Lecture Details and Reviews

Archaeology & History of the Chiltern Woods

4th March, 2014 John Morris

John Morris is a biologist and ecologist and has been working in the Chilterns for 30 years assisting and advising owners on woodland management. He is chairman of the local division of the Royal Forestry Society and has published books on the cultural heritage, the ancient woodlands and woodland archaeology; recently he surveyed and edited the comprehensive Ancient Woodland Inventory for the Chilterns 2012, an invaluable tool for the Forestry Commission, Natural England and planners alike to protect this important habitat.


Reviewed by Valerie on 7th March, 2014

John Morris explained that the Chilterns Woodland Project's aim is to promote and encourage the sensitive and sustainable care and management of woodland in the Chilterns. Ongoing work is across five linked themes:

  1. Landscape — to protect and enhance the wooded landscape of the Chilterns.
  2. Biodiversity — to maintain and enhance nature in the Chilterns
  3. Economy — to promote a sustainable woodland economy in the Chilterns, including the use of timber and wood fuel.
  4. Historic environment — to raise awareness and interest in the history and Archaeology of woods across the Chilterns.
  5. Community — to increase awareness, understanding and enjoyment of Chiltern woodland.

The Chilterns is one of the most densely populated ancient woodland, with 21% of woodland covered. This stems from the 400-year-old activity of chair-making and its associated activities. For instance, the specialities of the Chilterns are saw-pits, found in the ancient woods where tree trunks were cut down and sawn on site. Coppicing, charcoal-making and the 500-year-old history of brick-making at Nettlebed were also mentioned.

Many hill forts were built in the Chilterns and at least 19 of these still exist, scattered along the ancient trading routes of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, e.g. at Bozedown near Whitchurch. John showed illustrations of the double bank and ditch profile of some which are exposed. Clearance work by Chiltern Society volunteers continues on other such historic sites for further interpretation.

Finally, mention was made of the challenge to find box growing in the Chilterns and to trace box woods and the use of boxwood in historic documents. This is being taken up by the Chiltern Box Woodland Project Group. Our members were asked to look out for box trees on their natural habitat of chalk banks, and to report back.

Ruth Gibson thanked the speaker for a wide-ranging talk.

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