The wood consists of 2.72 acres of land bordering Smacombe Lane and the eastern edge of the village, grid reference SY499916.
In June 2011 Shipton Gorge Heritage Ltd was approached by the Woodland Trust who had recently carried out a review of their woodlands, resulting in identification of some small isolated sites that they currently manage, but felt could be offered to local groups or individuals to manage for the future. One of these small woods was the Saunders Richardson Wood adjoining Smacombe Lane and they offered this wood to us on a lease of 99 years or more at a peppercorn rent, so that it could be managed by, and be under the control of, the village in the future.
When the land was given to the Woodland Trust in 1985 a condition of this bequest was that it had to be called the Saunders Richardson Wood and that it may not be open for public access. It was bequeathed specifically so that it would be preserved as a native woodland in perpetuity, ensuring that it would never be developed but would instead remain always as a green space within the village. Shipton Gorge Heritage would be required to comply with the conditions of the bequest and therefore no public access to the land would be allowed.
The Woodland Trust felt that the wood itself would require very little maintenance as it was to remain as a natural habitat for wildlife, but little work had been carried out on it for many years. The trustees at the time realised that this would be a major undertaking, requiring time and funds and of course there were legal responsibilities to take into account. It was felt though that our charity was ideally placed to take over the wood management as it fitted our objectives and purpose perfectly and was exactly the sort of enterprise that Shipton Gorge Heritage had been established for five years earlier.
The trustees felt that it would therefore be the right thing for the village if we were to accept this offer of a long lease and take over this woodland, as it would ensure that the future of this land is under the control, and managed in accordance with the wishes of the village community, for the future.
This was recommended to all the members who were consulted for their views on whether this should be pursued and it was explained that we would be obliged to comply with the two main covenants on the land, in that it would continue to be called the Saunders-Richardson Wood and that it would not be open for general public access. Overwhelmingly the membership agreed that they would not want to see the wood in private ownership and that we should go ahead and negotiate with the Woodland Trust on a suitable lease of the wood.
This was a lengthy and protracted process but in November 2012 a 999 year lease was signed and our association with the wood began.
Over the past 6 years, we have carried our bird, flora and fauna surveys with the help of the Dorset Wildlife Trust; consulted with the Forestry Commission who gave a number of suggestions and options regarding the future management of the wood; drawn up a Woodland Management Plan with the help of FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group); laid the hedges on the Smacombe Lane roadside and started to carry out some carefully planned felling of some trees and coppicing with the initial help of a grant from the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
We have provided logs to the Magna Housing Fuel Poverty Scheme and to the New Inn in the village, while the majority of felled wood has been used to provide natural habitats for various species in the woodland.
Two years ago our members sponsored bird, bat and dormouse boxes which were erected in the wood, with the names of the sponsors engraved on them, and very recently an owl box was also added and this can be seen from the roadside.
We invite members to our twice yearly Wood Walks and also to come into the wood when maintenance work is being done, which many also help with.
We look forward to this beautiful woodland being an asset to the village for the next 990 odd years!
Updated June 2018