WALKERS heading to a wood in West Oxfordshire will now get a big surprise.

On Saturday, the first phase of a £250,000 woodland near Hailey was officially opened to the public following two years of hard work.

The Wychwood Project aims to create a 22-acre community wood on former farmland off Foxburrow Lane the group has purchased.

A party was held on the site at the weekend to celebrate the opening of a welcome trail, which features a small car park, newly planted trees, shrubs and wild flowers, as well as benches and a pond.

The wood was declared open by Worsham resident Ken Betteridge, the first chairman of the Friends of Wychwood, as the project was called when it was set up in 2009.

He said: “It is very satisfying to see the wood come together.

“When we started the Friends of Wychwood in 2009 we wanted to have a publicly accessible community wood. There has been a lot of work but now we have opened part of it to the public.”

Project director Nick Mottram said it was hoped the new woodland would provide a thriving environment for wildlife.

He said: “The difference to many other areas of woodland in Oxfordshire is that this was created by local people for the local public to enjoy.

“Where elsewhere in private woods you’ll see signs telling you to keep out, here we are welcoming people and telling them to come inside.

“This is a fairly significant phase of the trail, and will provide an introduction to the woodland.”

With another 6,000 trees still to be planted it is hoped the rest of the project will be finished by June 2014.