In season Dockey Wood attracts a lot of people – visitors in the Springtime for the bluebells and volunteers in the Autumn for the forestry work. This was the venue for the Thursday group who turned up in force this week to clear up the brushwood left by the foresters after they had carried out further thinning of the plantation. Dockey wood gained notoriety in 2016 as the first place in Britain to charge the public for looking at wild flowers, and has become the number one choice for visiting bluebell-philes, with an international following.
The trees in the plantation are now over fifty years old so the work is an annual event. The brushwood is used to great effect as a dwarf path edging to encourage visitors to keep off the Hyacinthoides non–scripta.
It is a quiet spot at this time of year with the flowers hibernating ready for their moment of glory next spring. Whilst the bulbs are building up their strength underground for the new season , overground the volunteers were using their strength to move heaps of brushwood, with the larger branches used for a new dead-hedge around the wood.
Visitors may well drool over the view next Spring but what was it like in the 18th century? The wood is shown on the Estate map of 1762 – smaller than today. The bluebells would have been there since they are a sign of ancient woodland, but there would have been no visitors apart from the local villagers of Ringshall who may well have picked a few to brighten up their cottages – as children we picked them for our school teachers! There would have been no bluebells on the surrounding Ivinghoe common since it was treeless without the shady conditions which the bluebells need. The landed gentry were not interested in wild plants leaving them for the country folk to forage for their medicinal cures and food, and flower gardening did not take hold until the 19th century when Humphrey Repton was employed in 1815 by the Bridgewaters to design a pleasure garden for their new mansion.
As part of the charging routine back in 2016 a roadside wire fence was erected to prevent the public from gaining random access, and this has had surprising benefits for the plant life by restricting deer access. Violet helleborines have appeared in the wood, along with a new broom, and patches of wood anemone – something to look forward to for next year.