Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

A year at Centenary Wood

Thirty year old hazel in need of cutting at Centenary Wood, Pulloxhill

Thirty year old hazel in need of cutting, at Centenary Wood

Unbelievably, it’s just about a year since we cut the first hazel at Centenary Wood, between Pulloxhill and Greenfield, Bedfordshire. In fact it was 12 January 2016 when we started. All in all, the trial has been a success and the new growth, although variable in vigour is pretty good.

The wood dates from the late 1980s, when Bedfordshire County Council (as was) decided to celebrate their first hundred years by planting a wood – a pretty good way to mark the occasion and make a statement about their intention to remain for another one hundred years. Perhaps on reflection it wasn’t such a wise move; the Council was abolished in about 2008 to make way for a local government reorganisation. As a result the wood is now looked after by Central Beds Council and we are lucky to have some excellent staff members responsible for local countryside sites. Trevor Smith has recently retired, but his knowledge of the area is second to none and as we know where he lives, we can hopefully still tap into what’s in his head. That leaves Lyndsey Bignell and Steve Halton, both of whom have worked in Bedfordshire for quite a long time. They have been very helpful in enabling us to begin working in Centenary Wood.

The wood was designed by the much-missed County Forester, John Niles, to be worked for a variety of purposes. The small area of hazel we are cutting was part of that overall plan. Unfortunately, despite the initial ambition being reiterated in a later management plan, neither the hazel nor anything else in the wood has been cut. So we are the first to make any large-scale attack. And that’s a great privilege.

Unfortunately, because the hazel hasn’t been cut for nearly thirty years, most of  the product we are taking out is useful only for firewood and charcoal. There are a few bean poles and other bits and pieces to sell but we are in this for the long haul and hope to be able to come back in six years and recut, celebrating with some fabulous, long, straight, flexible hazel rods, and we will become rich and tubby on the proceeds. Well perhaps not exactly!

Managing trees is a long-term proposition – even hazel coppice with its short rotation. We have to believe, and Lyndsey and Steve have to believe, that we will keep coming back. We are determined and if we succeed, not only will we profit from a good crop of excellent hazel sticks, but also the wildlife locally will gain from the new enriched habitats that in-rotation coppice creates. Hopefully Central Beds Council will be able to tick off as fulfilled an ambition to manage one of their woodlands as was originally intended. Wins all round! Time for tea.

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