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Our work in the Chilterns countryside

Broadleaf trees in Park Wood at Bradenham Estate, Buckinghamshire
Broadleaf trees in the wood at the Chilterns Countryside | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

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.

Holly removal

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

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.

Ranger coppicing at Hindhead, Surrey Hills
Ranger coppicing the woodland at Chilterns Countryside | © National Trust Images/John Millar


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.

Beech trees

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.

Attracting butterflies

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.

Green hairstreak butterfly on a blade of grass at Bradenham, Buckinghamshire
Green hairstreak butterfly in the wildflower meadow at Chilterns Countryside | © National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole

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.

Heathy hedgerows

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.

View to the north from Coombe Hill, showing fields and trees stretching to the horizon


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