Bob Reed - 40 years of volunteering at Hatfield Forest

Coppicing team leader, Hatfield Forest

Bob Reed - Volunteer - Coppicing team leader

Bob Reed has been volunteering at Hatfield Forest for over 40 years. Bob remembers playing in the Forest as a young boy in the 1950s, now he is part of the legacy that keeps this ancient forest so special as leader of the team of coppicing volunteers.

A protective basket surrounding a freshly cut stump in Elgins Coppice

Why did you start volunteering at Hatfield Forest?

“I’ve always been interested in the natural world and that led me to a career as a biology teacher. I first got involved with the coppicing team at Hatfield in 1978. I originally got involved in the Bishop Stortford Natural History Society in 1968. In 2008 the National Trust allowed us to use the meeting room at the Estate Office free of charge for the society meetings. Without this support I doubt if the society would still be going today. We formed a sub-group to the society called Forest Nature which is dedicated to Hatfield Forest. We carry out surveys including the Big Forest Bird Watch, aquatic surveys on all of the Forest’s water bodies, wildflower, oxlip, bat, dormouse, glow worm, fungi surveys, mink monitoring, kingfisher bank construction, to name but a few.

What is coppicing?

Coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique involving the repeated cutting and harvesting of small diameter trees at or near ground level. It is a technique which has been carried out at Hatfield Forest for hundreds of years originally to provide a source of building materials, firewood and animal fodder; but today provides a safe habitat for a huge variety of wildlife including many rare species of birds, insects, butterflies, fungi and plants. 

Under Bob’s leadership the coppicing at Hatfield is held in the highest regard by forest experts throughout the country. Henry Bexley, Operations manager at Hatfield Forest says “Bob’s team do the best example of historic coppicing I have ever seen. I could never get that sort of continuity from a contractor.

"The quality of the coppicing has had a fundamental impact on the conservation of the Forest and creation of wildlife habitats. Nightingales are returning to rare nesting sites and butterfly numbers are increasing and this is mostly down the quality of the coppicing that Bob’s team do. Other people and organisations including the Woodland Trust have come to the Forest to learn about how we managing coppicing in the Forest.”

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

“It’s amazing to have the opportunity to work in an ancient woodland that dates back over 100 years. This Forest has seen it all! It’s really special and I like to think I’m making a contribution to the community by helping to protect it so future generations can enjoy it for many more years

“There are over 25 volunteers in the team and we meet every other Saturday from October to March. Some people come for the conservation, others come because they enjoy the hands-on work and some come just because they enjoy getting outside and the company of other people. They are a great team - no matter what the weather, they always turn up!

“There’s a lot more paperwork now that when I started but I’m used to that as a teacher! It’s mostly for health and safety so it’s important to get it right. I still take the register at the start of every session!”

‘WoodFest is one of the highlights of year for the team. It’s great to be able to meet the public and talk about the work we do. I think a lot of people don’t realise how much work is involved to protect the forest and that most of it is carried out by volunteers. WoodFest is a great celebration if everything that happens at the Forest and I love sharing our work and recruiting new volunteers. I would recommend it to anyone.’

" This Forest has seen it all! It’s really special and I like to think I’m making a contribution to the community by helping to protect it so future generations can enjoy it for many more years."
- Bob Reed - Coppicing team leader, Hatfield Forest