Hatfield Forest Nature Reserve in Takeley is on the look out for volunteers to help carry out an ancient woodland management practice.

The centuries-old practice of coppicing has been carried out at the forest - which is run by the National Trust - for hundreds of years, and relies on a team of dedicated volunteers to continue this important conservation work.

Coppicing dates back to the Stone Age, and involves the repeated cutting of trees to their base to encourage fast new growth.

Dunmow Broadcast: Volunteers create baskets to protect new growthVolunteers create baskets to protect new growth (Image: National Trust/Alice Whitaker)

The practice was originally carried out to provide a source of building materials, firewood and animal fodder, but also has benefits for biodiversity.

As well as helping trees live longer, coppicing lets light onto the woodland floor - allowing a wider range of plants to flourish and supporting rare species of bird, insects, butterflies and fungi, who benefit from differing levels of light.

Bob Reed, who leads the coppicing team and has been volunteering at Hatfield Forest for more than 45 years, said: "These days, many of us realise that we have lost a real connection with the natural world.

"We may go for a walk or cycle ride in the countryside, but there is nothing like actually getting into close contact with nature and working in the woodlands through the seasons."

The coppice volunteers also provide protective 'baskets' made from cut branches to prevent the new growth from being eaten by deer and other small animals.

These baskets last just long enough for the tree to reestablish itself - usually around three years.

Bob added: "Not only will you have the experience of joining a group of enthusiastic volunteers, but you will also learn new skills and develop a new understanding of the Forest.

"We would love to meet anyone who might be interested in finding out more."

Coppice volunteers meet on alternate Saturdays during the winter season. The role is suitable for all ages and abilities and requires a basic level of fitness.

All tools and equipment are provided and parking is free for volunteers. To find out more call the Estate Office on 01279 870678 or email hatfieldforest@nationaltrust.org.uk.