The estate has 270 acres of woodland, typical of the clay cap in the north Chiltern Hills. That the woods have been managed commercially for many centuries gives them both charm and value. In the first leases of the Golden Parsonage to John Halsey in the sixteenth century, he covenanted to build a barn from timber from the property. The earliest written record we have is from Henshaw Halsey’s diary for 1717, where he records marking trees for sale.
Over the years much of the woodland was managed as coppice with standards, that is with underwood of Hazel or Sweet Chestnut coppice, with an over storey of Oak standards. Produce from both coppice species would have been used for hedging and fencing and other local requirements, like thatching spars. The oak timber was primarily for building. The soils at Gaddesden are able to grow very good quality oak, which is suitable for high-end furniture making. Beech is native to the area; it became more prevalent in the nineteenth century with the requirements of the furniture industry around High Wycombe. Other species, mainly Ash and Elm, as well as Wild Cherry and Hornbeam occur throughout the woods and had ready markets. Ash in particular because of its flexibility went into sports equipment, and elm with its ability to resist rot was used in places in contact with water.
After a survey of the woods in 1928, Sir Walter Halsey joined the first scheme established by the Forestry Commission, to restock the woodland following the ravages of the Great War. A wide range of conifer species were planted, including European Larch, Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Scots and Corsican Pine. A horizontal reciprocating saw was bought on the dispersal of the nearby Ashridge Estate. Home grown timber was used throughout the estate for buildings, gates and fencing.
In 1956 Sir Thomas Halsey joined the Forestry Commission’s Approved Woodland Scheme and five yearly Management Plans have been produced regularly since then. The estate currently has a 20 year Forest Plan expiring in 2032.
From the 1960s to the early 1980s there was a policy of clear felling compartments and re-planting, usually with blocks of broadleaved trees in a matrix of conifers, with the object of thinning and eventually removing all the conifer throughout the life of the plantation, leaving a final crop of oak or beech.
Following changes in the taxation regime, the increased cost of rabbit fencing, the development of the tree-tube and not least a desire to move to a policy of “Continuous Cover Forestry”, the estate has changed to a policy of felling final crop trees as they reach economic maturity and replanting in the gaps created by the felling, ideally using oak of known genetic provenance, while continuing the programme of thinning in the replanted compartments.
As a separate enterprise since 1974 Cricket-Bat Willows have been planted in blocks on the Water End Meadows. They are harvested as they mature, usually at around 16 years, for making bats both at home and overseas, Australia and Pakistan, among other countries.
Pests and Diseases
Since the onset of Dutch Elm Disease in the early 1970s, and particularly since the Millennium, Britain has suffered from a plethora of imported pests and diseases. The Grey Squirrel attacks several species, in particular Beech and Sycamore. Sadly it is no longer practicable to grow beech as a timber crop. Three species of deer live on and around Gaddesden, Fallow, Munjac and Roe. Deer control has been undertaken under a Forestry Commission Scheme and the reduction in numbers has resulted in improved natural regeneration.
Royal Forestry Society
The estate is a member of the Royal Forestry Society, which is an educational charity dedicated to the promotion of wise management of Trees and Woods.