Like birds following the plough, the volunteers have been returning to Dockey Wood to clear up the debris left by the loggers. It is a quiet spot at this time of year with the bluebells 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 for beefing up the dead hedges – it cannot be burnt insitue without damaging the dormant bulbs so it goes for hedging or more importantly for habitat heaps for invertebrates and wildlife.
Dead hedging dates back to a time in pre history when it was employed to corral cattle and sheep before live hedges were planted. Commonplace in the Chilterns since Tudor times with William Ellis writing later in 1744 “For the better securing the safety of new-made hedges against Cattle,there is generally a Covenent inserted, in almost all Chiltern Leases for defending them with a Dead- hedge……………it will last two Years and then made into Faggots for Burning.” The original twee path edging put down in the wood serves a different purpose – to secure the safety of the flowers from any vain visitor tip toeing through the bluebells. Some say that the path edging adds to the overall appearance of a manicured municipal park rather than the charming wild conditions normally associated with the woods at Ashridge.
But there is hope, as rewilding which is the driving force in landscape change for most environmentalists is already taking place. No sooner than the trees in the plantation are thinned out nature takes hold, using the increased light levels to produce new clumps of bramble and bracken for the important understorey. – the English addiction for being tidy and orderly, with concern about boundaries is swept away.
The visitors will be back next Spring in record numbers to enjoy the viewing whatever the style of presentation, many making an annual pilgrimage to tick off progress in their lifespan, and others will stay permanently. The current trend for direct cremation and the scattering of ashes in the landscape is evident at Dockey. The N T do not have a formal policy as yet but there are rules to be met. Their slogan “for ever and for everyone” is an invitation to this place, and rather apt.