This woodland was named James Cook Wood by Witham Town Council, in memory of a 16-year old fatherless farm boy, who was hanged at Chelmsford Gaol in 1829 for allegedly causing a fire at nearby Oliver's Farm where he worked. This was one of a series of arson attacks on Witham farms at the time. As the fires continued after his execution, it seems highly likely that he was innocent.
Witham Town Council purchased the land in 1992 with the intention of planting a Community Woodland. The aim of the woodland is to provide an area for quiet relaxation for local people and to create a habitat that is attractive to a wide variety of wildlife. The area was dedicated by Reverend Desmond Sherlock, parish vicar at the time, with Town Mayor Cllr James O'Hare attending. The tree planting was carried out during the winter of 1993/4, initially by the local people of Witham who had contributed to the cost of the project. A record is kept by the Town Council of all the contributors. A local forestry contractor completed the remainder of the planting. The cost of planting was grantaided by the Forestry Commission. The planting scheme was designed by the Landscape Services Section of Braintree District Council. A Management Plan was devised.
The woodland was planted using British trees local to the area. The main tree species are Wild Cherry, Oak, Silver Birch, Alder and Ash. Some further areas are planted with smaller, shrubby species such as Hazel, Field Maple, Guelder Rose and Spindle. This variety of trees will provide the maximum benefit for wildlife in the future.
The woodland is surrounded by hedgerows that originally acted as the boundary to the former arable field. The hedges were retained as they form an important feature in the landscape and provide a valuable habitat for many species of plants and animals. They are especially important for threatened farmland birds, such as the yellowhammer, providing them with a food source and a place to nest.
The woodland was designed to inlcude open grassland areas in order to allow easy access to the site and also provide additional wildlife habitat. These areas get much more light than the woodland floor and therefore allow a different group of plants and other wildlife to thrive. Many species of butterfly can be seen during the summer. Kestrels and sparrowhawk will also use them to hunt small mammals and birds.
Source: Witham Town Council; Janet Gyford.