Our work at West Wycombe

A typical West Wycombe village house

It takes a lot to look after West Wycombe Park, the village and hill. Take a look at some projects we've undertaken to continue to preserve this special place.

Village refurbishment

In 1934, the ancient village of West Wycombe was the first entire village to be handed to the National Trust.

Once an important staging stop on the old coaching route from London to Oxford, in 1929 the village was bought from the Dashwood family by the Royal Society of Arts as part of its ‘Campaign for the Preservation of Ancient Cottages’. After extensive repairs, the Society sold the village to the National Trust in 1934.

The village retains much of its historical charm and features cottages, buildings and inns of significant architectural value built between the mid-16th and 18th centuries. Keeping the buildings in good repair requires continual investment.

Our most recent refurbishment works, one of the National Trust’s most ambitious conservation projects, improved living standards for tenants and the energy efficiency of the buildings. The three-year project involved 52 cottages, 3 pubs and 7 commercial lettings including the village Post Office and one of the last remaining chair factories in the Chilterns. 

The highest conservation standards were applied to the building work, for example replacing oak with oak, and sourcing local materials and labour as far as possible. And the Trust's specialists in historic buildings and archaeology used the works to gain a greater knowledge of the history and fabric of the buildings, as well as the social history of the village and its residents over four centuries.

Hilltop conservation

West Wycombe Hill was given to the National Trust by Sir John Dashwood in 1935. Now a designated AONB, with rare chalk grassland, it has been cared for by the charity ever since.

For centuries, the land was used for grazing animals which helped to stop scrub species, such as hawthorn, bramble, dogwood and birch, from re-growing, and shading out sun-loving flowering plants.

Chalk grassland at Coombe Hill
Chalk grassland at Coombe Hill
Chalk grassland at Coombe Hill

The impracticality of grazing sheep and cattle on the hill today means National Trust rangers and volunteers have to lend a hand, cutting the grass in the late summer to keep the scrub down to allow the wild flowers that beneficial insects, and butterflies especially, need to thrive.

Devastating ash dieback

Ash dieback is a global plant disease threatening the historic trees and beautiful woodlands in our care in the Chilterns.

Native ash trees are facing near extinction due to a recent surge in ash dieback, driven in part by the climate crisis which has put a huge amount of stress on the trees, leaving them more susceptible to disease. It's estimated 75-95% of all ash trees in the UK will be lost in the next 20 or 30 years, a devastating impact on the landscape, wildlife and biodiversity.

Our rangers are carrying out the necessary felling and maintenance work now to ensure the safety of visitors and walkers. We're expecting to have to remove hundreds of trees across the Chilterns this year at a cost of more than £160,000. 

If you can help us to replace lost trees and restore woodlands for future generations, please make a donation today.

Sunshine filtering through the tree canopies at Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey

Help our woodlands blossom 

Did you know trees are our natural armour in the battle against climate change? By looking after existing woodlands and the wildlife that call them home, we can grow a greener future together. Help our woodlands blossom and donate to our Woodlands appeal today.

Park restoration

Flood mitigation

The 18th century ornamental lake and flint faced cascade in West Wycombe Park is entirely man-made.  With 42,000m³ of water, it is technically a reservoir and with the changes to the climate over the last two hundred years there was a risk of the earth embankment failing in the event of an extreme flood. 

The Cascade at West Wycombe Park
The Cascade at West Wycombe Park
The Cascade at West Wycombe Park

Structural strengthening of the earth dam and the banks adjacent to the River Wye were needed. As well as safety, the design priority was conservation of the views and vistas across the historic landscape. New retaining walls were constructed, formed in oak sleepers set between steel posts, within reinforced concrete piles that extend to the underlying chalk strata. Gabions (rock filled wire mesh containers) were also incorporated at the base of the walls to prevent future erosion. 

At a cost of over £140,000, the works will protect the lake and cascade for the future, and mitigate the scale and impact of possible flooding. This significant, vital work would not have been possible without the support of our visitors, members and supporters. 

Reinstating the fountain 

The original Water Garden in the Park was the work of Sir Francis Dashwood in the late-18th century who dedicated it to his second wife Marcella. 

The fountain at its heart was reputed to have a 20ft spout of water and the Trust was keen to restore the feature. The York stone base was re-laid, fishes’ mouths and letterbox spouts opened up and new electrics, pump and sump fitted.

The work to finish the restoration was delayed by the fact that the River Wye which feeds the stream to the fountain is a winterbourne chalk stream; it only flows when there has been enough winter rain to fill the chalk aquifers in the surrounding hills. 

All the streams that run into the park, over the cascades and into the lake can run dry as was the case the year of the works. The following spring the stream ran again; the pump was switched on and a water spout shot into the air. Success at last.

West Wycombe Park water fountain
West Wycombe Park water fountain
West Wycombe Park water fountain

Our grateful thanks to the volunteers who sold raffle tickets and to the generous donations received from Amersham, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes National Trust Associations, who together helped to fund this work.