WoodsMeet. What does it mean?

Woodsmeet meetings go online during lockdown. Photo: Small Woods

WoodsMeet meetings go online during lockdown. Photo: Small Woods

By Chris Duncan, Small Woods Trustee

Probably like some of you the word had crossed my consciousness a few times without prompting any action until Ian Baker asked me to chair the first online version of this newish thing. Having just witnessed the second one I thought I would encourage more of you to give it a go.

Being a Trustee and on the board of Small Woods gives me a good insight into many of the fantastic things which our organisation gets up to. Often, however, it strikes me that the average member who reads the magazine has little idea of the breadth of the often ground breaking and sometimes life changing activities in which the organisation is involved. If you feel the main reason for your membership is the anticipated arrival of the magazine, you are in good company. If you are confident it is the only reason, you need read no further, and that is absolutely fine.

However, less than 1 percent of the membership have so far had the eye opening experience of being part of a WoodsMeet. And this is not just me saying this – the feedback is pretty uplifting. It is a way of meeting face to face some of the Small Woods team (albeit electronically!) and participating if you feel able to contribute, or just listening and watching if you prefer (as most do).

At the July 2020 WoodsMeet we heard from Ian Baker, our CEO, and Amanda Calvert, Woodland Management Policy and Projects Manager, and others about recent developments of interest to members. We also heard from Derek and Sarah Neimann, our editorial team, giving insights into the things which make the Small Woods magazine such a good read. Keith Jones, area director of the Forestry Commission, gave an insight into the development of the England Tree Strategy. When published this will have a direct bearing on rules, grants, guidance and many other aspects which will affect woodland owners in England. Piqued your interest now? And there was also a chance for members to ask questions of the presenters and make comments – a very direct form of interaction.

WoodsMeet, which was born as a concept just before lockdown, is I think evidence that Small Woods is one of the most dynamic, pioneering and rich (perhaps not monetarily at the moment!) organisations out of all of those involved with trees. In contrast with others in the sector, Small Woods has not furloughed staff and so has been able to continue its work when others have stopped.

If the agenda for the next one has an item which catches your eye, why not sign up? I am not a woodsman, either through career or experience, but I have had some new insights through this medium and seen some inspiring snippets. And I have to say witnessing a large Zoom meeting working seamlessly (in the main) on your computer screen is very interesting and surely the shape of things to come. I know I am slightly biased by being on Small Woods board, but I assure you no money changed hands in writing the above – I would just like more members to be nudged into trying something new and inspiring.

WoodsMeet Online. How does it work?

If you register an interest in the next WoodsMeet, you are sent an email with a Zoom link to follow at the time of the meeting. This allows you to see and hear the presenters and other participants on your screen. On Zoom:

  • If you don’t wish to be seen you can turn off your video.
  • You can also turn off your microphone, so when someone rings your doorbell, you can answer it and come back to the meeting later.
  • There are other controls such as the ability to show a “thumbs up” or raise a hand, and send a text message to either all the participants or just one without interrupting the meeting.
  • If you can’t be in front of your computer at the right time you can request that the presented material be sent to you in an attachment later on.

How to register for Small Woods members events

To register for Small Woods member events contact Sonia at soniaroberts@smallwoods.org.uk

Events Calendar

 

Woodland crafting through lockdown

Anna Stickland, Coed Lleol / Small Woods Project Officer in Merthyr Tydfil, enjoying the local woodlands near her home during lockdown.

Anna Stickland, Coed Lleol / Small Woods Project Officer in Merthyr Tydfil, enjoying the local woodlands near her home during lockdown.

In 2020, Covid-19 has meant that many of us have had to adapt our home and work lives during lockdown. We hear how Anna and Leila, Coed Lleol / Small Woods staff in Wales, have adapted programmes and set up creative craft businesses during lockdown. Anna is a Project Officer for our Connecting People and Nature in Merthyr Tydfil. Leila was a Woodland Mentor until recently for our Actif Woods Wales project in Swansea (maternity cover).

Anna Stickland

I have worked on various projects for Coed Lleol / Small Woods since 2011. My background is as an outdoor instructor, overseas expedition leader and cycle guide. So, focusing more on conservation and crafts, developing woodland sites in the rural wards of Merthyr Tydfil and running activities to engage local communities was an interesting progression for me.  This regular, local and flexible work tied in with school hours and fit round my continued freelance work – a real positive!

Preparing an interactive online session for participants of Coed Lleol / Small Woods activities in Merthyr Tydfil.

Preparing an interactive online session for participants of Coed Lleol / Small Woods activities in Merthyr Tydfil.

Small Woods in Wales during lockdown

Lockdown has curtailed provision of woodland activities and put a stop to all of my freelance outdoor work.  I am very grateful for the way in which the Small Woods Association has dealt with the current situation, being tolerant of what each of us can do and supporting us in moving our services online.  The main way I keep in touch with participants is via the CPAN Facebook page offering simple craft activities, plant identification and foraged recipes. Engagement with posts has dramatically increased since lockdown started.  Coed Lleol also now offer a telephone befriending service, weekly interactive online sessions on Zoom, and YouTube videos. Plus, I am about to start running an Agored accredited training module on Observing Flora and Fauna for another of Coed Lleol’s projects in South Wales (Working With Nature).  This is a very different environment to the way we’d usually run sessions (sat by the fire in the woods) but this way we can continue to maintain contact, offer woodland skills and access to nature, and welcome new audiences.

Adapting to change for Anna

Since the middle of March I haven’t visited any of the sites that I usually manage due to lockdown, and even earlier for some sites due to flooding. However, I continue to support volunteers who live locally, and some partner organisations.  I am also doing lots of local litter picks and have had time to develop a small patch of mixed neglected woodland at the bottom of my garden, bordering the River Tawe.  Over the years I have coppiced small sections, planted willow, built treehouses, foraged, and had many campfires.  Throughout lockdown this has continued, as well as creating a small mountain bike skills area for my son, more swings, building a pole lathe and lots of swimming in the river.  For us as a family it has been an amazing area to both work and play in, and really appreciate where we live.

Full framed children's rucksack with carrying handle. Commissioned by a customer in Ireland. Anna Stickland Weaving.

Full framed children’s rucksack with carrying handle. Commissioned by a customer in Ireland. Anna Stickland Weaving.

A new woodland craft business emerges

All of my freelance work for this year has been postponed.  It is the first time in years that I have spent so many months in the same place.  Normally I would be travelling all over Wales and abroad making the most of outdoor instructing opportunities during spring. These include organising overseas school expeditions, training Duke of Edinburgh expedition leaders and participants, fundraising for London to Paris bike rides, competing in mountain bike events, leading a trek to the Indian Himalayas and living in a tent or my van.

So, during lockdown I have developed a new business, Anna Stickland Weaving. I work for Coed Lleol / Small Woods for two days a week, and weave for several days a week. In September 2018 Coed Lleol / Small Woods kindly paid half of my fees to complete a City and Guilds qualification in basket making based at Westhope College, near Craven Arms. During the year it was a real privilege to learn a craft professionally, going from having only made one frame basket to making 100 by the end of the course. Some are better than others, some from buff willow, some from fresh or hedgerow materials, some stake and strand, some with a Catalan base, some oval, some with bark, some with rush, some with wrapped handles, some using wood, etc.  I got a distinction.

Since then I have sold and exhibited at local galleries and craft fayres, taught willow crafts to Coed Lleol / Small Woods participants and planted willow and woven living structures with them.  Being creative is really important.  It is something people are sometimes scared to fail at but are always enlivened by trying, finding an even deeper creative connection using natural materials and learning traditional skills. I have a new website and Instagram (annasticklandweaving) account, and have worked hard on promoting myself, getting commissions, and doing online craft fairs during lockdown.

Anna Stickland Weaving Tag by Gower Laser Creations

Anna Stickland Weaving Tag by Gower Laser Creations

Small Woods staff team up

I have also teamed up with Leila Connolly- Standring, my former colleague at Coed Lleol / Small Woods. I have known Leila for years, as we’ve both worked as outdoor instructors for some of the same companies.  Last year she was employed as maternity cover for Coed Lleol’s Actif Woods Wales project in Swansea.  I ran my first full basket making course with her group last summer, adapting an ‘Exploring traditional crafts’ Agored qualification to run a six-week course. Leila gathered a lovely group together and their enthusiasm really gave me confidence. Now Leila has started her own craft business, Gower Laser Creations and has made handmade leather tags for my baskets, laser engraved business cards and gift vouchers, and prompted me with wonderful ideas. She uses recycled materials when possible.

Leila Connolly, former Coed Lleol / Small Woods Woodland Mentor for Swansea, in her new studio at Gower Laser Creations

Leila Connolly, former Coed Lleol / Small Woods Woodland Mentor for Swansea, in her new studio at Gower Laser Creations

Seeing things differently

Like me, Leila has had to adapt to reduced outdoor freelance work and find a work-life balance that would allow her to bring in an income, be a mother, maintain her outdoor passions and focus on her wellbeing. She has certainly experienced the positives and negatives of setting up a new business during lockdown – exciting work commissions cancelled, yet more time to develop crafting skills and be in nature with her four year old daughter.

Lockdown has enabled us both to enjoy nature closer to home than before, spend time with family, and develop new craft skills that we may not have had opportunity to do otherwise. What have you learnt or discovered during lockdown?

 

Introducing ELMS

John Morris, ELMS Project Manager for Small Woods. Photo: Chris Smith

John Morris, ELMS Project Manager for Small Woods. Photo: Chris Smith

June 2020

In his first blog in his new role with Small Woods, John Morris introduces himself and the ELMS project.

I started work with Small Woods this month as the ELMS Project Manager, the Environmental Land Management Scheme in England, mentioned in Spring 2020 edition of Small Woods Magazine, (Issue 78, p5).

Funded by Defra until the end of 2021, Small Woods will develop solutions to improve the support available to small woodland owners and managers from an environmental point of view. By the end of this period, we will produce a report on how this new grant scheme and additional support can better help with small woodland management in England, as part of the Defra Tests and Trials programme.

We will be working with the Forestry Commission and many other partners to gather information and develop ideas. I am also supported by Project Coordinator Steve Warwood, and Regional Coordinators and their local groups in seven geographical study areas:

1. Cotswolds AONB and Heart of England Forest
2. Cumbria – Forest Investment Zone and Eden Valley
3. Eastern Claylands – Suffolk
4. Marches – Herefordshire and Shropshire
5. NE Devon – Biosphere Area, plus Exmoor
6. SW Peak Churnet Valley
7. SE – Surrey Hills AONB, plus the Weald

Small Woods are planning to produce a questionnaire later this year for woodland owners and other stakeholders. We hope to discover your views on a range of issues and find out what incentives are likely to help with both small woodland management and woodland creation. For the purpose of this study we are looking at woodland ownership of under 20 hectares. I hope that this questionnaire will gather responses from these core regions and woodland owners in other areas, as this can help shape the future incentives that we hope will be available. We want to know what currently works well and what should be changed or needs to be improved. The scope of the work includes woodland management plans, biodiversity improvements, landscape improvements, resilience to climate change, reducing flooding and improving water quality, and more! Due to Coronavirus restrictions much of our consultation will be online rather than through face to face meetings.

My background is that I ran the Chiltern Woodlands Project, a registered charity based in the Chilterns AONB office, for 31 years helping owners of small woods to manage their property. This evolved from the earlier Chiltern Society Small Woodlands Project, which I started in 1983. I also helped set up the National Small Woods Association in 1988 and was the first chairman of Small Woods Association for five years from 2000, during which time it merged with the Greenwood Trust and its base at Coalbrookdale.

We have a lot to do in the next year and I look forward to working with you.

Small Woods CEO Ian Baker is delighted to welcome John to the team. “John has been a supporter of the Small Woods Association from the start and it is fitting that someone so steeped in all things woodland should be leading this important project,” he said. “The ELMS project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to influence the way support is made available to support the creation and management of our smaller woodlands, and few people appreciate that as well as John does.”

 

What can history teach us about our woodlands during lockdown?

Book Cover - British Forests: the Forestry Commission 1919-2019

Book Cover – British Forests: the Forestry Commission 1919-2019

Book Review

British Forests: the Forestry Commission 1919-2019 edited by Ian Gambles. 2019. Profile Editions, London. ISBN 9781788163132.

By Ed Lord, June 2020

Ed Lord works for Coed Lleol / Small Woods on the Actif Woods Wales project in Neath Port Talbot. He is also a Lecturer in Mental Health at Swansea University, and RCBC Wales (Research Capacity Building Collaboration) PhD fellow in Ecotherapy. In the first of his series of book reviews Ed discovers a century worth of learning about woodlands to inspire us during lockdown.

Small Woods in Wales adapts during lockdown

For my role with Coed Lleol / Small Woods I am usually out and about meeting people and spending time co-ordinating our Actif Woods Wales project in the varied woodlands of Neath Port Talbot. Covid-19 lockdown has meant a temporary change to that way of working. So, for now, I am writing a series of book reviews that will hopefully support your knowledge and enjoyment of woodlands.

The Actif Woods Wales project focuses primarily on social forestry, the opportunity for local people to enjoy the benefits to their health and wellbeing of woodlands. Sessions are very experiential and based in the vitality of hands-on activity and sensory stimulation that makes woodlands so special. In this first review I introduce a book – “British Forests: the Forestry Commission 1919-2019” – that may on the surface appear very ‘dry’ and at odds with the vitality of our social forestry. But I think to dismiss the historical and cultural is to miss an important aspect of how woodlands come to be as they are, how we use them, how we access them, and how our imaginations are fed by them and, in turn, imprint upon them.

A century worth of learning by 18 authors

British Forests is a collection of chapters featuring 18 authors, published to coincide with the centenary of the Forestry Commission in 2019. As would be expected from a book with a centenary theme there is a strong thread of history running through it – including a whole section providing a chronology of the Commission since its founding in the aftermath of the first world war. Also included is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, and chapters on habitats, forest research, urban forestry, arts in the forest, and one on the technical aspects of Silviculture – “the theory and practice of establishing and maintaining communities of trees and other woody vegetation that have value for people and society” (p. 97) – all interspersed with attractive illustrations of different tree species. The final 40 pages of the book is devoted to a guide to some of the Commission’s more prominent or notable sites around England, Scotland, and Wales.

Understanding forest landscapes

As a method of connecting with woodlands this is a valuable book as it offers a way of understanding the landscapes that surround us – whether that is a vast  spruce plantation (a prominent feature of many upland areas in Neath Port Talbot), or a small pocket of mixed species established under some of the ‘urban forestry’ initiatives (noticeable in parts of Telford, familiar to my Small Woods colleagues). These spaces, despite their ‘permanence’ in the popular imagination are the result of a complicated interplay of local and national politics, cultural and social practices, and ‘natural’ processes, and would have looked very different when my maternal grandmother was born in 1918. While the Forestry Commission – and its devolved partners in Wales (NRW – Natural Resources Wales) and Scotland (Scottish Forestry) – is only one player in the woodland scene, its influence has been significant over the past 100 years. This is not only as a direct landowner/manager, but also as an employer, a skills and training provider, a commissioner and disseminator of research, a grant and licencing distributor, and many other facets of activity.

Exploring Cathole Cave (occupied by Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers) in Parc Le Breos Woods (Swansea) with Gower Unearthed and Actif Woods Wales project participants. Photo: Small Woods

A century diversifying woodland use

The low percentage of woodland cover – and the poor quality of this woodland – was a woeful aspect of the British landscape by the end of the first world war. This book gives a good overview of why this was the case, and what the Forestry Commission has done over the past 100 years to dramatically improve this situation. While a secure and predictable timber supply was at the core of why the body was founded, it is interesting how their aims and practices have developed and diversified over the years. This is particularly notable in terms of an emphasis on habitats and biodiversity, as well as the recreation, health, and social benefits that many of us have hugely enjoyed while using Commission sites. For example, who could have imagined in 1919 that by the 21st Century through a combination of devolved government in Cardiff and a state forestry organisation, Wales would be a world class mountain biking destination – with the cost of use usually just a parking charge! There are, of course, criticisms of many of the policies and strategies that have been applied in this past century – as an example the tension between plantation forestry, of often imported species like Sitka Spruce, and broadleaf woodland (although such a simple binary division has its own issues) was a particular focus of campaigning from the 1970s through to the present day. Coed Lleol’s partnership project “Lost Peatlands” in Neath Port Talbot (Lost Peatlands Project) is an interesting case in point of how some of the practices of the past are being responded to and addressed in creative ways.

Craig Gwladus Country Park

A guided walk around Craig Gwladus Country Park (NPT) with Actif Woods Wales project participants. Photo: Small Woods

Discover woodland heritage and history during lockdown

There are some messages to take away from this book that may be of use during lockdown and social distancing. First there is the value of heritage and history as a way of interpreting the woodlands close to us. In Swansea the Actif Woods Wales project has in the past partnered with ‘Gower Unearthed’ to deliver content related to the history of the sites being used. In our sessions in Neath Port Talbot we have engaged with a fascinating archaeological record to be discovered from exploring Craig Gwladus Country Park. Many of the coppice skills that we learn together are vital to the sustainable management of small woodlands and have been honed from human engagement with woodland for hundreds (even thousands) of years. If we cannot be together in woodlands for a period of time, or if people are shielding at home, there are opportunities to access digital archives, and research woodland sites. This book could provide the spark of imagination for just such a project – maybe in a few years time you could be sharing your knowledge with an Actif Woods Wales group!

To discover online woodland activities with Coed Lleol / Small Woods during lockdown visit: www.coedlleol.org.uk

Ed Lord. Photo: Small Woods

Ed Lord. Photo: Small Woods

 

Covid-19 Small Woods Update

Non-statutory advice to Small Woods members on visiting and working in woodlands following the updated government advice on movement restrictions, published 24th March, last updated 9th June

 

We have updated the advice for Small Woods members with respect to visiting and working in woodlands and have also produced a letter of comfort specifically for Wales. Please take a look at our Covid-19 page for full details and find out what is being advised across the UK.

 

Covid-19: Letter of comfort

For our woodland owners

Many of you normally actively manage your woodlands at this time of year, spending time in them working, walking or just observing the onset of spring. Some are managed as part of small-scale supply chains (for example for firewood), others for biodiversity, your own firewood and recreation.

To help you, in the event that you are challenged while going about your necessary tasks and duties in your woodland, we have created a letter to explain the definition of “essential work”, as defined by government guidance, which is being carried out by woodland managers, foresters and the related supply chain. Here is the letter for you to print out and keep with you: Small Woodland Supply Chain Letter of Comfort

In addition, Confor has produced a series of letters of comfort to show to anyone challenging your right to work. These can be found here.

 

National Beanpole Week 2020

 

11-19 April 2020

In these troubling times, there has never been a greater need to make use of our outdoor space and create something positive. That’s why gardeners and coppice workers nationwide are getting ready for National Beanpole Week – despite the pressures coronavirus is imposing on all of us.

The dedicated week, from 11 to 19 April, celebrates and promotes the importance of our ancient coppiced woodlands and encourages gardeners to get behind the campaign and use the humble British Beanpole.

Monty Don by Marsha Arnold

The campaign, which started in 2009, has attracted support from a host of famous gardeners who are urging people to seek out locally sourced beanpoles.

Writer and broadcaster Monty Don, who is a long-term supporter of the coppice sector, backed the initiative and said: “Every British bean grower should use British beanpoles. Not only do they do the job better than anything else, but they help preserve and nurture British coppice woodland and all the wildlife that depends on it.”

This year’s campaign is focusing on the important role coppice woodlands will play in preventing a climate crisis. Richard Thomason, from the Small Woods Association, said: “The campaign is good fun and has a typical British quirkiness but there is a very serious story behind National Beanpole Week.”

Importing sticks around the world to grow beans up makes no sense. The carbon use of transport alone makes the practice foolhardy, especially when the UK has ancient coppice woodlands in desperate need of management. The vast majority of carbon, over 70%, which is sequestrated from the atmosphere, is held in the ground.

Coppice woodlands are particularly good at holding on to this carbon stored in the ground as the coppice stools maintain their root system to regrow new shoots.  The rapid decline of coppice management in recent years has also led to a worrying decline of the associated woodland species.

Toby Buckland

Author and gardening presenter Toby Buckland, gave his support to the campaign, saying: “Whether they’re for sweetpeas, perennials or the veg plot, hazel poles and peasticks make the most useful plant supports. But they’re not just easy on the eye or to work with, their use boosts our rural economy and enhances our woodlands for wildlife. And they’ll help make your garden more beautiful too!”

Horticulturalist Chris Collins, of Garden Organic, said: “Supporting our small woodlands is fundamental to our natural heritage, alongside these precious spaces are traditions and environmental practices that have existed for decades. One of these is the use of bean poles from the ancient practise of coppicing. Let’s celebrate the humble bean pole, supporting our essential edible crops through the ages. There is nothing finer than a climbing bean rambling its way through the rustic beauty of the bean pole – long may they last.”

Chris Collins

Gardeners can help by purchasing locally grown beanpoles and creating a demand for coppice restoration.

Beanpole local suppliers can be found by visiting: www.beanpoles.org.uk  Alternatively, visit: www.coppice-products.co.uk

Please note, each supplier will have their own policy regarding how to deliver their services safely during the Covid-19 crisis. Ask your supplier for details.

For further information email: richardthomason@smallwoods.org.uk or call 01952 432769.

 

Covid-19: Advice on visiting and working in woodlands – latest

Non-statutory advice to Small Woods members on visiting and working in woodlands following the updated government advice on movement restrictions 24th March 2020.

This is advice has been assembled using government advice and requirements, best practice as shared by other organisations and responses to questions raised by members.

Government issued updated advice on movement restrictions, following the Prime Minister’s statement on 23rd March. The summary of the movement restrictions from www.gov.uk is here.

Small Woods Association members are asking for clarification and the Association will aim to maintain an interpretation of the advice as we move through the emergency period.

Read the latest information here:  Covid Guidance for Members – 27.03.2020

 

Suspending Small Woods Courses and Events

19 March 2020

We have taken the decision to suspend our planned Small Woods programme of events and courses for the foreseeable future, due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. We do not expect to be able to run activities until Autumn 2020, at the earliest. We appreciate your understanding and will continue to work hard to stay connected and support our members during this difficult time.

These are difficult times for everyone, and as much as we wish we could continue running courses and events, we are having to take a break for a little while for the safety of all our wonderful participants, tutors and staff.

Small Woods Online

However, we will not let this stop us sharing skills and knowledge and now, more than ever, it is important to support the amazing work our tutors do, as many of their livelihoods will be affected by these cancellations. We are working together to come up with some ideas as to how we can connect online and bring you some of the knowledge our tutors have to offer, watch this space!

In the meantime, you can also find us on social media where we will continue to offer woodland inspiration:

 

Action on Wood Fuel

Members will be aware of the press which has been generated in the past two days about Defra’s proposed actions to ban the burning of wet wood.
The Small Woods Association supports the principle of the change in regulation, as the medical evidence is overwhelming. Those who promote sustainable Woodland Management want to continue to be a positive contributor to society and eliminating these threats to human health is critical. A focus on dry wood will have a positive affect for all concerned, including the woodland management sector.
We will engage with government over the next year to look at how the changes will be brought in and how to help small wood fuel suppliers in the interim.
The proposals have been the subject of 2 rounds of consultation to which we responded, particularly focusing on the role played by small firewood operations in bringing woodlands back into management, as well as the role firewood plays in small forestry businesses and local (particularly rural) economies.
We are hopeful that these messages will weigh in the implementation of the proposals.
Following our consultation response the Defra officers responsible for this work approached us to gain a clearer understanding about the impacts of the regulatory change and the advice we gave them has influenced the regulatory impact work.
Our position was that any wood fuel operator should be able to provide dry wood, that the technology was relatively simple and the assurance systems were in place to support this.
The 2m3 threshold for wet wood supply is a significant positive outcome for our lobbying. We argued that a significant group of people purchased wet wood and then seasoned it themselves and that their systems were perfectly well set up to provide well dried wood. This is something we asked for, as we argued that those who normally procured cord wood were likely to be responsible and knowledgeable enough to understand there is no point in burning wet wood. That said, if the problem does not go away, then we could see this threshold being raised, or the sale of wet wood abolished altogether, in 2025, when the regulation is due for review.
We are interested in members views. Have we got this right? What should we be focusing on between now and 2021 when the new regulations are implemented.