Great swaths of the Chilterns are graced with magnificent beechwoods which offer welcome shade to walkers of the chalk downlands.
For centuries the Chiltern woods have been managed and coppiced by generations of woodsman known locally as bodgers.
The Chilterns bodgers provided cut timber for the furniture making trade centred in High Wycombe. High Wycombe was especially known for its quality chair making. Indeed to this day the local college, now known as Bucks New University, still offers design courses in furniture.
In many Chiltern woods you can still find the old saw pits used by the bodgers over which they lay the trunks and set to work with double-handled saws – the ‘top dog’ cutting from above and the ‘under dog’ sawing from below.
Today many Chilterns woodlands are managed by the Forestry Commission, National Trust or Woodland Trust. Though small sections of timber are removed, these areas are either replanted or maintained as open glades to attract an even larger variety of wildlife.
We think of the great standard beeches as typical of the Chiltern Hills. It’s easy to forget that before the demand from the furniture industry the wooded areas would have had a much greater diversity of trees with many oak and ash especially prevalent. Woodland would have been a vital resource of timber and firewood and each village within the Chilterns would have had its own area of woodland that was sustainably managed. The proximity of London provided an important market for firewood for parishes in the south Chilterns.