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Bob branched out from biology to become Hatfield Forest's coppicing champ

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Bob Reed (11564690)
Bob Reed (11564690)

The chairman of the Bishop Stortford Natural History Society is celebrating 40 years volunteering at Hatfield Forest.

Bob Reed, from Sawbridgeworth, remembers playing in the Uttlesford woodland as a young boy in the 1950s, and now he is leader of the team of coppicing volunteers.

What started out as a hobby alongside a busy career has turned into a lifelong obsession.

Bob grew up in the area and had a long career as a biology teacher. He began coppicing - a traditional woodland management technique involving the repeated cutting and harvesting of small diameter trees at or near ground level - in 1978.

It has been carried out at Hatfield Forest for hundreds of years; originally to provide a source of building materials, firewood and animal fodder, but today provides a safe habitat for a huge variety of wildlife including many rare species of birds, insects, butterflies, fungi and plants.

Henry Bexley, operations manager at Hatfield Forest, said: "Bob's team do the best example of historic coppicing I have ever seen. I could never get that sort of continuity from a contractor.

"The quality of the coppicing has had a fundamental impact on the conservation of the forest and creation of wildlife habitats. Nightingales are returning to rare nesting sites and butterfly numbers are increasing and this is mostly down the quality of the coppicing that Bob's team do.

"Other people and organisations including the Woodland Trust have come to the forest to learn about how we managing coppicing.

Bob said: "I got involved in the Bishop Stortford Natural History Society in 1968. In 2008 the National Trust allowed us to use the meeting room free of charge at the estate office for the society meetings. Without this support, I doubt if the society would still be going today.

"We formed a subgroup to the society called Forest Nature which is dedicated to Hatfield Forest. We carry out surveys including the Big Forest Bird Watch, aquatic surveys on all of the forest's water bodies, wildflower, oxlip, bat, dormouse, glow worm, fungi surveys, mink monitoring, kingfisher bank construction, to name but a few.

"The forest is really special and I like to think I'm making a contribution to the community by helping to protect it. It's an ancient woodland with a history dating back over 1,000 years and

it's amazing to have the opportunity to help look after it so future generations can enjoy it for many more years"

Over four decades, Bob has seen many changes mostly around health and safety. "You've got to get it right. There's a lot of paperwork but I'm used to that as a teacher. I still take the register at the start of every session!"

There are over 25 volunteers in the coppicing team and every other Saturday from October to March, Bob and his team are hard at work.

"Some people come for the conservation, others come because they enjoy the hands-on work and some come just because they enjoy getting outside and the company of other people. We have a great team and no matter what the weather they always turn up!"

"WoodFest is one of the highlights of the year for the team. It's great to be able to meet the public and talk about the work we do. I think a lot of people don't realise how much work is involved to protect the forest and that most of it is carried out by volunteers. WoodFest is a great celebration if everything that happens at the forest and I love sharing our work and recruiting new volunteers. I would recommend it to anyone."

WoodFest will take place from Friday to Sunday, September 6 to 8 this year. If you would like to more about the conservation work at Hatfield Forest and how you can get involved visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest

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