Nature in West Oxfordshire is under pressure like never before. Our mission is to change that.
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. We also run projects promoting the Wychwood's unique cultural identity and helping people learn traditional rural skills and crafts.
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.
Our wide array of events - from rural skills courses and regular volunteering opportunities to a bustling annual Forest Fair - engage diverse local groups with the natural world around them.
Our charity was born from local people's passion for our very special Wychwood landscape.
In the 1990s, Alan Spicer was offered a sabbatical. A micro-biologist with a fascination for the then-budding field of environmental studies, he decided to use this time to study the flora growing at the base of hedgerows in the Wychwood area. To his surprise, he discovered that he could accurately map the boundaries of the ancient Wychwood by analysing the flora growing today.
Inspired by this, Alan contacted the then-County Forester Eric Dougliss about starting a project to restore habitats in the ancient Wychwood. Eric put him in touch with Shipton-based solicitor Charles Keighley, who had much the same idea, and after hours of discussion one Monday morning the Wychwood Project was born.
Alan and Charles presented the Project to the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum, who were supportive of their aims. The Project garnered the support of the Countryside Agency, West Oxfordshire District Council, the Esmée Fairburn
Trust, the Oxfordshire Woodland Project and the 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 Fairs, the Project purchased Foxburrow Wood in Witney.
For years, the Wychwood Project had been supported by another grass-roots local charity, the 'Friends of Wychwood'. The two formally merged in 2011 as the Wychwood Project became strong enough to function independently from the county council.
A decade on, in 2021, the Wychwood Project changed its name to become the Wychwood Forest Trust, in recognition that though 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 communities across the Wychwood with restoring biodiversity across the historic Wychwood area.
We deliver conservation activities across the area formerly designated the Royal Hunting Forest of Wychwood. You might be surprised to learn that this 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.
Not everyone realises they live in the area once part of the Wychwood. Take a look at the map below to see the boundaries of the ancient Wychwood and find out if you do.
(Many thanks to George Williams, Mapping Solutions for the time and effort he dedicated to creating this resource.)
As well as encouraging landscape regeneration, we manage a suite of nature reserves across the Wychwood area. Click the images below to find out more.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.