Surrey Hills Wood Fair at Birtley House, Bramley

PUBLISHED: 17:08 01 October 2012 | UPDATED: 15:18 15 August 2014

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With Surrey being the most wooded county in the country, should we be doing more to protect one of our most precious resources?

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2010


Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey? The experts view


Laurence Crow, woodland management consultant, who works on the ongoing care of Surrey’s woodland heritage by coppicing for hazel products (hedgelaying stakes and binders, garden bean rods and pea boughs) and firewood from all native hardwoods.

“Human nature is against change, so woodland is often looked on as a continuum, an area that has always been seen as woodland without change,” says Laurence. “Even landowners prefer to leave their woods alone rather than risk seeing any change and instead they are to be encouraged into active management. The awareness of a managed woodland being a healthy woodland is absolutely paramount. 

“Furthermore, with the benefits of local produce for local markets and the higher costs of oil and gas, people should be doing more to protect them by buying wood fuel products and in so doing, supporting local woodland management. Wood fuel is the major harvested product of small woodland and with the modern efficient wood stoves and boilers now available, the encouragement of involvement with wood fuel will help support our woodland environment.”

Michael Sydney, chairman of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is the nationally protected landscape of rolling chalk downs, flower rich grasslands, acid heaths and ancient woodlands that also provides some of the best walking in Southern England.

“I do think we in Surrey take our woodlands for granted,” says Michael. “First, I don’t think more than a small number of residents realise that Surrey is the most wooded county in England. Then they do not realise how badly maintained and run down they now are.
“Our woods were originally planted as a crop to provide timber for building, furniture, ship building etc. With the coming of the industrial age and iron and steel, the woodlands were forgotten and neglected, as they remain today. There has not been any money in maintaining them.

“Were this to go on, we would be left with decaying forest. Fortunately, the development of wood fuel is bringing increased prices which are rejuvenating the economics of the forest to the landowner. The price of logs has risen threefold in eighteen months. Far from stripping our landscape of woodland, the woodfuel industry will refresh them as well as their owners.”

Helen Cocker, from the Lower Mole Project, which is one of five countryside management projects working in Surrey. Between them they are the largest provider of volunteer effort for nature conservation in our county.

“I’m sure a lot of people in Surrey don't realise how lucky they are to live in the most densely wooded county,” says Helen. “Not only that but a large proportion of it is accessible to the public, which isn’t always the case.

“There is a general lack of knowledge about why management is needed – we carry out nature conservation work and during the autumn/winter nearly all of this involves cutting trees down in some form, for which the initial public reaction is often negative.  

“We could be restarting a coppice rotation in ancient woodland or clearing birch scrub from a heathland. The fact that there is a lot of difference, from a nature conservation point of view certainly, between an ancient woodland and secondary birch woodland but both involve cutting down trees is a difficult concept to put across. That’s changing though. 

“The Lower Mole Project rarely encounters negative comments these days, which is probably thanks to now having over 25 years of activity on some sites – local people have had a chance to appreciate the benefits.”

Richard Edwards, Farnham-based woodland officer for the Forestry Commission, who promote the sustainable management of woodlands for wildlife, recreation and rural businesses.

“The appearance and value of many of the woodlands in Surrey is due to the long history of woodland management that has been carried out for hundreds of years,” says Richard. “From coppicing hazel for traditional woodland products, such as charcoal, to growing oak for house and ship building, Surrey’s vast woodlands have always been shaped by their on-going management.

“As the most wooded county in the country, Surrey's woodland resource is large and rich in terms of wildlife, public interest and as a resource for timber and other woodland products. In terms of woodlands in active management, Surrey is about on par with the other counties in the South East, with approximately a third of the woodlands being managed. 

“It is important to point out that the management of woodlands is necessary for many animals that rely on a diverse structure of habitat within the woodland to survive. To achieve this diverse structure and to support the rural economy the sustainable management of woodlands in Surrey is vital.”

Despite environmental and green issues often being at the top of the agenda when it comes to popular debate these days, do you feel that Surrey’s woodlands are still too easily overlooked? Have you made changes in the way you live your life to make more of the precious resource on our doorsteps? Would you buy a gazebo or bench from a local sawmill ahead of having some exotic wood shipped in? Share your views with us at



Surrey’s woodland in numbers

  • The UK’s average woodland cover is 12%, so by comparison Surrey fairs well with 22%. The European average however is 44%.

  • Surrey's woodland cover has been increasing steadily since 1947 mainly due to scrub development on heathland and downland associated with the decline in grazing.

  • The Surrey Hills is one of the most wooded AONBs with almost 40% woodland cover.

  • Woodland cover is by no means evenly spaced across the county, with a mere 1% cover in the northern Borough of Spelthorne.

  • Ancient woodland has particular significance in terms of historic and nature conservation importance. The Surrey Hills has 4,564 hectares of Ancient Woodland that covers nearly 12% of the AONB.

  • Surrey Hills Wood Fuel began in 2006 as a result of a DEFRA Bio Energy Infrastructure Scheme grant in order to establish a wood pellet and wood chip production base in the Surrey Hills AONB.

  • The expected outputs of the BEIS project were the production for fuel of 3,600 tonnes woodchip per annum and 960 tonnes of wood pellets per annum. This has now been achieved.


What can I do to make a difference?

  • Install wood stoves and boilers for heating and hot water. While initial costs can be high, long term gain is likewise – especially with a strong sustainable resource near by.

  • Buy local. Use hazel hurdles, pea boughs, sticks and rods and locally produced charcoal.

  • Leave stacks of wood piles for wildlife (partial shade/sunlight best). 

  • Get out in the woods and enjoy the walks through the seasons, with autumn providing the perfect opportunity for blackberries, sloes etc.

  • Join a voluntary countryside management organisation such as the Lower Mole Project (01372 743783)

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