History of Bottom Wood
By John Morris, Chiltern Woodlands Project.
The Chiltern Society has been caring for Bottom Wood nature reserve, at Radnage in Buckinghamshire, since 1984 when it was donated to the Society by Mrs Cynthia Ercolani, who lived nearby.
The wood covers 14.5 hectares (35 acres) and is cared for by a small but active group of Chiltern Society volunteers, the Bottom Wood Group. This group was chaired initially by Christopher Starey and until recently by John Stidworthy. Felling, replanting and other work has been to management plans approved under various Forestry Commission grant schemes developed by the Chiltern Woodlands Project.
The wood has seen quite a transformation. Our knowledge of both its history and wildlife has increased enormously, and continues to do so.
The Chiltern Society's first involvement in Bottom Wood started in September 1983 when the then Society chairman Charles Mills set up the Chiltern Society's Small Woodlands Project team, the fore runner to the Chiltern Woodlands Project. At that time the Society had a small team of seven, recruited from the long term unemployed, who used Bottom Wood as its training base until the Community Programme ended in 1987.
John Morris has been involved from the start in organising the management of the wood. The first jobs included thinning out poor and dying conifers in the valley bottom, where a few of the better fir trees have been left to grow to the size they are now. The team also opened up the paths, including cutting access through dense dogwood into Toothill and coppiced some wych elm and hazel.
Since then, entrance information signs, replacement gates and wooden seats have been put in. The public bridleway and a sewer run the length of the wood, the manholes covers can be seen along this track, which is badly drained and normally muddy, so we opened up permissive footpaths for walkers to create drier routes through the wood.
Bottom Wood sits on the side of a steep south facing valley near Radnage Common on the parish boundary between Radnage and Stokenchurch parishes. This was also the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire County boundary until 1896.
Archaeological features typical of ancient woods in the Chilterns include numerous sawpits (what remains of one can be seen in the picture on this page), the holloway leading to an old well (now capped in concrete but used during the 1920's drought), strip lynchets, perhaps from an early medieval field system, and boundary banks.
Most of the wood is regarded as being ancient semi-natural woodland that has existed since before 1600AD. It was worked by bodgers to make chair legs in Beacons Bottom. The second world war saw many mature beech trees in the wood felled; ash, oak and wild cherry have all regenerated since then.
Some beech and cherry trees have been felled for timber and firewood. Replanting two small deteriorating areas, in 1987 and 1992, and natural regeneration have helped diversify the woodland in both age structure and mix of tree species. However bark damage by grey squirrels during the summer, and occasionally by rabbits in the winter, have led to the loss of some trees.