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Our work at West Wycombe

A row of red brick houses in West Wycombe Village, Buckinghamshire, which comprises examples from the 16th to 18th centuries
Houses in West Wycombe village | © National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

There’s a lot to look after across the landscape gardens and follies of West Wycombe Park, the village’s historic buildings and the rare and beautiful habitats of West Wycombe Hill. This vital work wouldn’t be possible without the support of our visitors, members and volunteers. Find out about some recent projects that continue to preserve these special places.

West Wycombe Village refurbishment

In 1934, the charming village of West Wycombe became the first ever village to be handed to the National Trust in its entirety. The village is of huge historical value.

It still retains original cottages, inns and other buildings that were built between the 16th and 18th centuries, when it was an important staging post on the coaching route from London to Oxford.

Refurbishment in action

Keeping the buildings in good repair requires continual investment and our most recent refurbishment work in West Wycombe was one of the National Trust’s most ambitious conservation projects ever.

Spanning three years, it involved 52 cottages, three pubs and seven commercial lettings, including the village Post Office and one of the last remaining chair factories in the Chilterns. It also improved living standards for tenants and increased the energy efficiency of the buildings.

Conservation standards

The highest conservation standards were applied to the building work – replacing oak with oak, for example, and sourcing local materials and labour where possible.

The Trust's specialists in historic buildings and archaeology also used the project  to gain a greater understanding of the history and fabric of the buildings, as well as the lives of West Wycombe residents over the last four centuries.

Water crashing through the Cascade at West Wycombe Park
The Cascade at West Wycombe Park | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

Restoration in West Wycombe Park

West Wycombe Park is the historical estate of the Dashwood family. The Palladian house is surrounded by 45 acres of 18th-century landscaped gardens, dotted with classically-inspired temples, statues and water features, and includes a large lake.

Managing the threat of flooding

The 18th-century flint-faced Cascade in West Wycombe Park is an ornamental dam where two streams flow into the park to form the lake. Changes to the climate over the last two hundred years meant there was a risk of the earth embankment failing in the event of an extreme flood. 

Strengthening the dam

Structural strengthening of the earth dam and the banks adjacent to the River Wye was needed. As well as safety, the design priority was to conserve the views across the historic landscape.

New retaining walls were constructed using oak sleepers set between steel posts embedded in reinforced concrete piles that extend to the underlying chalk strata.

Gabions (rock-filled wire mesh containers) were also incorporated into the base of the walls to prevent future erosion. 

Protecting the future

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.

Reinstating the fountain 

The lake was created by the 2nd Baronet, Sir Francis Dashwood, in the late 18th century. The fountain at its heart is reputed to have sent water six metres into the air and we were 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 influence of weather

The River Wye, which feeds the streams to the fountain, is a winterbourne chalk stream, meaning it only flows when there has been enough winter rain to fill the chalk aquifers. The work was delayed during a winter of low rainfall as the Cascades and the lake ran dry.

The following spring the stream ran again, the pump was switched on and a spout of water finally shot into the air once more.

Thank you

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

A distant view of West Wycombe Park taken from a nearby hill, Buckinghamshire
Distant view of West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

West Wycombe Hill conservation

Cared for by the National Trust since 1935, West Wycombe Hill is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to rare chalk grassland that provides an important habitat for wildflowers, beneficial insects and butterflies.

Grazing animals

However, chalk grassland does not occur without some intervention. For over two thousand years, the hill was used to graze animals, helping to prevent scrub species such as hawthorn, bramble, dogwood and birch from taking over and shading out sun-loving flowering plants.

The impracticality of grazing sheep and cattle on the hill today means National Trust rangers and volunteers have to lend a hand instead, cutting the grass in the late summer to keep the scrub down and maintain this important habitat.

Managing ash dieback at West Wycombe

Ash dieback is a global disease threatening the historic trees and woodlands in the care of the National Trust 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 the trees under a huge amount of stress, leaving them more susceptible to disease.

Urgent maintenance work

It's estimated that 75–95 per cent 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. 

How you can help

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

Cyclamen in the Stumpery at Ickworth, Suffolk

Donate

Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

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