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Bluebell flower
What we do

OUR WORK

We work with local communities to protect and restore the spaces once part of the historic Wychwood Forest - 120 square miles and 41 parishes of today's West Oxfordshire. 

 

Restoring habitats doesn't just mean conserving what's already there. We acquire land considered degraded and give it the space it needs to become a nature reserve of tomorrow.

We also run projects promoting the Wychwood's unique cultural identity. Our wide array of events - from traditional rural skills courses and regular volunteering opportunities to a bustling Forest Fair - engage diverse local groups with the natural world around them.

butterfly on flowers
OUR STORY

OUR STORY

The Wychwood Forest Trust was born from local people's passion for our very special Wychwood landscape.

 

In the 1990s, a small group of volunteers led by Alan Spicer and Charles Keighley, set out to restore habitats in the ancient Wychwood. The Wychwood Project, as it was then known, quickly gathered support from the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum, the Countryside Agency, West Oxfordshire District Council, the Esmée Fairburn Trust, the Oxfordshire Woodland Project, and Oxfordshire County Council who hosted and part-funded the Project.

 

In its early years, the Wychwood Project focussed on supporting community conservation initiatives, including the creation of community-owned woods in places like Leafield, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Charlbury and Hailey. In 2009, using funds raised from successive Wychwood Forest Fairs, the Project purchased Foxburrow Wood in Witney. In 2011, it formally merged with another grass-roots local charity, the 'Friends of Wychwood' and became strong enough to function independently from the county council. 

 

A decade on, in 2021, the Wychwood Project changed its name to the Wychwood Forest Trust, in recognition that although projects must come to an end, our work to restore and protect habitats in the historic Wychwood area is needed indefinitely. We remain committed to supporting local communities to restore biodiversity across the historic Wychwood area.

Cotswolds landscape of fields
Where we work

OUR PLACES

We deliver conservation activities across the area formerly designated the Royal Hunting Forest of Wychwood, which includes 41 parishes and 120 square miles—much of today's West Oxfordshire. The historical term 'Forest' didn't describe a particular type of habitat but was instead a legal designation, denoting areas in which hunting rights were reserved for the sovereign. The historic Wychwood Forest would have included meadows, cultivated open fields, heaths and downs as well as woodlands.

(Many thanks to George Williams, Mapping Solutions for the time and effort he dedicated to creating this resource.)

Interest Groups
European spindle plant

OUR GROUPS

We support volunteer groups in the Wychwood area with specific conservation interests. Read on to learn more about our groups and how you can get involved. 

DRY STONE WALLING 

Over 4,000 miles (6,437 km) of dry stone walls run across the Cotswold landscape, and they are an instantly recognisable characteristic of the Wychwood Forest area. Like character lines on a much-loved face, dry stone walls are so familiar that we would probably only notice them if they vanished. Sadly, following changes in farm and land management, as well as increasing labour costs, many walls have fallen into disrepair.

 

Dry stone walls offer amazing habitat and wildlife corridors. Mosses and lichens, pennywort and cranesbill all make their homes here. Slow worms, bees and wasps live within nooks and crannies. Birds like wrens, wheatears and little owls nest in cavities.

 

Then of course there’s the point of keeping rural skills alive. As much art as science, building a dry stone wall without mortar relies on the careful placing of stones and the stones’ own weight to keep standing - for more than 100 years if it’s a good one.

Our team of skilled and dedicated volunteers is in constant demand to help local parishes, churches, conservation groups and charities look after these important heritage features. 

Our enthusiastic team of dry stone wallers meet every Monday and Tuesday to repair walls in the Wychwood area - weather permitting! They would welcome anyone who would like to try their hand at this most rewarding and important rural craft. To find out more or join, email toby@wychwoodforesttrust.co.uk.

dry stone wallers mending wall
dry stone wall in Cotswolds
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FLORA GROUP

The Wychwood Flora Group monitors the populations of rare plants in West Oxfordshire, including meadow clary, downy woundwort, Cotswold pennycress, red hemp-nettle, and yellow star of Bethlehem. They conduct surveys on behalf of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, the Evenlode Catchment Partnership and others, and see an amazing variety of plants on the limestone grassland in this area. They also do some habitat management work and run work parties.

 

The Flora Group is very friendly, and welcome new volunteers with no or any level of experience. To find out more, email wychwoodfloragroup@gmail.com.

View the WFG 2024 survey calendar

View report and results of meadow clary survey at Grintley Hill (1st June 2024)

View report and results of meadow clary survey at the Salt Way (7th June 2024)

View report of purple vetch survey at Westwell Gorse (11th June 2024)

HEDGELAYING

Our volunteer hedgelaying group keeps the craft of hedgelaying alive. They work anywhere within the Wychwood area that asks, so keep an eye out for them!

 

Hedgelaying involves cutting through the stems of trees and shrubs almost, but not quite, all the way through. The resulting ‘pleacher’ is laid over at about 30 to 40 degrees and held in place with stakes and binding along the top. As it is still attached to its root stock, the pleacher continues to grow and throws up new shoots from along the stem and from the stump.

 

The resulting hedges are thick and wide, which is excellent for all manner of wildlife—and much better than thin, tall, ‘leggy’ rows of small trees. One study reported an fivefold increase in nesting birds once a hedge had been laid, and thick hedges have often been likened to 'highways' for wildlife.

Our hedgelaying group currently meets every second Sunday of the month. The team always welcome new members, especially those with some experience or recent course attendees. To find out more or join, email toby@wychwoodforesttrust.org.uk.

Hedgelaying group
new hedge
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