How to Study Life


Wytham Woods was donated to the University of Oxford in 1942 by Raymond and Hope Ffennell. They wanted the woodland to be dedicated to education and research, and to be named after their late daughter who had died a few years earlier: The Woods of Hazel.

The woods were managed at the beginning as a timber-producing site. Ecology researchers from the university had to fight for years with their Forestry Department colleagues in order to be able to use the woodlands for research. These Woods of Hazel are now enclosed and protected against ourselves. Everything inside is kept in, everything outside out.

We have the CERN, the James Webb telescope and the Space Station, but at Wytham we have rusty metal cages, wooden posts, bamboo sticks and cut offs of plastic pipes. We know what happened 3 milliseconds after the Big Bang, but we struggle to understand how badgers mate and bees die.

These woodlands are littered with bright marks of all shapes and materials. Leftovers from old experiments mixed with ongoing ones. A rotten log on the ground labeled with a blue plastic chip. Tagged trees. Enclosed spaces. Wooden posts every few meters. 

What are beetles' mating patterns?

How can you measure dead wood in the forest ground?

What happens to grass when it is not grazed?

How do you measure light in woodlands through time?

Why do badgers have fleas that belong to other animals?

Is climate change impacting the amount of nitrogen in the soil?

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