For the last 12 months, the ‘office’ of PENNY SILVERWOOD has been the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s beautiful Warburg Nature reserve. Her latest project is in the reserve’s darkest place . . .

The variety of wildlife at Warburg Nature Reserve makes it an exciting place to visit all year round; but my favourite place to wander through is the mysterious beech woodland on the steep valley side. The dappled light glancing through the leafless branches of beech trees as I walk up the steep woodland path really lets my imagination run away with me. When I pause for a few moments I can almost hear the thwack of axe on wood as hunched figures from nearby homesteads cut branches for their fires.

For centuries the common land situated in the Chilterns was used by local people to heat their homes. The beech trees were cut low to the ground, left to re-grow and then the branches cut again a few years later – a traditional practice known as coppicing. This was carried out on Maidensgrove Scrubs, common land which is now within Warburg Nature Reserve.

During the 20th century, those beech trees were left untouched as fewer people used wood for fuel. Many of the beeches have not been cut for more than 90 years and they are now so overgrown that they are starting to decay and will eventually die.

These are the ‘Grandfathers of the Woods’ with thick trunks that make them seem like giants. They have grown tall and wide, with their leaves shading out sunlight, darkening the woodland even on bright midsummer days.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust is working in partnership with the Chilterns Commons Project to save these ‘Grandfather’ trees and ensure that they survive for years to come. Tree surgeons are reducing the numbers of large limbs, and the weight of those branches, that are causing the trees to be stressed. Timber and branches will be left on the ground to decay and create the perfect habitat for all sorts of creepy crawlies and fungi.

As we move into spring and summer, the trees will revive. New branches will spring up from ground level as the trees respond to increased light. We expect to see beech saplings emerging, along with woodland flowers. During the coming years the Wildlife Trust will monitor the trees and identify others for similar recovery work.

One of the reasons why the coppice has been neglected is that there haven’t been enough people around with the traditional skills and experience to manage it. This gap in traditional and conservation skills is now being filled thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Their Skills for the Future grant to the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust created the Developing Green Talent project, which enables people like me to receive conservation skills training and gain the necessary experience to find work in the conservation and heritage sectors.

During the last 12 months as a Developing Green Talent trainee I’ve learned a lot about working with volunteers as well as managing projects. This has helped me to get a job in conservation.

I’ll be back on Warburg Nature Reserve this summer to enjoy the woodland wildflowers and birds in the reinvigorated coppice.

If you would like to visit Warburg Nature Reserve, join a guided walk, or find out about becoming a member of the Wildlife Trust please visit or tel 01865 775476. The Chilterns Commons Project, funded principally by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by the Chilterns Conservation Board, is supporting conservation work on many Chilterns commons over the next three years. See the website