An inspiring project to rediscover the woodland heritage of the chalk hills of the Chilterns caused a burst of artistic activity captured in an impressive book on the area’s special trees and woods. Related community activity has included the acquisition and care of Common Wood an extensive area of ancient woodland on the edge of Tylers Green, near High Wycombe.

Chilterns Special Trees and Woods

The Chilterns is one of the most heavily wooded protected landcapes in England. It has enjoyed a long tradition of economic and social activity connected with its trees and woods. More than half the woodlands are considered to be ancient and many are dominated by beech trees some of which are thought to be over 500 years old. Ancient pollarded trees are a distinctive feature of the well-known Burnham Beeches an area of wood pasture recognised as an ancient monument. It contains hundreds of gnarled and characterful trees which over the years have acquired evocative names such as the Ballerina Tree and the Witches Beech. Some even have artistic connections: the Cage Pollard starred in the blockbuster film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Mendelssohn’s tree is said to have inspired the German Composer, and the Jenny Lind tree is named after an opera singer who was known as the Swedish nightingale.

These cultural connections and many other fascinating stories which bring local history to life were collected through a ‘special trees and woods project’ between 2006 and 2008. This inititiave was developed by the AONB Board with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and match-funding being provided through the volunteers’ time. The aim was ‘to promote the special trees and woods, celebrate the heritage of the Chilterns woods, and to achieve all this with the involvement of the local community.’ (Rachel Sanderson, Chiltern AONB)

The project was a great success with one hundred volunteers recording stories involving over 770 trees and 168 woods. These stories brought to life the long traditions of ‘bodging’ in the woods to supply the furniture industries that grew up in nearby High Wycombe. Using pole lathes the skilled bodgers provided the legs and braces for Windsor chairs which were exported all over the world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Associated art exhibitions which toured to venues in the area helped stimulate interest in the project and around 20 oral histories were recorded and made available on the website. A beautifully produced book using photographs and artwork created as a result of the project was an unexpected product of the project. The book was published in 2010 with the support of a nearby University.

Common Wood

Adjacent to Penn Wood, whose recent history is recorded in the book, is Common Wood which is owned and looked after by the Penn and Tylers Green Residents Society. Thanks to a major fundraising campaign Common Wood was bought by the Residents Society in 2002 to protect it from developpment and promote public access. This followed a successful campaign to save Penn Wood from the threat of a golf course development in the 1990s.

As the name suggests, the woodland was once part of an extensive tract of common land covering over 4,000 acres called Wycombe Heath. Tylers Green grew up following the development of the local chair industry but in 1855 an enclosure ‘award’ ended all rights of common in the area. Now Common Wood is cared for under the guidance of a local management committee and is much used and valued by local people and wildlife.

Websites: Chiltern AONB | Ancient Tree Hunt | Common Wood



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