‘Energy, passion, and partnership’: Collaboration in Scotland at Community Woodlands Association conference

Mike Perry is Head of Development and Policy at Plunkett Foundation. He has been involved in the Making Local Woods Work project and the Woodland Social Enterprise Network since its inception. He is a member of multiple community-owned and other co-operatives, and is a committee member of his local transition group.

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He recently attended the Community Woodland Association’s conference in Scotland, a great opportunity to meet some of the Scottish projects being supported by the MLWW project, as well as meeting with the wider network of people all over Scotland doing fantastic work. Here he shares some of his reflections about the different approaches taken by groups both in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Over the weekend of 1-2 October, I had the pleasure of attending the Community Woodland Association conference in Forres, near Inverness. Over 80 of us got together to talk community-ownership, woodland management and much more.

“Scotland has led the way of communities owning and managing woodland, and land more generally.  There are over half a million acres in community ownership, with a commitment from the Scottish Government to double this.   At the conference we heard more about the Land Reform Act, and Community Empowerment Act, and what opportunities these provide for woodland social enterprises.  A significant number of pilot groups, and other CWA members, have had areas of woodlands transferred to them from Forestry Commission Scotland, and therefore the land reform agenda is of high importance.

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“Plunkett has been working with the CWA and other partners through Making Local Woods Work to promote and support woodland social enterprises across the UK.  We’re working with 43 pilot groups, and it was great to meet eleven of them over the weekend.  At the conference there was such a great positive atmosphere.  It was so inspiring to hear about what groups were doing, how they were doing it and their plans for the future.  There was high interest in the Making Local Woods Work programme.  The majority of support is being targeted at our pilot groups, but there will also be more training and networking, research and new tools, which are open for many more groups. One of the many exciting things about our partnership project is that it enables us to bring groups together to share experiences from all over the UK, which is so important for sharing information, skills and ideas. I spoke to so many people, and learned so much about so many things.  Above all, and not for the first time, my mind was blown by what a group of people can achieve when they work together!

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“One of my jobs for the weekend was to bring the ideas of our English, Welsh and Northern Ireland pilot groups to the conference, which was largely attended by representatives of Scottish community woodlands.  One stark difference was the size of woodland they operated over.  Most of our Scottish pilot groups own or manage over 600 hectares; by comparison, in England the group managing the largest amount of woodland is Vert Woods in Sussex, which manages 60 hectares.  However, groups from outside of Scotland are much more likely to be closer to larger populations.  These factors lead groups in Scotland to be more forestry and timber production focused, and groups outside of Scotland to be more likely to offer health and social care services, and training and education services.

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“The CWA played an important role in the development of Making Local Woods Work.  The network has existed for a number of years, and is based on the simple but crucial principles of bringing people together to share what they do, and to learn and develop together.  Making Local Woods Work offers direct support, but also heavily emphasises bringing people together, like we did recently at Hill Holt Wood over a weekend where over 20 of our pilot groups got to meet.

For this reason, we decided early on in the programme that the main conference for the project, which is due to be held in Autumn 2017, will be in Scotland, and held alongside the CWA annual conference.  Look out for more details shortly!”

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