WINNERS – CPRE Hampshire Countryside (Community & Voluntary) Award 2015
If you enjoy the New Forest why not become a volunteer with Pondhead Conservation Trust (PCT) and help us conserve a unique part of it.
Pondhead Conservation Trust is a small, award winning registered charity working in partnership with the Forestry Commission, and conservation volunteers from the local community. Our aim is to manage the hazel coppice and woodland understorey of Pondhead Inclosure in order to improve its biodiversity and public enjoyment. Our charity was constituted in 2014 by small band of enthusiasts who have a passion for the New Forest, its conservation and biodiversity. A copy of our Annual Report & Financial Accounts can be obtained by clicking here.
Pondhead Inclosure is situated close to the village of Lyndhurst (see map) in the heart of the New Forest. It is a unique area of woodland in the Forest, being the only remaining area of hazel coppice with oak standards on the Crown land. In addition, it has not been grazed by ponies and cattle for well over a century resulting in a rich variety of flora found in few places in the Forest. It also forms part of the official circular village walk of Lyndhurst.
The inclosure comprises 76 hectares of woodland that was originally planted in 1810. Prior to that date it is believed that part of the area was leased from the Crown and comprised a series of plots/allotments cultivated by some of the inhabitants of Lyndhurst. It is possible that some of these plots contained coppiced hazel. The Richardson, King and Driver New Forest map of 1814 indicates that at least half of what is now the present inclosure was a wooded area known as Mine Houfe Grounds which we understand relates to an earlier attempt at open cast mining. It is known that in 1653 Parliament granted permission for a coal “mine” in the New Forest and the site is believed to be “Mine House” grounds. Some water filled scrapings from these activities still remain but there are no traces of coal!
Pondhead currently hosts large areas of bluebells, wood anemone, wood sorrel, wood spurge and wild garlic (ramsons) all of which are recognised as being indicators of ancient woodland. In many ways the inclosure is reminiscent of a typical medieval wood with its oak standards and understory of hazel. It is one of the premier bluebell woods in the south of England.
The area was actively managed by the Forestry Commission (FC) until the early 1990s since when it has received only minimal attention due to a variety of factors, not the least of which has been the Commission’s need to prioritise activities commensurate with the level of funding it has received from central government, reduced staffing levels and the fact that the quantity and quality of harvestable timber in the inclosure is of limited value.
In 2004 the Forestry Commission granted permission to Dave Dibden, our resident coppicer, to re-commence coppicing the hazel in the inclosure. Dave has a passion for Pondhead and its restoration and this passion was acknowledged when he was presented with the New Forest Sustainability Champion 2015 award at the New Forest Show. With the help of Forestry Commission sponsored volunteers (Volunteer Rangers and the Two Trees Conservation Team) much work had been done to restore this unique area of woodland but much still remains to be done.
In particular, a significant amount of older hazel remains to be coppiced before an effective coppice rotation can be put into place. It is for this reason that a small team of enthusiasts got together to form Pondhead Conservation Trust in order to put a sustainable structure in place to ensure that the restoration work may be continued and enhanced in perpetuity by future generations.
Coppicing involves cutting the hazel back to ground level on a regular rotation (usually 10 years) which causes a number of new shoots to emerge from the base (stool). In this way increasing numbers of shoots are sent up each time the area of hazel (coupe) is coppiced. Without active coppice management it is likely that this last stronghold of hazel on New Forest Crown land will disappear within a generation. However if it is coppiced in rotation it is capable of surviving for centuries. Coppicing is also environmentally friendly and good for the biodiversity of an area. All wood that we cut is used to produce high quality charcoal and in this way we can generate sufficient income to cover our expenses in a self sustainable way.
This lack of active hazel management is not unique to Pondhead as nowadays, hazel coppicing provides minimal return in relation to effort involved and much coppicing these days is done by volunteers. To put this into perspective, it is recorded that in 1895 there were 38,500 hectares of coppiced hazel in Hampshire which had reduced to 211 actively coppiced hectares by 2004 (Restoration of Neglected Hazel Coppice – Forestry Commission, March 2004).
In addition to our coppice work, many of the old rides (tracks) in Pondhead have become overgrown through lack of active management and by opening these up again it encourages regeneration of the dormant seed bank of flora and provides corridors for butterflies to recolonise. In turn the presence of an increased supply of caterpillars attracts an increase in the resident bird population.
This is a long term project whereby we aim to restore the woodland to its former glory and improve its biodiversity by working closely with local wildlife organisations. Pondhead Conservation Trust has been set up as a vehicle by which future generations will be able to continue this important conservation work. This work is heavily reliant on a large volunteer force – if you would like to help us with our project, it’s easy to sign up online via our “Join us” page.