The Chilterns is a heavily wooded landscape, with the famous beechwoods the jewel in the crown. The changing colours of these woods, through spring green above carpets of bluebells to rich autumn golds adds variety and beauty to the Chiltern Hills.
The area has been well wooded for hundreds of years and today is still one of the most wooded parts of England with over one fifth covered by woodland. Ash, cherry and oak are widespread as well as beech. The Chilterns used to support a wide range of woodland industries including chair-making. Today, the woods are still harvested for timber but management for amenity, recreation and wildlife value has become equally important.
The Chiltern Woodlands Project is very active in promoting the good management of local woods and raising awareness of their history, archaeology and wildlife.
Find out how the Chilterns Box Woodland Project was a Heritage Lottery Fund project to research the history of our valuable box woodlands and bring to life the contribution they have made to national culture.
Wood from the Chilterns is used for a variety of purposes including firewood, charcoal, fencing, building timber, woodcrafts and furniture. High Wycombe has been the centre of the UK furniture industry for 200 years.
In recent times the market for Chilterns wood has declined dramatically because of the prevalence of cheaper imported timber from Europe and America. The furniture industry has also substituted metal and plastic for wood in many of its products.
In addition, there is a lack of good quality timber in the Chilterns because many of the best trees have been harvested. The trees left in the woods are shading out the young saplings which might potentially provide more good timber in the future. The competition from overseas means there is little incentive for woodland managers to nurture good quality trees for the future.
It is clear that many factors are affecting the management of Chiltern woods. In the meantime, we can all do our bit to stimulate the local woodland economy by buying local wood products wherever possible.
Woodlands are not static but are always growing and evolving. Storms, drought and disease all take their toll of old trees and many of the beech trees are now well over 100 years old. The loss of older trees creates gaps for young ones to grow, but these saplings need thinning out if they are to have the space and light they need to develop into strong trees.
Problems such as the damage caused by grey squirrels, who strip large areas of bark from young trees, need to be tackled. Young saplings are also in danger of being browsed by deer unless they are protected.
Global warming may have a significant impact on Chiltern beechwoods. Beech trees are especially susceptible to drought and if we get longer, drier summers they may die back. In some places they may be replaced by oak and ash.
There are many threats to the survival of our woodland heritage, but with proper management the woods we enjoy today can give equal pleasure to future generations.