As in the carol there was plenty of holly and ivy and, at one place, we saw "the running of the deer" as half a dozen wine-grey fallow fled through the coppice. In some places there had been much turning over of the brown, fallen leaves and we thought this must have been wild boar looking for acorns where the ground was not hard frozen.
Yesterday the final document was signed and the northern part of the High Wood transferred from Southern Water to The Woodland Trust, a move that should secure a well-managed future.
Over the centuries the wood has been used to fuel the iron furnaces and gunpowder mills; it has been divided up into farms; turned into a reservoir catchment area and planted for commercial forestry. Now it will be managed as a public amenity and for its wildlife - a new career, though there is no going back to the original wildwood, especially as we are not at all sure what this was actually like.
Managing for conservation is an anthropocentric activity and there is tension between the aesthetic and the scientific approaches. It is all far less simple that the commercial and economic imperatives that determined the way in which woods like this were used in the past.