Three cheers for the Commission

Today, a humid mid-summer’s day, I stood on a ride in the middle of Westhay Wood and all I could hear was the hum of insects and, the desultory late song of a Chiffchaff. And, if it hadn’t broken the perfect peace of the afternoon, I really think I might have give three rousing cheers for the Forestry Commission. For here all around me was the evidence of enlightened woodland management.

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The Commission have a 500-year lease on Westhay Wood, the southern part of Fineshade. The Ancient Woodland Index shows this as “Ancient Replanted Woodland” meaning that it has been forested for over 400 years but, when it was first taken over by FC, it was replanted with conifers. When we moved to Fineshade over 25 years ago, Westhay was tall, uniform and impenetrable pine forest with virtually nothing growing underneath the threatening mass of dark green trees.

Then came the FC’s Ancient Woodland Project in the Northants region – most of the conifer was felled and natural regeneration was allowed. And nature jumped at the chance to regenerate.

One big cheer for the Forestry Commission.

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The ride where I stood today was in the part of the wood named Great and Little Watkinson and runs north-south for about a kilometre. Two years ago it was narrow, dark and damp and probably looked like this.

A brave decision was taken by the local FC forester, to widen the ride considerably. The hazel would be coppiced along the ride itself and the woodland cleared several meters on either side. The felled timber was extracted carefully: the harvesting vehicles avoided the old ride with its hazel on either side and instead ran over the brash just inside the wood. It looked awful as it was being done – but now it looks brilliant!