Take a look at some of the amazing ways communities are engaging in their local woodlands and be inspired to try something similar in yours!
Join the tree revolution!
This November marks the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest which restored the rights of free tenants to access and use the Royal Forests. Matt Larsen-Daw, Project Lead for the Woodland Trust, describes the significance of the original charter as well as the movement to commemorate and reaffirm a commitment to its principles.
Nowadays, the Charter of the Forest may seem fairly irrelevant to most people. Dealing with practices such as ‘pannage’ (knocking acorns from oak trees for pigs) and ‘estover’ (collecting wood) it feels a world away from modern life. The issues that the historic charter sought to address, however, remain familiar.
The Charter of the Forest was intended to tackle an insidious trend, whereby the Plantagenet rulers increased the Royal Forests by declaring more and more land to be ‘afforested’ and, therefore, subject to draconian forest law. As a result, many people in England were unable to access the natural benefits of a landscape they previously took for granted.
800 years on and the role of trees in our lives may have changed, but protecting them is more important than ever. Instead of permission to gather acorns communities seek clean air, leafy streets and the opportunity to access and manage local woods.
Evidence shows the positive effects of trees on our mental health and wellbeing. Moreover they are vital elements of the landscapes that we value and which support the wildlife we love. However, our trees and woodlands are under threat. Street trees are being removed from cities and towns. Ancient woods are often at risk from housing and infrastructure development.
As the rate of loss becomes visible even to people whose lives are far removed from conservation, forestry or planning, the scent of revolution is in the air.
Recognising the crisis facing the UK’s trees and woods, more than 70 organisations representing diverse sectors and communities have come together to define a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People to address the issues of our time.
Even more importantly, around 200 local groups have joined the Tree Charter campaign to stand up for the trees and woods most important to them. These ‘Charter Branches’ include Sheffield campaigners who are literally standing with healthy street trees to prevent them from being felled by contractors as part of council highway maintenance work; Southwark residents objecting to the clear-felling of woods on burial grounds to allow re-use of plots; Forest School groups seeking to ensure children don’t miss out on the formative experiences of freely exploring woodland; and even landowners and community woodland groups concerned by low planting rates and the lack of government action on tree disease.
Across the country, people are standing up against local and national policies that are causing the trees and woods that improve their lives to disappear from the landscape. This grassroots army is living proof of a growing concern about the future of the UK’s trees and woods, and a willingness to take direct action to safeguard it.
The Charter is underpinned by a number of themes and principles which can be found here https://treecharter.uk/tree-charter-principles/. With its emphasis on woodland social enterprise, the Making Local Woods Work project is especially supportive of the Charter’s commitment to a thriving sector supporting forestry-related livelihoods. Simon Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Royal Forestry Society which leads development of this theme, reiterates that “We want forestry in the UK to be more visible, understood and supported so that it can achieve its huge potential and provide jobs, forest products, environmental benefits and economic opportunities for all. Careers in woodland management, arboriculture and the timber supply chain should be attractive choices and provide development opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses”.
Several of our MLWW projects and partners are Charter Branches including Eden Rose Coppice Trust in Suffolk, Vert Woods Community Woodlands in East Sussex and Pembroke 21C in Wales. Visit the Tree Charter website if you would like to register your own group as a Charter Branch. MLWW would also like to host our own Tree Charter event later in the year – do get in touch if you would like to be involved.
Sign the Tree Charter and help shape a future in which people and trees stand stronger together TreeCharter.uk/sign.
Big steps taken as the woods come alive again
Vert Woods Community Woodland (VWCW) has taken some recent big steps to realise the great potential of their project. With 171 acres of much neglected PAWS woodland, a long lease with the legal owner Roger Ross and formal plans to purchase the land, the vision of a ‘working community woodland’ has just got a lot closer.
Stewart Boyle, member of VWCW Steering Group, got in touch with us to outline the key changes that are taking shape at Vert Woods Community Woodland:
“By the time this is published, we hope to have confirmation of our planned Community Benefit Society (CBS) status from the FCA. Having the support from Making Local Woods Work and Plunkett Foundation have allowed us to understand and do the formals for our legal status – this has been quite a journey for our Steering Group. It means that our dream of community membership and investment for ‘ownership’ can start to become a reality.
Another big step forward has been the offer of a grant from the Woodland Trust’s Community Woodland project. This will allow us to get some vital projects moving forward including signage to let the community know who we are and what we’re up to, to develop our business plan, plus hold more volunteer events where we can deepen our growing engagement with the Community. We’re really grateful for this support of regional and national WT colleagues.
A sign that the community is beginning to trust the project was more than 60 folks who turned up on a wild and wet Friday evening in February to attend ‘Vert Woods: Past, Present and Future’. The evening was a comprehensive set of talks over the history of the site, current developments and future plans. We recently discovered a pair of narrow gauge railway tracks that confirmed how, when owned by a wealthy local family, it used a de-mountable railway system to get wood out to the then operating sawmill. Lots of other gems like this have been discovered in our relationship with the woods so far. With our first partner tenant – Circle of Life Rediscovery (CLR) – we also have the sound of children and families regularly enjoying nature connection and woodland management.
Our deepening partnership with Plumpton Agricultural College has been critical. With a Felling Licence in place and working to our recently agreed Woodland Management Plan, skilfully spearheaded by Christine Meadows a current mature student, our woods are now a regular ‘training ready’ location. As a result, the woods are being opened up for wildlife, thinning and moving out cut pine logs helping provide a modest but useful income, plus growing access for a range of woodland management and other activities.
One of our Steering Group members Tom Ottoway summed up progress recently. As a long-term local small woods owner Tom is familiar with the land. Pausing for a cuppa with me, we heard the distant sound of chainsaw, followed by laughter from some children, closely followed by a buzzard calling. As a couple of dog walkers walked passed saying hi as they did, Tom smiled at me and said: “the woods are really coming alive aren’t they?”
‘Life changing’ chainsaw training: Reflections by Adrian Brooks
Chainsaw training is one of those that is very much needed, and always seems to remain on the ‘to do’ list.
Well thankfully for me, the life changing opportunity arose to undertake proper accredited chainsaw and felling training, kindly organised through the MLWW programme.
The training kicked off on Monday morning (9 January 2017) at the tranquil Young Wood site operated by the Neroche Woodlanders, in the AONB Blackdown Hills near Taunton. The instructor, Lee Kimber, had thoughtfully got the fire going in the roundhouse as the three apprehensive students (Jim and Craig from the Bristol Woodbank and myself) arrived.
What became apparent from the very first session on the course is that any job I had tackled in the past was way outside my capability.
The training kicked off on Monday morning (9 January) at the tranquil Young Wood site operated by the Neroche Woodlanders. The instructor, Lee Kimber, had thoughtfully got the fire going in the roundhouse as the three apprehensive students (Jim and Craig from the Bristol Woodbank and myself) arrived.
What became apparent from the very first session on the course is that any job I had tackled in the past was way outside my capability.
We learned about risk assessment and operator regulations and parts of the chainsaw I never knew existed. We then moved onto practical skills such as how to sharpen a chain and clean /replace a sprocket.
Day 2 commenced with pre-start and operating checks before heading out to learn cross cutting techniques. We understood where the compression and tension was evident in various branch scenarios.
Wednesday began with felling training. Joined by Stuart from Hakeford Woods, Lee talked through the process of selecting the trees to be felled. He demonstrated a fell before going through with us individually. I must admit my heart was beating as my first Spruce came crashing down right where it was supposed to. Jim, Stuart and Craig’s followed suit, so by lunch we had 4 very happy students.
After lunch, Lee mischievously selected trees that he knew would get stuck on other trees and how we reduce the hinge to drop the tree trunk to the floor. At all times, Lee was very clear about the danger zones and what not to do.
On the Thursday, in the rain, we were given our own trees to brash and buttress in preparation for felling and selecting the appropriate felling cut for the size of tree.
On Friday, we met our assessors and proceeded to demonstrate that we were competent chainsaw operators. To our relief, we all passed and are now the very proud owners of City and Guilds NPTC Level 2 awards in Chainsaw Maintenance and Cross-Cutting.
Jim O’Shaughnessy was also extremely satisfied with this training session: “We’re pleased to be proficient and competent in the felling and cross cutting of trees. This training has given us the confidence and skills to maintain our chainsaws and use them safely. We are already looking for larger woodlands which have bigger trees growing. A special thanks to LBS Training who guided us purposely and with some sense of humour.”
Finally, I would like to add a special thanks to Norman Dandy at the MLWW HQ in making this all possible. I know it was very much appreciated by all of us.
Elwy Working Woods – a co-operative and social enterprise in North Wales
Elwy Working Woods is a co-operative and social enterprise set up in 2010 with the support of the Wales Co-operative Centre to promote sustainable employment, managing local woodland resource, and producing and using good quality timber (softwoods and hardwoods) for construction and joinery. Adrian Farey is a director of Elwy Working Woods and explains here the background to, and objectives of, the enterprise.
“As with many other rural, wooded areas of the UK, North Wales has seen the demise of several small sawmills in recent decades. Adding value locally to timber, incentivising high quality woodland management, and providing high quality, well paid local employment is becoming increasingly difficult. Many small sawmill enterprises are often directed, managed and run by single owners who own a significant amount of capital. Further, they often do not have any younger business partners / family members that want to or can afford to take over their business, meaning that many small sawmills may be unsustainable over the long term. Given the imperative for sustainable woodland management, finding a way to structure small sawmills and related operations in a more sustainable manner is vital. Elwy Working Woods is attempting to do just that.
“Our core members and directors have been established in the timber industry for over 20 years in sawmilling, timber-framing, forestry training and forestry contracting. Much of our membership is under 30 years old, mostly self-employed joiners, tree surgeons and timber framers, all committed to working in timber and to living in and around the Elwy valley.
“We manage about 150 acres of woodland, some of it belonging to members and the rest to local farmers and landowners. Our own plantations are now about 26 years old and are being managed with timber production in mind. They are an example of well-managed young mixed woodland, subject to thinning, brashing and high pruning where necessary.
“Our eventual aim is to provide a one-stop shop for all timber requirements from complete house frame to kitchen table, from beam to batten, green, air or kiln-dried. To this end, we’ve built a new traditional timber frame workshop using locally-grown timber and constructed with volunteer and apprentice labour. We’ve installed a number of three-phase machines, some of which have been obtained through other local sawmill operations that have recently closed.
“Our aspirations are to carefully grow fine trees, produce high quality timber for a wide range of valuable end uses and to ensure our woodlands are well managed into the future.”
Elwy Working Woods is leading the way by showing how timber can be at the heart of woodland social enterprise. They’re a fantastic addition to the Making Local Woods Work cohort.
A walk in the woods with Neroche Woodlanders and Making Local Woods Work
Alan Dyer is a member of Axewoods Co-operative, a social enterprise working woodlands in East Devon to produce woodfuel, improve woodland craft skills and make strong connections to the local community through membership.
Alan was amongst representatives from seven woodland social enterprises from across the South West of England who were hosted by the Neroche Woodlanders at Young Wood in mid-September. It was an opportunity for Making Local Woods Work groups in the region to meet and learn from each other, and ask questions about the wider programme of Dave Dixon (NAAONB) and Norman Dandy (Plunkett Foundation).
“Any conference, workshop, or event that starts with freshly brewed fair-trade coffee, home baked flapjack, a roaring campfire and a choice of biscuits just has to be a success! So huge thanks to Neroche Woodlanders for hosting this first gathering of Making Local Woods Workers in the South West. Even us locals were challenged to find their lovely secluded site on the Blackdown Hills – but it was certainly worth the adventure.
“We were all looking forward to meeting up and focussing on how we can share ideas, resources and the opportunities offered by Making Local Woods Work – so an immediate start was made in a relaxed facilitated session around the fire circle. Norman Dandy and Dave Dixon (our local co-ordinator) were on hand to explain what the Plunkett Foundation can (and can’t!) do. Then it was over to Gavin and Jenny to share their site, serve an amazing lunch and have “…a chance to rest brains and mess about with wood, cloth and fire.” Brilliant.
“More discussion round the fire – and you guessed it – homemade cake and tea! We left enthused to do more together, inspired by the programmes and activities offered at Neroche, full of tasty, local food and a real determination to make this a great wooding season working together.”
About Neroche Woodlanders
Neroche Woodlanders Ltd is a social enterprise, registered as a Community Benefit Society. In their own words:
“We represent a community partnership between local people and independent practitioners, based in the public forest. We are negotiating with the Forestry Commission to take a lease over our premises within Young Wood, together with a right to inhabit, manage and harvest wood from 100 acres of surrounding woodland.
“Neroche Woodlanders has a shareholding membership currently standing at just under 50, with day-to-day business governed by a Board of Directors, currently comprised of Jenny Archard, Gavin Saunders and Rachel Wootton. Our activities are delivered through a core team of practitioners, supported by a dedicated group of volunteers.
“Young Wood is a 100 acre swathe of luxurious forest, set within the Forestry Commission’s wider 1,000 hectare Neroche Forest estate. Young Wood offers a microcosm of the wider Forest, with a diverse mixture of mature oak and ash woodland with gnarled old field maples and rare wild service trees, patches of hazel coppice, a wild stream valley, beech and pine plantation, and areas of spruce and hemlock. It supports a wide variety of plants and animals, including butterfly orchids and twayblades, and nearly 100 different species of butterfly and moth.”
To find out more about Neroche Woodlanders, visit their website: http://www.youngwood.org.uk/
BEAMZ CIC – Sustainably Engineered Bicycles
BEAMZ CIC is a social enterprise – a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC) based in Southampton that uses locally grown coppice woodland poles to create high performance bicycles whilst achieving objectives of energy sustainability, wildlife diversity and social sustainability. They are receiving support from Making Local Woods Work; below is more information about what they create, and their aims as a woodland social enterprise.
“BEAMZ Bikes are made from hollowed coppiced wood poles that are lightweight, shock absorbing and as strong as steel, aluminum or carbon fibre. Unlike metal bikes, the Beamz Bikes are carbon negative and oxygen positive; not only have they already absorbed some 1.5 KG of CO2 from the atmosphere, they have also breathed 1.07KG oxygen and additional water vapour. The frame joints are reinforced with hemp fibre impregnated with bio-derived resins. Beamz Bikes are extremely eco friendly and the coppice wood harvesting process, an ancient form of woodland management, enhances wildlife biodiversity.
“Freed from the stifling obligation of the duty to maximise profit, we are able to concentrate instead on the more important issues we are so passionate about. Of course, we still have to ensure the viability of the company, but each decision or policy is considered in the light of the effect on the environment, wildlife diversity and the welfare of people, whether that be the people who trade with us, people who work with us or the general population.
“Globalisation promised us all greater prosperity and for a few people this has worked out very well indeed. However one side effect has been a hollowing out of the jobs market. Jobs which involve making things have been largely exported to low wage countries. The argument is that this makes low cost goods available to us but most of the benefit is diverted to higher executive bonuses and profits for the shareholders. People have been making things for thousands of years. It is a very satisfying process, and depriving people of this opportunity by substituting paperwork, customer service or call centre jobs is having an unnecessarily negative impact on quality of life and wellbeing, with a shocking one in four of us seeking treatment for mental health issues.
“Imagine a company where craftspeople worked with natural materials to build beautiful, high performance products. They would be working free of the anxiety that in earning their living and providing for their families, they were damaging the planet. We believe that this kind of work would provide them with better wellbeing and a happier life.
By the nature of the materials and process, each product would be entirely unique. It would carry the mark of the craftspeople who made it and would be supplied with a “passport” logging the journey of all the material, work and energy which went into it. The customer would know that a good proportion of the purchase price would be going to support the craftspeople, the environment and wildlife diversity. We believe that there are many consumers for whom this would be a welcome change to the typical, exceptionally brief and much more common ‘Made in China’ labels.
“BEAMZ believes that we cannot go on living in a way which is environmentally and socially unsustainable.”
For more information about BEAMZ, visit http://www.beamz.org.uk/
Vert Woods Community Woodland
Vert Woods Community Woodland is 171 acres set within a total of 850 acres of adjoining woodland. Located in East Sussex, England – just outside the village of Laugton – the woodland is owned and managed for community and wildlife benefit. With such a large area of continuous woodland, there is fantastic variety throughout, from mature tall pines, to under-managed chestnut coppice, and from pockets of beautiful tall oaks and beech, to dense areas full of unmanaged birch and willow. Much of the woodland is recovering woodland, substantially affected by the Great Storm of 1987.
In June 2015 the wood was purchased for community benefit after a campaign to secure the necessary finance. Since then, the steering group has been working hard to put in place their working ethos and principles, their legal structure, and engaging the local community in helping them define their vision for the next 25 years. The steering group’s aims are to enable their wider community to access nature, develop and maintain the woodland in a way that balances the environmental, social and economic needs.
The group runs many different activities, including monthly volunteer days which help people learn new skills like felling, crowning, coppicing, axe work and general firewood skills; it’s a great introduction to the woods and no previous experience is needed, making it an inclusive opportunity for anyone who’s interested.
The steering group has been receiving support through Making Local Woods Work; committee member Stewart Boyle said recently:
“A lot has happened in the 12 months since we heard that our final bid for the 171 acres of woodland in East Sussex was successful. Local philanthropist Roger Ross, who fronted the purchase, has stuck with the project and is one of the 12 members of a Steering Group set up to guide us to a new legal entity and agreements.
“Our Vision Day helped steer our direction towards a ‘Working Community Woodland’ that has a strong emphasis on being a Social Enterprise, with Nature at the heart of everything we do. With critical help from Plunkett Foundation we’ve worked through key governance issue and settled on the Community Benefit Society model. We also have a draft Woodland Management Plan and Business Plan.
“Essential has been the work of two energetic local community members – Sue and Marion. We have just completed successful meetings with the 5 local parish councils. Part of our out-reach work has also seen two successful public events on New Year’s Day and a May Bluebell Walk and picnic.
“What has been humbling has been the magic of discovering what is in this wood and the support of groups like the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, Butterfly Foundation and Plumpton College. With a portable sawmilling course coming up and three sub-committees working hard, the next 12 months promises to be busy!”