DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Visit to Hayley Wood

Saturday 24th April 2010

Return to Alumni Events



Oliver Rackham, in his excellant book on Hayley Wood, points out that there are few areas of vegetation history but ancient woods form much of this category. Hayley Wood certainly can be included as it was listed in the Old Coucher Book of Ely (1251) as being owned by the Bishops of Ely and had been in their ownership since 1109. A wood on this site was noted in the Domesday Book of 1068. Woods in those days were valued for their crops of poles from coppicing. These were used for rake and broom handles, for fence posts, hurdles e.t.c. and fired the ovens of local industry. This changed with railways and coal so coppicing became a much less important trade. In 1962 the newly formed Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Naturalist Trust bought the wood, it was their first purchase, and within a few years re-established coppicing to make Hayley Wood into a haven for wild flowers once again. Nowdays the Trust has expanded to the Wildlife Trust for Beds., Cambs., Northants. and Peterborough but still owns and maintains the wood.

Lunch at the Willow Tree (left)
and Richard Dowsett 'guiding' us (right).

On this Saturday the Darwin alumni left the excellent food of the Willow Tree in Bourne, (perhaps with some reluctance) to meet at Hayley Wood with the voluntary warden Richard Dowsett who led a spectacular tour around parts of the wood. He expounded on the history of the wood showing us ditches and other features which went back as far as the Bronze Age and, as one of our number said "It felt as if you were among years of surrounding history". Richard took us through what can only be described as some of the most beautiful wildlife gardens carpeting the forest floor in yellows and blues. This spring has been late so although we were too early for the orchids, we did arrive at the peak of the oxslip season, with bluebells and wood anemones just breaking into flower interspersed with sweet violets, cowslips, celandines and even some herb paris was discovered. Herb paris has 4 leaves, hence it's latin name 'Paris quadrifolia', but Burcu Felekoglu excelled (on behalf of the Darwin name) by finding a 5-leaved specimum, which we were told was the first found in the wood.

Oxlips, the stars of the wood (left)
and our group trailing through a freshly cleared area (right).

It is a feature of Darwin College Society trips that the questions are in abundant supply and Richard was well able to answer them all. He explained why coppiced wood gave greater value than old wood and how the coppiced stools developed over time to give a sort of immortality to the tree which he illustrated by showing us a very ancient coppiced ash on the wood border, the stool of which was 8 or 9 ft wide.

The weather was ideal, the wood spectacular, our guide was interesting and knowledgeable and the food excellant. It was as near a perfect day as possible and many thanks go to Richard Dowsett and the Willow Tree staff for making it all so memorable.


Final talk from Richard just outside the wood and our very beautiful day was  over

(Click on the pictures for larger versions)

Return to Alumni Events



Close menu
Site navigation mobile menu