Bernard O'Connor 2000

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Most of the ancient woodland in Everton and Tetworth has been cleared. The large-scale cutting started during the Anglo-Saxon times but the irregular shaped ancient Biggin Wood (TL 181528) and White Wood (TL 214520) are thought to be continuous with the prehistoric woodlands which were never cleared. There are a few secondary woods that originated on open land. The surviving woods were maintained for intensive-timber production under a coppice with standards system, which went on for at least 700 years. Coppicing was the practice of cutting the tree down close to the ground to encourage the growth of straight branches. These were cut a few years later and sliced lengthways to make  wattle hurdles and fencing, or shaped into weapons or tool handles. This practise was abandoned between 1890 and 1930 but is being revived by the Forestry Commission in places e.g. Gamlingay Wood. 


Biggin Wood is a small woodland surrounding a moated site, just east of the Great Northern Railway line between the level crossings at Tempsford and Everton. White Wood is an ancient woodland of about 60 acres (147 hectares). There is believed to be documentary evidence of a wood being on this site from at least 1297. (Hundred Rolls 1297) It is one of few woods in the area on acid soils of the Cambridgeshire Lower Greensand. Most of the trees are pine but it is noted for fine specimens of the native small-leaved lime. oak, hornbeam, silver birch and hazel are other examples of native trees but the sweet chestnut, beech, sycamore, turkey oak, European larch, Scots pine, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, rhododendron and yew have been planted. The limes are thought to be about 200 years old when it was extensively replanted but some of the mixed oaks date back about 300 years. There is evidence that it was managed as a plantation from the early 1800s with a variety of exotic trees which were probably planted when Woodbury Hall was first built. The last evidence of coppicing was early this century. Because of the range of trees, plants and birds it was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest but it was denotified in 1986. In late-spring there are magnificent display of bluebells and lily of the valley. Unfortunately, when this was made known, it encouraged people to come and dig them up to put in their gardens, As a result they have all but disappeared. In 1991 there was a count of 113 species of birds as well as sightings of muntjac, fox, badger and weasel. (Anthony Chapman, Gamlingay;  Godwin, H. 'The Botany of Cambridgeshire,' Victoria County History (1938) pp.66,70.


Emily Shore, a young girl who lived at Woodbury Hall in the early-1800s was particularly interested in the area’s natural history. In her diary of 1833 she noted; -


May 16, Thursday (1833) - I did wake up at the proper time, or was woke by the children; and at five o'clock Louisa and I took an exquisite walk through the wood (White Wood). We went very slowly, and at almost every step Louisa called out, and with justice, “Oh, wonders!” The nightingales were singing in great numbers; and we saw two of them perched in the middle of a tall oak. There was also a blackcap hopping among some low bushes... Mamma takes a walk in the wood every morning, to hear the nightingales and gather lilies of the valley, which are now extremely abundant, and when gathered scent almost half the house; besides which, they are very beautiful. I particularly admire the curl outwards of the blossom.

May 21, Tuesday (1833) - At about half-past-six I went out alone into the wood. It is on one side very thick and entangled, full of briars and bushes; but on the right it is covered with grass, free from underwood, and filled with tall firs and a few other trees. I went into this part, and for, I should think, ten minutes watched a nightingale flitting about from tree to tree, and often perched on a tiny twig, so slender that it seemed unable to support it, and even shook. He was singing all the time.'


(Gates, B.T., 'Journal of Emily Shore,' (University of Virginia 1991) p.52)


Most of the hawthorn and blackthorn that dominated the clay land at the foot of the hill were grubbed up during the construction of Everton Airfield during the Second World War. Even so, a nightingale could still be heard singing in the remaining copses that hid the aircrews’ accommodation blocks. The line of elms that dominated the ridge top between Hasells Hall and Woodbury Hall were cut down at the same time to make it easier for pilots taking off and landing.


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