grimer in 1988. Joan Field, MBE, who lived at South Point next to the entrance, paid for the building of the kissing gate. These features are an important part of the history of the Wooldown.
During the 1990s the Friends of the Wooldown ceased to be an active organisation, and the Looe and District Amenity Society folded. However, in 2009 the Friends group was re-launched, and in 2010 had over 600 members.