Feb 24 Combwell wood meeting – by Margaret
The owners of Combwell woods in Kent recently had a meeting on woodland archaeology. The whole meeting was facilitated and financed by the High Weald Partnership, who support owners to work more closely together, and do more “management “, by which they mean coppicing, removing rhododendron, and actively encouraging the features which make it a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Partnership had commissioned Dr Nicola Bannister, a professional archaeologist , to guide us.
We came to the meeting because we were curious about the history of our own woods, and stayed all day to learn also about the historical evidence in our neighbours’ woods, and indeed about our neighbours! It was a friendly gathering, including not only owners of eight woodlands, and some of their families, but also no less than four professionals with various advisory roles.
Most of us were surprised to learn that the woods in medieval times were part of the Royal Manor of Wye, over twenty miles away. They used to bring great numbers of pigs annually to feed on the pannage (acorns) here. The pigs and their drovers made their slow way along what is probably a pre-historic routeway, still discernible through the back of what is now Bedgebury Pinetum. There must have been more oaks then, before the chestnut coppice was planted in the early nineteenth century.
We were treated to a power-point presentation of photographs, diagrams, and drawings which showed very clearly how woods were used in the past. They deepened our understanding of saw-pits and charcoal platforms, and demonstrated the uses of woodbanks. It was particularly interesting to see that in medieval times, this large wood (Combwell) had been sub-divided amongst about twenty different owners, in much the same way as it is today, and along those very same boundaries.
In the afternoon we walked around a few of the woodlands in Combwell, and our professionals spotted some saw pits and charcoal platforms that had never been officially “recorded”. We were exhorted to take care when doing any “forestry operations” not to obliterate the evidence, but we were probably relieved to hear that these relics are not (yet) protected by statute.
It was also an opportunity to learn what our neighbours are up to. One of the owners reported his success in removing a rhododendron root singlehanded with a 400lb.winch. Another gave us the details of his website, where he offers bushcraft experience for school groups and children’s parties. A third turned out to be a co-opted member of the Small Woods Association Board.
On our wanderings, we encountered a couple waving a sheet of A4 and looking lost. “Are you woodland owners?” we asked. “Not yet” they replied. As we guided them on their way, owners were keen to tell them they would fully recommend buying a small wood
“My family agree, it’s the best thing we ever did” said one. I was altogether very pleased, but then I would be, wouldn’t I?
Margaret Hanton, Woodlands.co.uk