News

Our new coppicing plan

The new 10-year Woodland Management plan for Birchanger Wood includes coppicing some key areas to let the light in and increase biodiversity. We have already made a start near our compound, which you may have seen on your walks in the wood. Read on to find out how coppicing works magic in woodlands.

What is coppicing?

Coppicing is where a tree is cut down to its base to create a ‘stool’ from which new shoots will grow. It looks very drastic, but within a year or two the tree will be showing lots of new, strong growth.

Coppicing work under way near our compound, January 2023

In fact, coppicing can actually increase the life span of a tree! Some of the oldest trees in Britain are grown from coppice stools. They can live to an incredible age, like the amazing lime at Westonbirt Arboretum that is thought to be two thousand years old.

Coppicing has been used as a woodland management technique since the Stone Age. Coppicing made sure there was a good steady supply of firewood and timber that could be more easily harvested than felling the whole tree, and this technique would have been used at Birchanger Wood for hundreds of years. Most tree species can be coppiced but it’s especially suitable for hornbeam, which we have lots of at Birchanger, and hazel.

But times have changed – why are we still doing it today?

Coppicing has major benefits for biodiversity. After cutting the trees, light floods the woodland floor allowing smaller plants, such as wildflowers, to thrive. It also means shrubby plants like brambles can grow, which make ideal habitat and provide sources of food for small birds and other animals and insects.

Will you coppice every tree?

No. We have a plan to coppice only certain areas of the woodland (you can read that in full here) and within each area a number of mature trees – also known as ‘standards’ – will be left. Quite a few of these will be oaks. These mature trees provide another vital habitat and it is very important that we look after them, too.

What happens when the coppiced trees grow back?

As the trees regrow, the canopy slowly closes over again, reducing the light that reaches the woodland floor. This takes between five and eight years. Each area will be coppiced roughly every 20-30 years, meaning that the canopy is closed for the majority of the time. We will coppice other areas in ‘rotation’, meaning the wood will have trees at all different ages and stages of growth. This will provide the widest possible range of habitats to support the widest possible range of plants and animals.

What are the piles of dead wood for?

We also leave some piles of cut wood or fallen trees to decay. You may have seen these in the wood. This is not just us being too lazy to tidy up! Lots of species rely on dead wood for food and habitat – including many invertebrates and fungi. It is a vital element of a biodiverse woodland.

how do I get involved?

Birchanger Wood is looked after by a team of volunteers. If you would like to play a part in securing the healthy future of the woodland, please click here and fill in our contact form, or read a bit more about what we do on our Volunteer page here.

Read more about the conservation benefits of coppicing in The Conservation Volunteers’ Conservation Handbook.

New 10 year management plan for Birchanger Wood

The latest 10-year Woodland Management Plan for Birchanger Wood was approved in December 2022. The ambitious and exciting plan sets out how the Trust will work to maintain and enhance the biodiversity of the wood in the coming years, and how it will involve the local community to make sure the woodland remains an accessible natural space for all to enjoy.

The coppicing work recommended in the Plan will help to provide habitat for small woodland birds and mammals by encouraging a ‘shrub layer’ to grow. A shrub layer is made up of younger trees, such as hazel, holly and hawthorn, which is perfect for nesting, feeding and sheltering. As the Plan notes, there is potential to provide much more of this kind of habitat at Birchanger Wood, which could make a real difference to the diversity of species that the wood supports.

Would you like to help us achieve this vision for the future of Birchanger Wood? Our volunteering sessions take place every Saturday, and even if you can only spare an hour or two we would love to hear from you. Birchanger Wood Trust is entirely run by volunteers, and many hands make light work! Please fill in our contact form and we will get back to you.

You can read the full Plan here: Birchanger Wood Management Plan 2022

Log sales suspended until further notice

Update as of 1st January 2023: we have now sold out of seasoned firewood! Our log sales are now suspended until further notice. We hope to start selling again in autumn / winter 2023, once our newer stores have fully seasoned.

Our thanks to all of our customers this year. Log sales are a really important part of our fundraising and all the money raised goes into supporting the conservation and restoration of this beautiful woodland.

Don’t forget you can also support us by making a donation to on our website by clicking here.

Log sales: December 24th and 31st 2022

We will be open from 8.30am-9.30am on Saturday 24th December and Saturday 31st December, with no afternoon sales.

Due to high demand, our stock of seasoned, dry firewood is very low – the picture above was taken in the summer and that bay is now completely empty.

We are still only charging £13 per wheelbarrow full, available from our compound next to the water tower on Heath Row in Bishop’s Stortford. Click here to see a map of how to find us. Cash only. We are happy to help you get the logs into your car.

Please check back on our website or our Facebook page for updates on details of our log sales for 2023.

Thank you for everyone that has bought logs from us this year. The money we raise from these goes straight back to preserving and enhancing this beautiful woodland.

Don’t forget we are always keen to recruit new volunteers, you don’t have to be super fit and you don’t have to commit to every session! If you would like to find out more, please come along to our compound on a Saturday morning at around 10am. We’re here every week.

Free 2022 Woodland Open Day

Birchanger Wood is set to host a range of activities for the whole community on 20th August, including bug hunts, orienteering and wood-turning – and it’s all free, although donations are gratefully received.

Local naturalist and educator Jono Forgham will be running woodland events throughout the day:

  • 10am-midday: Moths and butterflies and pellet dissection.
  • Midday-1pm: Bug hunt and butterfly survey
  • 1pm-2pm: Owl pellet dissection
  • 2pm-3pm: Bug hunt

Throughout the day, the Bishop’s Stortford wood turners will be carrying out demonstrations at our compound next to the water tower on Heath Row. Visitors can buy their wares made from wood sourced from Birchanger Wood, including bowls, candlesticks, cheese boards, light pulls and pens.

We will also have an orientation activity with maps of the wood available for just £1.

And there may be other surprises… watch this space!

Volunteer at Birchanger Wood to Help Body, Mind, Community and Planet

Woodland conservation can keep you in shape, no matter your age or level of fitness – and there is no sign-up fee and no monthly direct debit.  

Birchanger Wood volunteers are involved in a vast array of activities throughout the year, which can change from season to season, offering great variety. Activities range from moderate to vigorous exercise, allowing everyone the opportunity to participate: planting trees, clearing leaves from paths, picking up rubbish, splitting and stacking logs, coppicing and pruning trees, and for those who are certified using a chainsaw for felling. Everyone can go at their own pace and according to their ability and time.

Felling trees – whether coppicing or removing dangerous and diseased trees – is part and parcel of managing woodlands to enhance biodiversity. At Birchanger Wood, felled trees are cut up, split and stored for seasoning. The next year, the logs are sold for sustainable firewood, creating an income and making our local woodland financially self-sufficient. All this involves physical labour.

Woodland conservation is comparable to other sport and leisure activities in keeping you healthy. Moderate wood splitting with an axe will burn 384 calories an hour – more than 80% more than a yoga class, 50% more than pilates and just 9% less than a 13-minute mile run. But if you use vigorous effort, you can expect to be burning calories faster than a high impact aerobics class. Felling small to medium-sized trees is comparable to an hour of taekwondo. Using a chainsaw will burn more calories than moderate to vigorous spinning. At the top end of the calory-burning spectrum, felling large trees uses more energy than playing competitive tennis.

A young volunteer gets a workout splitting wood

Wood splitting with an axe is a work-out for the whole body, engaging multiple muscles to perform a swing and stabilise your position. It engages the entire core, including lower and upper back, shoulders, arms, abs, chest, legs and glutes. Swinging an axe uses all your abdominal muscles, from the ribs to the hips. Similar exercises can be done in the gym using weighted resistance, such as a medicine ball, but why pay a gym to practice an exercise you can do in the fresh air and for the benefit of woodland conservation?

You don’t have to be built like a lumberjack to swing an axe. Our volunteer Alice said, “I really enjoy it – and you don’t have to be super fit or strong! I admit my log-splitting skills are still a work in progress, but every extra pair of hands helps and it’s much more fun than the gym.”

Our most senior volunteer John leads on tree planting and has planted scores of young trees throughout the woodland, which are thriving. Tree planting uses around 380 calories per hour for an average-sized man – the equivalent of running four-and-a-half miles. But why spend good money running on a treadmill that goes nowhere to the sound of bad dance music when you can be using the same energy to do something positive for the planet?

Our younger volunteers are in their teens, often joining us as part of a Duke of Edinburgh qualification. They can enjoy physical activity, an educational opportunity and working alongside the generations. Two of our trustees are among our youngest volunteers and Birchanger Wood has become part of their lives – in one case, involvement in woodland conservation sparked an interest that led to doctoral research in woodlands. We are proud of being inclusive of all generations, which is what community bonds are all about.

By being out in the fresh air alongside friendly volunteers in non-competitive physical work, volunteers are benefitting their mental health.

According to a report released in December 2021 by Forest Research, in England woodlands save £141 million in costs associated with mental health illnesses, including visits to GPs, drug prescriptions, inpatient care, social services and the number of days lost due to mental health issues. The figures are based on evidence of the reduced incidence of depression and anxiety resulting from regular visits to woodlands.

Volunteers having a chinwag over tea and biscuits

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information for mental health charity Mind, said, “Spending time outdoors – especially in woodlands or near water – can help with mental health problems such as anxiety and mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature. Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year. Although many of us feel like hibernating in winter, getting outside in green spaces and making the most of the little daylight we get can really benefit both your physical and mental health.”

So, take up the woodland challenge for the sake of your own body and mind, for the sake of your community – and for the sake of all the diverse species in this ancient native woodland.

Volunteer activity happens every Saturday, from 9am to 3pm, throughout the year. Just turn up at our compound next to the water tower on Heath Row, Bishop’s Stortford. Stay for an hour, a morning or the whole day – you choose your hours. We look forward to seeing new volunteers.

What to look out for in July

By Jono Forgham, Trustee of Birchanger Wood

July is a time for the insects of Birchanger Wood to come to the fore. Butterflies, moths and hoverflies should be easy to find. Many moth species can be disturbed from low growing vegetation and then seen in flight. They will invariably fly a short distance before landing and moving to the underside of a leaf to hide from predators. After dusk, an evening walk with a torch will reveal large numbers of these fascinating and rarely seen insects in flight.

Butterfly species will be seen on warm, sunny days, particularly in the early afternoon. Speckled Wood will be common, a brown butterfly showing yellow/cream dots on the upper wings. Meadow browns will be found on the periphery of the wood, adjacent to the agricultural land whilst the smaller skipper species will be noted resting on leaves, looking like orange moths.

The bramble will be in flower so always worth checking the white or pink flowers of this common plant within the woods. Gatekeeper butterflies will nectar on these and will be joined by a host of hoverfly species. These are the yellow and black insects that are similar to bees and wasps but a quick check on the facial features will show them to be a fly species. Very short antennae and large eyes will give the observer an indication they are flies.

Other butterflies worth looking for will be Red admiral, Small tortoiseshell and the Small and Large whites. The latter two will most likely be found where houses with gardens back on to the wood.

Also on nettles and bramble leaves will be the webs of the Nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis. These webs will be crawling with plenty of recently hatched spiderlings and invariably, the female will not be far away. Look on large flat leaves for her where she will be stationary, waiting for an insect to land. She will always have her first two sets of legs together, giving the impression she is a 6 legged insect and not an 8 legged spider.

If you come across any insect and manage a photo, (phone or camera) I would be happy to see it and help identify it for you. Always a chance of a rarity being found, so do send in your photos. jforgham@hotmail.com.

More unusual, but not unexpected butterflies will be Purple Hairstreak and Silver Washed fritillary. Both require oak for their caterpillars to feed upon. The purple hairstreak likes to spend most of its time high in the oak canopies, so is rarely seen. After 2pm, especially after some morning July rain is the best time to observe them, when they come down lower to nectar and drink. The Silver washed fritillary is a large orange and black butterfly, fast flying that will land upon vegetation to both nectar and rest.

During July, many birds go into post breeding moult. The new feathers grow through, pushing the old ones out. These older feathers will now be very worn from constant hunting for food. Consequently, they will remain quiet, hiding away as the new feathers grow. They are still present in the wood, just not easy to see. However, larger birds like the magpies and Jays will still be seen, albeit in a rather tatty state.

Fungus Mungus in the Wood

The fungus season in Birchanger Wood is now virtually over. The autumn saw a wide variety of fruiting bodies bursting through the woodland floor and from rotting wood, as seen in these photos taken in the wood this year.

The fruiting bodies – some beautiful (such as lilac bonnet which lives in leaf litter) and some ugly (such as dog’s vomit slime mould that thrives in damp bark mulch) – are just a fraction of the fascinating organism that is neither plant nor animal.

While some fungus such as Hymenoscyphus fraxineus which causes ash dieback can attack and even kill trees, most fungus is beneficial for our woodland. They assist with the decomposition of dead vegetation, turning it into fertile soil. Mycorrhizal fungi help provide tree roots with water and nutrients. There are also parasitic fungi like “yellow brain” that feed on other fungi. Many fungal species will not even push out fruiting bodies or be detected outside a laboratory.

If you are interested in fungus identification and putting a name to the species in these photos, go to our mobile app download page and choose from one of the identification apps.

Thanks to Birchanger Wood trustee Jono Forgham for sending these photos and allowing us to publish them.

Treat Our Bluebells With Respect – Don’t Kill Them

There have been multiple reports of bunches of bluebells being picked and then discarded

While the vast majority of people enjoy Birchanger Wood’s springtime carpet of bluebells on their walks through our local woodland, some visitors are picking large numbers of them and trampling them by straying off paths.

The picking of wild flowers and plants in Birchanger Wood is a criminal offence. According  to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is illegal to “uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” or to pick flowers from a special conservation site or reserve.

Almost half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world. Bluebells are fragile flowers that don’t like change or disturbance, preferring ancient woods like Birchanger Wood where the ground has lain undisturbed for years. 

Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish – around five to seven years from seed to flower. The flowers can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise. As such, it is essential to stick to the paths.

In Birchanger Wood you will see how narrow tracks made by one person soon become wider and the bluebells end up in island-like patches instead of a woodland-wide blue carpet that we all love.

Bluebells look best when they are undisturbed

Another reason to stick to designated paths in bluebell woods is that the bulbs become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall. The situation has become so critical in popular bluebell areas that woodland owners like the National Trust and the Woodland Trust have taken measures to control the numbers of people and where they walk, simply to preserve the flowers so that future generations can enjoy them. 

Despite notices and publicity in the local press, members of the public have also been ripping ivy off trees, perhaps under the false assumption that they are helping the trees. Healthy trees are not harmed by ivy. Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are an essential food source for insects and birds during autumn and winter when little else is about. It also provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals. Destroying ivy in Birchanger Wood without the permission of the Birchanger Wood Trust is also a criminal offence.

The Birchanger Wood trustees are dedicated to conserving and protecting woodland habitat and volunteers work tirelessly to look after the wood. Our work is undermined by damage to our woodland flora, whether bluebells or ivy, which are essential parts of the woodland ecology. Please respect the efforts we go to in order to ensure there is a thriving woodland habitat on our doorstep, open to the public without charge all year round.

Wood Offers Respite in Troubling Times

The coppice season had come to an end by the time the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the country was forced into lockdown. Volunteers worked hard all winter to fell trees to bring light to the woodland floor, as part of the management plan agreed with the Forestry Commission.

Public appreciation of the value of Birchanger Wood has increased during the lockdown. It is a place where people can take their daily exercise, so they can remain physically fit and find some headspace in a crisis that many are finding difficult.

The Forestry England compiled studies that show there is strong scientific evidence that visiting a woodland can improve mood and attention span, and even enhance psychological stress recovery. It says walking among trees reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and claims a forest walk can boost the immune system through breathing in phytoncides, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

With so many children off school for months, the woodland also offers plenty of opportunities for education as well as leisure. One of our Trustees, Jono Forgham, who previously worked as a school teacher at Summercroft School, has been publishing regular blogs with ideas on how children can explore nature, whether in the wood or in their back gardens.

While the lockdown is ongoing, we urge people to observe social distancing measures, while ensuring they keep to the paths and not trample on flowers. We also stress the importance of our visitor’s code, which includes keeping dogs under control and preferably on a lead, as well as respecting the flora and fauna.

Our visitor data shows that public useage of the wood is low during the early morning, so those who are in higher risk categories could consider taking a relaxing walk at sunrise to hear the dawn chorus without worrying so much about bumping into others.