WHY would a person give up a Sunday morning a month to tend woodland?
Come to think of it, why would they do so using tools familiar to labourers a thousand years ago?
“It’s pleasure in getting out in the fresh air and working with others, and managing the environment,“ said Roger Ogle, co-ordinator of Peatmoor Community Woodland Group.
“What you’re doing is using traditional methods to make a positive benefit to the ecology of that particular little fragment, and to come away knowing that the ecology will be improved and used by birds, bees, bugs and animals.”
The group is 15-strong and welcomes newcomers. The area they tend – bounded by Nine Elms and Hillmead Industrial Estate to the south, Peatmoor and Sparcells to north and Mead Way to the east – is living history.
Roger said: “We’re told that it’s a remnant of the ancient Bradon Forest that covered most of North Wiltshire back in the day.
“It was a royal hunting forest owned by the lords of the manor. It’s now a fragment, about six and a half acres, which was kept by the borough council in the master plan for the development of West Swindon before the housing layout was created.
“I think it goes back to Tudor times – Henry VIII – but it could be earlier, back to William the Conqueror when he divvied up his spoils.”
Roger, a magazine publisher who lives in nearby Whitefield Crescent, joined the group when he moved to the area and has been involved for a decade.
The group was set up by the old Thamesdown Borough Council with the proviso that only hand tools be used to tend the land, and that there be no fires.
Members use bow saws, loppers and the fearsome bladed tools known as bill hooks. They clear ditches, form hedges and keep track of coppicing.
“An area within the copse is cut down every winter. We cut the trees – mainly hazel and wlllow – and they’re then left to regenerate.
“This done on a cycle. There are about eight compartments within the copse which are managed on an eight-year cycle.
“The poles are used by members to make fencing, some are used in gardens for pea sticks.
“Quite a lot is just left and the youngsters come in and make dens.
“We’re providing opportunities for youngsters to explore the outdoors and have fun in a natural environment, and as a group we’re not too precious about it because it’s giving them a chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air.
“We say it’s a very undiscovered little area. It’s not that large but there’s enough in there to be able to spot the changing environment throughout the year.”
The tended area includes a circular boardwalk, while the central portion is left in its natural state.
“It is uniquely wet,” said Roger. “The geology of that particular area of Swindon is different from everywhere else. Everybody will know the very deep clay in all their gardens, but in that particular patch is a stratum of rock that comes out.
“Within the copse itself there are about six springs that emerge, and in surveys that have been done it’s regarded as an unusual and fairly rare example.”
As well as hazel and willow there are alder, native flowering cherry trees, oak and birch and a wealth of ferns and flowers, depending on the season.
Birdlife includes lesser spotted woodpecker, owls, at least one tree creeper and wrens.
Roger added: “Every July or August a sparrowhawk family make themselves heard.
“They’re squeaking there literally for weeks as the youngsters fledge. You see them soaring above.”
The group would love to hear from prospective new members, however much or little time they can spare.
“It’s a good way of getting out and getting fit,” said Roger.
“Whereas it would have been worked as a place to survive, now it’s more to do with trying to improve and enhance the eco-system.
“It makes you sit back and look at life differently – take the long view.”
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on 01793 608840.