Exploring Furzefield Wood and Halfpenny Bottom Local Nature Reserve
PUBLISHED: 12:14 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:14 18 April 2017
An ancient oasis of wildlife in industrial Potters Bar is thriving thanks to traditional woodland management by man and animal power. Countryside Management Service projects officer Brian Gillam explains
In an unlikely location between an industrial estate and a leisure centre in Potters Bar you will find Furzefield Wood and Halfpenny Bottom Local Nature Reserve. This small wildlife refuge contains Hertfordshire’s only surviving continuously coppiced hazel woodland. Owned by Hertsmere Borough Council the area is a designated Local Nature Reserve and is managed by the council and the Countryside Management Service for both wildlife and people.
Spring is the perfect time to visit Furzefield Wood to see the carpets of bluebells peppered with other wildflowers including the delicate white wood anemone, the yellows of lesser celedine and primroses. Also present are the interesting little flowers of moschatel or Town Hall Clock, named because of its symmetrical, almost cube like, flower head with four flowers facing outwards like the faces of a clock tower.
The wildflowers thrive under a woodland canopy dominated by coppiced hazel bushes and large oak trees with occasional ash, hawthorn, crab apple, hornbeam, holly and field maple. The wood supports many different birds, bats, other mammals and insects. Speckled wood and the striking yellow brimstone butterfly can be frequently seen in the dappled shade of the woodland in the spring, the musty scent of fox lingers at path crossings and the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers rings out during the daytime.
Records for the coppicing of hazel on this site go back to the 16th century when Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury bought the land from Lord Windsor. This ancient practice involves regularly cutting trees on a cycle, for example every 12 years. The regrowth from these trees is then used to produce various products from thatching spars and sheep hurdles to bean poles and pea sticks. Nothing was wasted; larger timber was made into charcoal and the small twiggy pieces were bound up into faggot bundles for the fire.
Coppicing returned to the wood in 1979, and since then the Countryside Management Service has been working on behalf of the borough council to make use of the timber while continuing the vital coppice management under which the woodland wildlife thrives. Iain Loasby of Rivenwood Coppice has been employed to coppice an area of the wood each year. As in years gone by, Iain turns the cut trees into useful products which he markets and sells, thereby offsetting the cost of the work to the council.
Iain’s role has also been to plant additional hazel trees and erect temporary fencing around the coppice areas to limit the impact of muntjac deer that find the new tree shoots particularly tasty. It is hoped the work will improve the quality and productivity of the coppice, so in time the woodland management work will pay for itself or may even provide the council with a small income. This year visitors will be able to see the whole coppice woodland back in managed production as Iain has completed the first eight-year rotation.
Over the past few winters, a Suffolk Punch horse called Roy and his handler Matt Waller from Hawthorn Heavy Horses based in Essex have been brought in to help Iain extract timber and coppice products out of the wood to the roadside. This traditional approach allows the work to be done in a sensitive, ecological manner with minimal ground disturbance compared to using modern mechanised forestry equipment and vehicles.
Countryside Management Service hosted an open day in February for visitors to meet Roy and learn more about the coppice management and the importance of Furzefield Wood for wildlife. Similar events are planned for next winter. Visit the Walk and More section online at hertfordshire.gov.uk/walksandmore to keep up to date with events at the site and elsewhere in the county.
CMS works with communities in Hertfordshire to help them care for and enjoy the environment. Visit hertslink.org/cms, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01992 588433 for more details.