Harvesting oak timber on Bookham Commons

English oak tree

Our woodlands are a small fragment of the ancient wildwood that once covered most of England. Beasts nibbled and roamed the woods creating light areas for a vast range of plants to thrive. Our hungry ancestors hunted many of these herbivores to extinction but took over their role by coppicing, clearing and grazing domestic animals. In the past hundred years these traditional activities became uneconomic and our forests grew dense and shady.

Thinning trees

In the autumn/winter a special conservation task is done on the commons - we thin our oak woods. This creates a more diverse woodland - more light allows a greater range of plants to grow which in turn leads to more insects and birds...
 
It’s also important to prevent our veteran oaks (250 – 500 years old) from being crowded-in and shaded by younger trees. Cutting some of the youngsters will allow the veterans to live longer and with room for a few of their own acorns to develop as eventual replacements (a small but somewhat mind-boggling matter of thinking ahead 500 years). This process is known as ‘halo-release’. Most of the ‘thinnings’ are around 40 to 50 years old.
 
We also look out for good intermediate and young trees, which might be replacements for the old ones, and clear around these too.
 

Timber, planks and posts

The timber, produced during this essential conservation work, is cut into useful planks and posts. It’s used throughout our Surrey countryside places for repairing buildings, making notice boards, waymarking and sign posts, bridges and benches. Many of these items are made by our talented Denbies Hillside woodwork volunteers.
 
The next time you go for a walk on the Surrey Hills, keep a lookout for this carefully harvested and incredibly useful natural resource being put to good use all around you.
 
If you would like to know more about our woodland management, please drop us an email.
 
Ian Swinney
Bookham Commons Area Ranger