IF you go down to Wytham Woods today... you will probably find a bunch of scientists measuring trees.
For scientists have been keeping tabs on the wildlife in the Oxford wood for the past 60 years – and they haven’t finished yet.
On Thursday, ecologists gathered at the site to celebrate 60 years of scientific discovery – and a new book about monitoring the natural habitat.
Wytham is believed to be the most studied wood in Britain, and Wytham Woods: Oxford's Ecological Laboratory tells the story of the different projects that have taken place over the past six decades.
The book was launched on Thursday at a special meeting of the British Ecological Society’s Forest Ecology Group.
Co-author Dr Keith Kirby, Natural England’s forestry and woodland officer, said: “The studies will continue because there is still lots to discover and new data keeps throwing up new questions.
“In parts of the wood, every single tree has been measured.
“They have been studied from top to bottom, with researchers using towers, walkways, ropes and cherry pickers to understand how the forest canopy grows and takes up carbon.
“One of the longest running studies has been the work on blue tits and great tits.”
Wytham Woods was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1950 – one of the first in the country – after the land was given to Oxford University during the Second World War.
The 350-hectare wood has played a vital role in training generations of British ecologists.
In the book’s preface, Prof Lord Krebs, who began his research career in 1966 by studying Wytham’s great tits, said: “If there were a Nobel Prize for Ecology, and if you could award it to a place rather than a person, Wytham Woods would surely be a prime candidate.
“It is almost certainly unmatched anywhere in the world as a place of sustained, intensive ecological research, extending over nearly three quarters of a century.
“For me, it is hard to match the sensation of inhaling the scent of a carpet of damp moss on a February morning and the first pale green buds of hawthorn that foretell the arrival of spring.”
Wytham Woods was one of the eight founding sites in the Environmental Change Network (ECN).
Established in 1993 by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the ECN now features 12 terrestrial and 45 freshwater sites regularly monitored to detect the impact of environmental change.
In spring 2008, an international collaboration got under way in the woods, between the HSBC bank and the Oxford-based environmental charity Earthwatch, which is researching the impacts of climate change on managed forest ecosystems.
l Wytham Woods: Oxford’s Ecological Laboratory by Peter Savill, Christopher Perrins, Dr Keith Kirby and Nigel Fisher is published by Oxford University Press firstname.lastname@example.org