Witney’s Tiny Forest

The Wychwood Forest was one of the great royal forests of England. By the reign of Henry ll in the early 13th century, it covered an area from the Thames to the Warwickshire border and eastwards from the Gloucestershire border to the Cherwell. At the time of disafforestation in the 1850s the area recognised as the Forest had shrunk greatly and was much fragmented. Some of these woodland fragments remain and there have been more recent additions. Now the Wychwood villages are characterised by proximity to woodland such as Cornbury Park, the Wild Garden, Diggers Wood and the Foxholes Reserve while the presence of white plastic tubes across many fields shows that the planting of trees is an ongoing project in our area.

Not so in nearby Witney.  A glance at the town’s map shows that there is not a sizeable wooded area anywhere within the town boundary.  Nothing … until now.  It was in March 2020 that the town council decided that this omission needed attention and Witney became what is believed to be the first place in the country to develop the idea of Tiny Forests.

So what is a Tiny Forest?  3000 of these forests have been planted across the world, each one roughly just the size of a tennis court – yes, that tiny!  Energised by environmental group, Earthwatch, which specialises in developing such projects in urban areas, the town council set to work, calling local volunteers to engage with the idea and to begin planting.  So it was that Britain’s first Tiny Forest was laid out and populated in Eton Close on the Cogges estate.  While many similar forests are the shape and size of a tennis court, the Eton Close version is in the shape of a polygon, mirroring the shape of nearby St. Mary’s, Cogges’ church tower – a tangible link to a historic local feature. 

The reasons for this project are both local and universal – the need to diversify the landscape, to provide for wildlife, to counter climate change and to increase the general level of biodiversity.  Even such a small area in Witney, which has been informally named ‘Tychwood’, now contains around 600 saplings and its fame is spreading.  Both television’s ‘Countryfile’ and BBC’s Radio Four have included features on Witney’s very own Tiny Forest.

Our local communities here in the Wychwoods have so much to be thankful for in our wooded areas, used so thoroughly for relaxation, dog walks and family outings, so Witney will soon be able to celebrate their very own Tiny Forest, a gathering collection of young trees for all to enjoy.

Bob Forster

June-July 2021