Our work in the Chilterns countryside
Find out more about our work to manage ancient woodlands, chalk grasslands and hedgerows including the most extensive area of native beech woodland in England. Our careful approach benefits a wide variety of wildlife that need these areas to thrive. Discover how we use traditional methods to maintain these special places.
Managing the woodlands
Thinning out trees
As trees grow the crown takes up more space and the trees require more energy, water and nutrients. We’re working to thin out trees to create more space that allows light to reach lower levels of the woodland. Selective thinning is carried out with careful planning and consideration to the surrounding area. We use thinning to encourage greater biodiversity in the woodland wildlife habitats.
We’re also removing the fast-growing holly from the under-canopy. It can choke out other woodland plants such as bluebells, box, coralroot bittercress and a variety of orchids including the red helleborine. Volunteers and rangers regularly clear the excessive holly growth throughout the year. We always leave some holly behind because holly berries are a valuable winter food source for woodland birds.
Ash dieback is caused by an airborne fungus and is devastating the historic trees and woodlands in our care in the Chilterns.
We've had to fell over 6,000 ash trees due to the disease in the area. Gradually we’ll begin to replace some of the trees with native species in the coming years.
This ancient practice is a sustainable method of using woodland to produce timber. The coppiced material was traditionally used for a variety of purposes such as fence posts, sheep hurdles, tool handles, firewood and charcoal.
We continue to coppice, as it has huge benefits for the biodiversity of woodlands, as well as allowing more light to reach the woodland floor. This leads to more ground flora and attracts insects including a wide variety of butterflies. Hazel coppice is particularly good for encouraging the dormouse to our woodlands and is one of Britain’s rarest mammals.
Many of the beech trees across the Chilterns countryside are over 100 years old. When the older trees die or fall they offer opportunities for the younger trees to grow in the gaps. These faster growing saplings need to be thinned out to provide the space and light they need to develop into strong trees. This is why you may see us cutting down and removing some of the younger healthy trees.
Removing fast growing trees also helps woodland butterflies. It’s important to provide enough light for the flowering plants on which they feed. This involves thinning out dense woodland, removing parts of the under-canopy and removing carefully selected trees and branches. By ensuring sunlight can penetrate through the tree canopy allows the woodland flowers to grow and the butterflies to thrive.
Chalk grasslands and wildflower meadows
We’ve introduced cattle to graze the area around Coombe Hill. Conservation grazing helps maintain the grass to low levels and can also spread wildflower seeds. The cattle disturb the soil surface that helps seeds to set and leads to a rich floral biodiversity.
Working in partnership
We’re working with local farmers and other conservation groups such as the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, Natural England, and Butterfly Conservation to link up chalk grassland sites with wildlife corridors to allow the butterfly species to spread. Butterflies attracted to the area include the green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) and the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis Lucina).
At Bradenham, Coombe Hill, Hughenden Park, Watlington Hill and West Wycombe Hill our work involves cutting the grass in late summer and removing invasive scrub along with some help from the sheep and cattle.
Mature hedgerows can be found across the Chilterns countryside sites we care for, but the main concentration is on the Bradenham Estate where the species-rich habitats teem with wildlife. Hedgerows provide good cover for birds including linnets, jays and the mistle thrush as they fly across the fields from nearby trees.
Working with tenant farmers, the hedges are carefully and gently trimmed each year on just one side and are slowly allowed to develop and rejuvenate, to guarantee their long-term success.
Discover the countryside sites of the Chilterns. Find the best viewpoints, walk through ancient woodland or pick a quiet spot to watch for wildlife.
Discover Aston Wood and Juniper Bank in the Chiltern Hills. These woodland sites are ripe for exploring, with wildlife to spot and trails to follow.
The wonderful views, rich chalk grassland and downland of Watlington Hill make it a perfect place for walks and wildlife spotting.
The countryside of the Chiltern Hills is steeped in history. Explore the past of some of our sites, from royal visits to ancient hillforts.
We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.
Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease affecting the country’s native ash trees. As many as four out of five ash trees may be affected and, where the dying trees could cause a threat to human safety, we need to remove them.