The 10-acre Lot 3, once little more than a mudflat, has come on leaps and bounds in the last 17 years under the management of Riki Therivel, writes Dr Terry Mabbett.

IT was 2002 and Riki Therivel was looking to purchase a piece of land for an as yet undecided primary productive enterprise. Known simply as Lot 3, 10 acres of previously arable land at Hinksey Hill near Oxford resembling little more than a mudflat was duly purchased at auction.

Riki’s initial ideas and plans were many, including rearing goats, producing pumpkins and sowing selected plants to harvest bird seed. But none seemed to gel with or completely satisfy her primary aims of boosting biodiversity, developing an outdoor education facility and providing enjoyment without the heavy workload that comes with growing crops or rearing livestock.

Fortunately for the environment and all those who will visit Lot 3 over the coming years, Riki decided to plant trees, so duly designed and carved out woodland. Over the last 17 years, Lot 3 has been transformed into fast-growing, semi-natural broadleaf woodland and is already fulfilling many of Riki’s aims and goals around biodiversity and education, and is even yielding some saleable woodland commodities such as hazel coppice. Riki kept the original auction name of Lot 3, now a modest name for truly remarkable fledgling woodland.

Forestry Journal: The generous, well-maintained rides are the making of this woodland, as much as the trees within.The generous, well-maintained rides are the making of this woodland, as much as the trees within.


A brief break in the monsoon rains of late October provided the opportunity to visit Lot 3 accompanied by Riki, and Karma and Zen, Riki’s German shepherd crossbreed dogs, to see the results and rewards of 17 years of inspired, hard work. Riki told Forestry Journal how the purchase was made in November 2002, leaving just months to design the site, lay down the plan and carry out planting by January 2003 under a Forestry Commission (FC) woodland planting grant scheme.

The FC duly dictated a woodland composition of 2,000 each of English oak and common ash, 700 wild cherry and hazel, 400 crab apple and field maple, with a smattering and scattering of other species including wild plum, sweet chestnut and holly. Also planted were 700 woody shrub species including hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, wayfaring tree and dog rose. Birch and Scots pine found their way into the planting mix though not on the FC’s list of approved species for the site.

Riki subsequently drew up a loose management plan, greatly helped by David Rees at the Oxfordshire Woodland Project which sadly no longer exists due to a loss in funding.

A grand total of 7,000 trees were planted as a veritable mix of native and naturalised species, well-suited to the woodland’s design plan incorporating 7-metre-wide woodland rides and a wildflower meadow. Shrub-like species such as blackthorn, dog rose and spindle were planted along the rides, with the small trees like crab apple, wild cherry and rowan to the rear and tall climax forest trees (ash and oak) at the back.

The design plan has clearly worked because 17 autumns later as we walked along, the ride’s bright colours of rosehips, sloes and, in particular, the uniquely shaped and coloured fruits of the spindle tree, shone through. Preservation of these rides is clearly crucial to the sustainability of shrub species like dog rose and blackthorn, which would otherwise have been shaded out by now.

I soon realised the open space and its overall design and maintenance is the making of this woodland, as much as the trees planted. Too much woodland can reasonably be described by the age-old cliché, ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’. This is invariably due to a lack of sufficiently wide rides, either not incorporated in the first place or increasingly overgrown, most commonly by bramble and bracken; but not so for Lot 3, with its 7-metre-wide rides across the site still at full width having been regularly mown for Riki by a local farmer.

A 2-acre wildflower meadow incorporated into the design plan now provides a light-filled breathing space for this fast-growing woodland. It was sown with a wildflower mix in the early days, and, despite inevitable incursions and colonisations by unwanted plant species, the vegetative growth left behind after spring/summer flowering indicated a good crop of spring and earlier summer flowers for 2020, especially cowslip and rose campion components of the original wildflower mix.

Riki personally scythes half the meadow each year in late summer, as per the FC management plan.

I asked how the original tree planting had gone.

“Remarkably well considering 2003 was a classic drought year with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded, including a record 35.6°C at Oxford during August of that year,” said Riki.

She added how wild cherry in particular had suffered but significant seedling regeneration from mature trees on neighbouring land meant that numbers were up to the mark, even if the original species composition may have been left a little wanting.

Riki explained how FC pays two thirds of the grant immediately and the remaining third five years later, providing a sufficient proportion of the trees are considered to be doing well. “Consequences of the drought were me having to wait eight years to receive the final third of the grant payment,” said Riki.

However, there are no obvious signs today to suggest the woodland had suffered a setback in its very earliest days.

Forestry Journal: Riki Therivel and Mark Dewhurst clearly make a good team.Riki Therivel and Mark Dewhurst clearly make a good team.


I was about to meet the man who has been instrumental in helping Riki to achieve her ambitions for Lot 3, especially in the outdoor education arena. Walking up the ride was outdoor educator and woodsman, Mark Dewhurst. Mark was carrying a sizeable thinned log on his shoulder; a measure of how well the trees in this woodland had done over the preceding 17 years. Riki describes Mark as central and essential to the management of Lot 3 and in developing the facility as an outdoor education centre, especially for disadvantaged children and young people.

Mark is one of three people who manage a woodfuel allotment inside Lot 3, the difference being that his allotment is also used for education activities. Each allotment is a section of the woodland currently undergoing thinning, which was started three years ago. I asked Mark about the trees thinned.

“We are going through and thinning out the weakest and worst-performing oak and ash,” he said, although the arrival and rapid spread of Chalara ash dieback, first apparent three years ago as thinning was about to start, has clearly thrown a spanner in the works. Virtually all common ash including planted trees and regen ash growing from seed dispersed from mature trees on neighbouring land, and established around the edge of the wildflower meadow, were either already dead or showing advanced disease symptoms.

Arrival of Chalara will clearly raise the longer-term rate and volume of wood extraction to levels well over and above the original target negotiated between Riki and Mark some years earlier, but the potential for a surfeit of thinnings in future does not stop there. That’s because much of the wood currently extracted is regen grey sallow, clearly thriving on the wet Oxford clay substrate that underpins Lot 3 and supports and sustains its planted trees. Mark showed us areas of woodland where grey sallow has moved in and essentially taken over, with some exceptionally large and vigorous growth considering these trees have only come in during the last 15 years or so.

I asked Mark about the fate of firewood from the woodfuel allotment he manages on behalf of Riki Therivel.

“At the moment I can personally use all I take out. The intrinsically wet sallow wood requires a good two years of drying and seasoning but after that becomes reasonably good woodfuel. Not of a great calorific value but perfectly adequate in an efficient wood-burning stove, though not so good on an open fire,” he said.

On the plus side, Mark said the sallow intrusion is doing a useful job soaking up and holding moisture on this inherently wet site.

“And at the end of the day the grey sallow regen is providing woodfuel,” he added.

Grey sallow (Salix cinerea) is a British native tree species. With the Chalara epiphytotic (epidemic) making common ash unsustainable in Lot 3, and indeed across the British Isles, it may be an opportunity to allow grey sallow regen to fill in some of the gaps. Like common hazel, grey sallow appears to naturally coppice, and is well-known for its tendency to collapse and layer with new shoot growth to form pure, dense sallow woodland with its own peculiar biodiversity.

Having oak and sallow in close proximity could hold promise because these are two ingredients required to attract and sustain populations of the highly rare and sought-after purple emperor butterfly. Adult male butterflies nectar on oak trees while grey sallow is one of the food plants for the larvae. However, the primary food plant is great or goat willow (Salix caprea), also a native tree with a liking for similarly damp environments.

I asked Riki for her perspective on the woodfuel allotment scheme.

“From my point of view I am getting valuable and valued assistance in stand thinning by a skilled and dedicated woodsman – plus two other allotment holders – together with educational collateral and woodfuel going to a good home,” Riki said.

Forestry Journal: Archery bow-making inside Lot 3.Archery bow-making inside Lot 3.


Even closer to Mark Dewhurst’s heart are outdoor education activities with a focus on learning, skills and enjoyment for young people, which is a dedicated dimension of Riki Therivel’s ethos and plans for the woodland. Mark Dewhurst told Forestry Journal how the outdoor activities he organises in Lot 3 are specially designed for children and young people from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds.

“By the very nature of the work we do, with mainly vulnerable and marginalised young people, it has to be small group activities with a high supervision ratio and frequently 1:1. Small groups are also important for uninterrupted development and continued integrity of the woodland, which, due to its size and stage of growth and development, could not cope with large group activity,” Mark said.

Be that as it may, Lot 3 is already at a stage of development and maturation where it not only looks like woodland but also feels like woodland, and is, in that context, an excellent environment for children, albeit in restricted numbers.

Riki Therivel believes in public access to her woodland and positively encourages people to visit, while endorsing Mark’s thoughts on the subject of numbers.

“I want the public to have access to Lot 3 but the woodland is still in its infancy and at an early stage of development. As such, the environment and ecosystem is highly vulnerable to excessive footfall, meaning access and use has to be proportionate,” says Riki.

“Mark is highly respectful of the woodland and his policy and programme of small-group educational activity is ideal all round, for needs and enjoyment of the young and mostly marginalised participants and integrity of the woodland.”

 Mark was keen to stress how his working woodfuel allotment and educational activities are not exclusive but actually overlap in a range of ways. “Shelter-building, fire-making and cooking will all rely on a supply of wood. We have even introduced tree-thinning into the programme, with extra-close supervision due to necessary use of sharp tools and the presence of falling trees. Furthermore, ‘wild’ unmanaged woodland is not suitable for children’s activity,” says Mark.

Mark is not the only woodfuel allotment holder who organises woodland-related educational activities. He showed us some of the ash saplings and rods used by woodfuel allotment holder and archery instructor Nat Merry for her archery bow-making courses.

I asked Mark about the organisations with which he works.

“Over the last three years we have mainly worked with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in Oxfordshire, delivering sessions for the Mulberry Bush School, the ARK-T Centre and the Parasol charity. We have recently started working more closely with Oxfordshire County Council’s Riverside Centre and have developed the use of the woods as a venue for the John Muir Awards,” said Mark.

Forestry Journal: Grey sallow which has successfully invaded this inherently wet site may prove useful in filling some gaps left by the ash trees killed by Chalara.Grey sallow which has successfully invaded this inherently wet site may prove useful in filling some gaps left by the ash trees killed by Chalara.


There was so much more to see in the 10 acres of Lot 3. Riki is selling hazel coppice, which is no mean feat when so many woodland owners have trouble finding dedicated professionals to cut the hazel rods let alone to make money from the harvest. Initial plans were for hazel stools to be coppiced on a seven-year rotation, but demand for Riki’s rods is such that stools are being cut and rods sold before seven years of growth is up.

“I offer one-third off the selling price if the customer helps with the coppicing. There is not only loads of interest from Oxfordshire, but customers are also coming in from much further afield with hazel rods put to a variety of uses, including stakes and binders for hedge laying,” Riki explained. However, perhaps the most novel uses so far are for the construction of replica iron-age yurts – portable, round tents covered with skins or felt and used as dwellings by nomadic groups in the steppes of Central Asia.

Forestry Journal: The uniquely shaped and coloured fruits of the spindle tree stand out in the front row next to the ride.The uniquely shaped and coloured fruits of the spindle tree stand out in the front row next to the ride.


On the train back to London, with the last shafts of autumnal sunshine illuminating the rolling South Oxon and East Berks countryside, it was time to reflect on Riki’s achievements with Lot 3, from mudflat to semi-mature woodland in less than 20 years.

Lot 3 was planted almost exactly halfway through Britain’s ongoing 30-year woodland-creation hiatus – circa 1990 until the present time. At 10 acres it may be just a drop in the ocean, but it is already making waves following Riki’s courageous and far-sighted step when all around tree planting and woodland creation was shrouded by inertia and torpor. Ongoing success is essentially down to its inception with a broad tree species mix, as well as the design and maintenance of generous woodland rides which have as much to do with the sight and feel of Lot 3 woodland as do the trees established within.

Complementary to the official planting mix are silver birch and Scots pine, sensibly sneaked in by Riki, and a number of species vying to establish from outside. Apart from the grey sallow, which will clearly require management, there is already a sprinkling of sycamore saplings. Riki remarked how sycamore in British woodland is regarded and treated like wood pigeons in the bird world. Quite so, but I know many owners and guardians of small woodlands in southern England who, having rigorously and remorselessly removed this domiciled tree, are now seeing their common ash about to become a lot rarer and wondering if they did the right thing. The unannounced arrival and relentless advances of Chalara ash dieback show how all eventualities must now be considered and planned for, and how the puritanical phrase ‘the right tree in the right place’ should be consigned to the brash pile where it belongs.

Given the increasing threats to our trees and woodlands from imported pests and diseases, I am increasingly of the view that which trees come into the woodland from outside is just as important as what survives from the planting mix. After all, if you don’t like it you can always remove it. For me the clincher for Lot 3 is not a tree or trees, but a pair of orchid species now establishing in the wildflower meadow. The early purple spotted orchid is the commonest orchid species in England, but the pyramidal orchid is only locally frequent and this tells me that Riki is doing all the right things. And you don’t have to believe me because the winner of the Royal Forestry Society’s Small and Farm Woodland Excellence in Forestry Award 2019 is a small woodland of previously arable land, now called Lot 3.