Regeneration of Herons Wood

Heron R MemWith no other woodland areas within the parish boundaries, Heron Rogers Wood has been a valued green space for many generations, so there was some alarm among residents when they saw the woods being cleared of trees.

As part of a planned regeneration project, Oundle School, the owners of the wood began felling trees from the northern half of Heron Rogers Wood last year. The trees in the southern half of the wood were felled over the summer.

The wood was originally planted in the 1960s as a memorial to Lieutenant John Heron Rogers, a former pupil at Oundle School who was killed in World War Two. Rogers was at Oundle from 1929 to 1933. A good athlete in rugby and swimming, he was also captain of rowing and a school prefect.

After leaving school, Rogers read Engineering at King’s College, London. He was keen on anti-aircraft gunnery and received his first appointment as a gunnery officer in 1939, later serving in Mediterranean, Norwegian, and home waters. He died in hospital in March 1941.

A tribute in the school’s Laxtonian magazine said: ‘He had in a high degree those qualities of cheerfulness, uprightness, and sportsmanship which brought him many friends in the service he had chosen.’
Funded by Rogers’ brother-in-law, Mr D. Murray-Barber, the eleven acre wood was originally planted with beech, oak and ash, with a nursery crop of Douglas firs and western red cedars. A stone memorial was also laid in the wood. The specimen trees were planted alongside the nursery crop to promote their growth; the fast-growing fir trees compete for light and encourage the specimen trees to grow quicker.

However, over the years the school failed to effectively manage the wood, meaning that the softwood trees thrived and the specimen, hardwood trees, deprived of light, died out. Because the wood was left unmanaged for a number of years, the dense evergreen canopy of the softwood trees starved the ground of light, and the wood died off.

The Douglas firs and western red cedars were also competing amongst themselves for light, and this led to the lower branches of these trees dying off, so that only the top canopy retained foliage. A carpet of needles began to build up on the woodland floor, killing off the remaining species of shrubs.

In 2012, concerned about the wood’s condition, Oundle School Head Gardener Nick Tebbs submitted a planning application to the Forestry Commission to replant the wood. This application was swiftly accepted and work began immediately.

Properly managed regeneration is at the core of these plans. Mr Tebbs said: ‘We have a responsibility to retain an important part of woodland within Oundle.’

Sixty percent of the new trees planted will be major species of oak, birch, cherry and sycamore, and forty percent will be minor species of holly, yew, field maple, and crab apple, as well as additional shrub species. The school also hopes to reintroduce woodland floor plants in order to increase insect life.

Because of the many current threats to our native British trees, it has been proposed that the replanted wood have some American red oaks to supplement the English oaks, and that the horse chestnuts be replaced by sweet chestnuts. This proposal is supported by the Forestry Commission.

Selected areas will be planted with a relatively advanced stock of ‘extra heavy standard’ trees to kick start the regeneration of the wood. These may possibly be silver birches, which would be felled during the second and third thinning in 15 to 20 years’ time to make way for the under planted major tree and shrub species. The thinning is necessary to stop one species dominating the wood, leading to the deaths of other species.

It is expected that the project will take over five years to complete, and that the correct care will need to be maintained indefinitely to ensure the wood develops correctly.

The new environment of the wood will be more suited to a far wider bio-diversity than was previously possible. Instead of the previous formality and regimented planting of Heron Rogers, the new trees will be planted in an irregular pattern with open glades and free space. There will also be paths cut through the woods to create walking routes.

The replanting scheme will complement other conservation areas on the school estate, including the Laxton Junior School pond conservation area, and the SciTec pond and grassy bank. There is also a proposal for woodland to be expanded into the neighbouring field to encourage wildlife.

Mr Tebbs said that this work is required to fulfil their environmental responsibilities, as well as to restore the original legacy of the wood. Heron Rogers Wood was originally planted to preserve an area of the town’s natural environment. With the new regeneration plans, the wood will be able to do this.

By Thomas Bailey