How you can help preserve a precious Chilterns site
PUBLISHED: 11:48 08 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:48 08 October 2014
The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust need your help to buy a precious Chilterns site. Wendy Tobitt tells the story of Yoesden Wood
Why do we care about Chiltern countryside? If we spend an hour walking through a Chilterns wood of majestic beech, yew and ash trees and admire a swathe of grassland filled with colourful wild flowers and butterflies, how should we measure the value of that hour?
The views of rolling Chilterns countryside are valued by house owners and property developers.
But who cares to put a pure intrinsic value on our peace of mind and, perhaps, the physical benefits that we’ve enjoyed during the hour’s stroll?
This is one of the questions that politicians and economists, along with wildlife and conservation organisations, are tussling with as they work out the value of ‘ecosystems services’: the value of nature and wildlife that we can enjoy every day in financial and abstract terms.
Which brings me to the appreciation of Yoesden Wood, a relatively small but extraordinary woodland between Bledlow Ridge and Radnage, just west of High Wycombe.
During the 19th century, and possibly earlier, Yoesden Wood was looked after by local bodgers, craftsmen with pole lathes set up in the woods to make chair legs and spindles using timber from ash and beech trees growing tall and straight from the chalk.
The bodgers took care of the woodland, making it a valuable renewable resource by encouraging natural re-growth and planting new trees to fill gaps.
But Yoesden isn’t just a woodland, there’s the swathe of grassland as well. With very little soil on top of the chalk, the west-facing Yoesden Bank is a notable wildlife haven.
Then there’s the ‘hole in the wood’ an open knoll covered with anthills cloaked with yellow flowers of rock rose. In September, this is filled with a breathtaking display of violet-coloured Devil’s-bit scabious flowers.
Scenery we take for granted?
Yoesden Wood and Bank clothes the western slope of Bledlow Ridge, and forms a perfect backdrop to the valley surrounding Radnage village with its 12th century Knights’ Templars church. But how many of us take such stunning scenery for granted?
When the site came onto the market 20 years ago Martin Spray, then the director of the local wildlife trust, visited with Iain Corbyn, who was senior conservation officer at the time.
Iain recalls: “As Martin and I walked through the field, chalkhill blue butterflies were flying up around us, it was stunning. The trust didn’t have the funds to buy the site, and because it has no legal protection we feared it might be lost due to neglect or agricultural improvement.”
Fortunately, a local family in Radnage, who saw the woodland across the valley from their home, literally bought the view because they loved it so much and valued it as a special place to enjoy wildlife and walk with friends.
With advice from John Morris of the Chiltern Woodland Project and a few grants they ensured it was looked after well. Volunteer work parties kept paths open, gates maintained, planted trees and cleared scrub to open up viewpoints.
Yoesden Wood and Bank is a County Wildlife Site, and lies within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; but it has no statutory legal protection in spite of the best efforts of English Nature, some time ago, to designate it a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The distinctive character of chalk grassland in the Chilterns is of national importance. It’s astonishing to realise that 80 percent of the UK’s chalk grassland has been destroyed since the 1950s, which means Yoesden Bank is indeed a valuable site to treasure.
This autumn the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is raising funds to buy Yoesden Wood and Bank. Iain Corbyn, who is now a BBOWT trustee, revisited recently. “I was delighted to see this vital fragment of classic chalk grassland in such good condition, thanks to many years of careful management by the owners. If the appeal is successful we will survey the site in detail and draw up management plans to continue to look after the woodland and the chalk grassland in perpetuity.”
The tricky question of how we should value the ‘ecosystem services’ of an hour spent enjoying the woodland paths and bank of wild flowers and butterflies remains unresolved!
To find out more about the BBOWT appeal to buy Yoesden Wood and Bank, visit bbowt.org.uk.
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