Yesterday was Celebrate Our Forests Day – part of a national campaign to preserve the UK’s forest estate in public ownership. The idea of the day was to get people out and about in their local forest or woodland, enjoying nature and wildlife, and appreciating the importance of access and good management. We thought we’d join in with a visit to one of our nicest local woods, Hitch Wood.
This is a area of ancient, semi-natural woodland situated due south of the north Hertfordshire town of Hitchin that is, very roughly, about 1km2 in area. It is not publicly owned but permissive access on waymarked paths is granted by its owners the St Paul’s Walden Bury estate. This access is clearly much-appreciated, since visiting the wood is a popular local activity, especially in April during the bluebell season. Many people have childhood memories of playing there, including one of this blog’s authors, who camped there as a Boy Scout. Its main species are oak, beech, hornbeam and sweet chestnut as well as some conifers and it reputedly contains some of the tallest trees in the county. You can find out more from the local council’s landscape character assessment of the area here (PDF).
Yesterday was a bit early for the carpets of bluebells that are one of this wood’s most popular sights – but, on one of the first truly mild days of this spring, it was a joy to visit. The whole place rang with birdsong, including that slightly unnerving creak made by pheasants, and we saw squirrels and a brief glimpse of a fleeing muntjac deer with its white tail flashing among the tree trunks. A highlight of our visit was watching a small bevy of roe deer springing through the trees. The extensive woodland management that goes on here means there’s an abundance of dead wood at ground level to provide habitats for fungi and insect life.
And plants, of course, plants everywhere. Trees bursting into life, bluebells and nettles sprouting through the leaf mould, creepers covered in buds. Catkins casting pollen onto the breeze. The place is plentifully supplied with benches and, after climbing up to what must be one of the wood’s highest spots, we sat on one of them for a while enjoying the sun, listening to the sounds all around us and marvelling at the sheer size of this lovely wood. We walked back via a sunny lane, edged with spectacular mature pollarded trees, that gave onto a path skirting the edge of the woods that gave us a view across fields before plunging us back under the tree canopy for our return.
It revealed to us exactly why Save Our Woods uses the following quote as a campaign slogan: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more” – John Burroughs, 1837-1921, American naturalist. Check out more of his work here.
If, like us, you appreciate being able to walk in the UK’s forests and woodlands and want to get behind the campaign to protect your right to do that, check out Save Our Woods here. Other organisations of interest include The Woodland Trust (a member of the government’s newly-constituted independent panel on forestry) and campaign group 38 Degrees.
At the moment it’s a case of channelling the huge burst of public enthusiasm for the UK’s forests, woods and related access rights to ensure they are protected for the future. Please add your voice if you can.
Getting more out of woods and forests
- The Woodland Trust: Guide to British trees
- The Forestry Commission website
- The Tree Council
- BBC Nature UK
- RSPB: Identifying birds
- Woodland Trust: Identifying typical ancient woodland plants