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Harvesting our woodlands – Carpenters Wood, Chorleywood

PUBLISHED: 12:40 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:40 29 April 2014

Bluebells carpet the woods in April and May

Bluebells carpet the woods in April and May

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Sustainable harvesting of timber is key to the management of our beech woods, writes Countryside Management Service projects officer Alex Laurie

Sales of renewable timber are helping manage the woodsSales of renewable timber are helping manage the woods

Carpenters Wood near Chorleywood is an ancient beech wood, having been wooded for at least 400 years. Situated in south west Hertfordshire and within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the woods are of county importance for their wildlife. 
The woods are owned and managed by Three Rivers District Council which, working with the Countryside Management Service and the Friends of Carpenters Wood, has produced and is delivering a management plan for the woods that combines the needs of people with the need to protect and enhance the wildlife.

Although collectively known as Carpenters Wood, there are three distinct parts – Hillas Wood, Whitelands Wood and the larger Carpenters Wood. The majority of the mature trees in the woods are beech and are around 150 years old. These veteran trees and standing dead trees in the woods provide nest sites for lesser and greater spotted woodpeckers and roosts for bats and are a host to a myriad of fungi and insects.

Historically, the Chilterns’ beech woods provided timber for a wide range of uses, most notably the chair-making industry, which was centred on the town of High Wycombe in neighbouring Buckinghamshire. Carpenters Wood was no exception to this and depressions in the ground on the eastern boundary are thought to be old sawpits used by foresters to saw trees into planks, making the timber easier to move.

Today, the woods’ timber is processed on a larger scale by machines known as harvesters, which can cut down and chop up a large tree in a matter of seconds. Although modern forestry can seem very destructive, the work in Carpenters Wood is vital in conserving these special woodlands.

Some of the woods beech trees are 150 years oldSome of the woods beech trees are 150 years old

In the 1980s, parts of Carpenters Wood were planted with larch, a deciduous conifer planted as a quick- growing timber crop. These plantations have now come of age and are dark, dingy and devoid of wildlife. During 
the winter, work began to thin out the larch to bring more light into the woodland and encourage the regeneration of beech, oak, hornbeam and other native trees.

This tree removal will in turn help spring wildflowers. During late April and early May the woodland floor is carpeted with English bluebells (shown left). Other flowers to keep an eye out for are wood sanicle and the small pink flowers of the nationally rare coralroot bitter-cress. Sheltered sunny glades created by the removal of trees are also important for insects such as speckled wood butterflies.

There are numerous footpaths throughout the woodland. Some of these paths are public or permissive bridleways, which also provide routes for horse riders and cyclists. 
Sales of timber and funding from Hertfordshire County Council’s Rights of Way Service have enabled CMS to improve entrances to the woods and install new welcome signs and waymark posts. Some particularly muddy sections of path will be improved to make them useable during the wettest months.
A group of local volunteers, known as the Friends of Carpenters Wood, has for many years dedicated itself to caring for the woods with the support of CMS. Most recently, the friends began work to restore the woodland boundaries. Old hedgerows with banks and ditches are still visible on many of the boundaries and are another indication of the wood’s ancient origins. These hedgerows are now being restored with existing trees and shrubs being coppiced, and new trees, such as hawthorn, hornbeam and hazel planted to fill gaps.

Without a doubt, spring is the best season to visit these woods, although autumn comes a close second. So get out this month and discover this rich habitat on our doorstep.

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