What is a Community Woodlander?

Tristan Haynes – Telford Woods Project Co-ordinator for Small Woods writes:

A Community Woodlander is someone who has an interest in directly managing a distinct woodland area to produce woodland products, in a way that not only improves that woodland but also benefits the wider community in some way. We hear how Mark Eccleston, Community Woodlander at The Hem, in Telford, has developed his woodland business while working with the community.

Community Woodlander Mark Eccleston, keeping bees. Photo by Mark Eccleston

Community Woodlander Mark Eccleston, keeping bees. Photo by Mark Eccleston

Meet Community Woodlander, Mark Eccleston

Mark is a local man who has always held an interest in nature, photography and craftsmanship. Following a career in working on the railways, Mark took the opportunity to work in partnership with the Local Authority to area on their behalf. He has also attended several courses at Small Wood’s Green Wood Centre in Coalbrookdale, and Small Woods have worked with him in his woodland through various projects.

Since 2011, Mark has had an agreement to occupy around five hectares of semi-natural woodland, at the Hem in Telford, owned by Telford & Wrekin Borough Council. During his tenure Mark has returned the woodland into a cycle of production, thinning the mature broadleaf trees and creating an understorey of hazel coppice which is now in a productive rotation cycle. The biodiversity of the woodland has significantly improved now that more light is able to reach the woodland floor and the dormant seedbank of Ancient Woodland Indicator species can germinate and flourish once again.

‘Spending my time in the woodland over a long period has given me the freedom to develop a range of activities that contribute to my making a living, whilst seeing for myself everyday how these are also actually helping to improve the woodland environment. Since letting the light in, planting an understorey, controlling the brambles and restoring ponds in the woodland I’ve seen an explosion in the amount of ground flora coming up, as well as the insect and bird populations, and have recently also started keeping Bee’s here which are having a wider environmental benefit’ said Mark Eccleston, Community Woodlander

Charcoal making. Photo by Mark Eccleston

Charcoal making. Photo by Mark Eccleston

Mark processes harvested timber into firewood and charcoal on site and makes his living through the sales. Mark has also initiated several environmental projects on-site, including the establishment of a ‘forest garden’ area, keeping woodland bees and creating a boardwalk to enable the visitors he permits into his woodland to walk around the entire area, including over a wetter part of the woodland.

Mark regularly hosts groups whose health & wellbeing may benefit from spending time in the woodland and participating in its management, such as schools and corporate volunteers. Mark is well networked within the local community, green spaces groups and the wood-working community in particular, and regularly helps out on tasks where there is a mutual benefit.

Through the Telford Woods project, Small Woods work with Mark, supporting him with volunteers and

‘Developing a local network of Community Woodlanders like Mark will not only result in the intensive improvement of specific woodland sites, but will also ensure that we have access to skilled and trusted individuals for the supervision of volunteer teams, social forestry groups and apprentices to work on specific tasks’ said Tristan Haynes, Project Co-ordinator, Small Woods

Larch log to be milled into timber to make a top bar beehive. Mark Eccleston.

Larch log to be milled into timber to make a top bar beehive. Mark Eccleston.

Why might a Community Woodlander work with the community?

Typically, a Community Woodlander will work to an agreement that grants exclusive use of an area of woodland, and the products from its management, as a base from which to make their living. In return they will not only be improving the woodland they are working in but will also agree to contribute their skills towards assisting in community-based management of woodland in the wider local area to some extent.

The Community Woodlander may make their skills available through inviting specific groups to work with them on their site, maintaining a bank of tools for use by community groups, managing access to other woodland areas, supervising tasks or providing specialist skills (such as chainsaw work) and use of equipment (such as charcoal kilns). Depending upon the nature of their agreement, the Community Woodlander may benefit directly in return by having the rights to any timber produced, for example.

Land managers adopting these principles can therefore facilitate not only socio-environmental improvements to woodlands in their area, but also the creation of a learning pathway through which interested individuals, with the potential to make a living by managing a woodland, can develop their skills without being subject to any significant overhead or need for capital to purchase woodland outright.

‘Through acting as custodian of this site, Mark has been able to improve the biodiversity of the woodland whilst providing mutually-beneficial opportunities for the groups he has worked with. These include improving health, wellbeing or engagement in education, whilst also contributing towards its sustainable management’ said Matthew Seabrook, Tree Officer, Telford & Wrekin Borough Council

Shrewsbury Severn Trent corporate volunteers make a dead hedge. February 2020. Organised by Small Woods. Photo by Mark Eccleston.

Shrewsbury Severn Trent corporate volunteers make a dead hedge. February 2020. Organised by Small Woods. Photo by Mark Eccleston.

How does the community benefit from having a local Community Woodlander’?

For communities situated close to areas of under-managed woodland, the benefits of having a Community Woodlander based locally are numerous. Whilst there is a lot a community can do themselves to participate in the management of a woodland, especially if it has been designed or restructured for this purpose, there will always be tasks that require the skills, and equipment, of a qualified craftsperson.

A Community Woodlander agreement is a financially sustainable way of managing local woodlands on a community-basis, as their consistent presence will ensure that these skills are available to assist communities, regardless of whether there are funded projects taking place, or not, at the time. Furthermore, depending upon the nature of the Woodlander’s business, it is likely that they will manage access to the woodland area to those who will benefit (e.g. woodland sector work experience and career progression), whilst working together to improve the woodland environment. Finally, through the Community Woodlander’s business itself the community is likely to have better access to timber and woodland products that have been produced through sustainable woodland management.

Mark has welcomed corporate volunteer groups to help manage the woodland, including a team from Severn Trent.

‘We had a great day out of the office getting to know each other better through doing some practical activity which we know will benefit the woodland and help Mark out too’ said Debbie Goodale, Corporate Volunteer from Severn Trent

You can find out more about Mark Eccleston’s work at www.picsandsticks.co.uk , or on Facebook as Hem Coppice Honey Bees: www.facebook.com/hemcoppicehoneybees  and Pics and Sticks: www.facebook.com/PicsandSticksMark

To discover woodland skills and training visit: Small Woods

 

Our response to Defra’s England Tree Strategy Consultation

Thank you to Small Woods members who joined in the discussion that helped formulate our response to the England Tree Strategy consultation, which closed on September 11.

The aim of the Strategy is to set out how to significantly increase tree establishment and woodland creation to support nature recovery, clean growth and the commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The consultation also sought input on how to: protect existing trees and woodland; bring more woodlands into management; use them to support the economy; and engage more people with trees and woodlands.

The Strategy proposals were considered during two online WoodsMeet sessions and members’ contributions were fed into Small Woods’ response, which you can read here >

Overall, we have emphasised the following key areas of concern:

  • The role of the woodland owner and manager needs to be brought to the fore in the development of woodland management policy.
  • For example, a level playing field needs to be established regarding the new ELMS incentives, which currently exclude small woodlands.
  • Ensure that the need for woodland management is understood by policy makers at all levels.
  • Assurance Frameworks – UKFS is too demanding for small woodlands.  An alternative light touch approach is required, such as that currently under development through FSC.
  • Coppice restoration – New initiatives are needed to further develop the coppice sector, and maximise its potential to provide widespread environmental, economic, and social benefits.
  • Skills – New funding is needed for skills and training for safe operation, as well as increased professional capacity at all levels.
  • Infrastructure.  Well managed woodlands require infrastructure. This is poorly understood by the planning and regulation system.
  • Complementary and coherent regulatory frameworks – The relative low priority afforded to woodlands in national frameworks leads to a low level of protection, for example for Ancient Woodlands.
  • Long-term consistent policy and financial support – the sector needs certainty.

The final concerns we expressed were whether there had been wide enough consultation; the strategy needs wide population buy in and a need to understand what the status would be and whether the strategy and its provisions would have teeth.

In addition to the covering letter, which sets out our main concerns, detailed supplementary comments to the proposals were also submitted in response to the consultation. These can be read here >

Once all feedback has been considered, the new England Tree Strategy is expected to be published later this year, setting out the Government’s forestry policy through to 2050.

 

Small Woods joins launch of new Lost Woods project 

Wilding Wood

Small Woods Association is one of four main partner organisations to launch Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs, an exciting new project that aims to bring back to life forgotten areas of woodland in Sussex. Together, they will work with landowners and local communities to bring back lost woodlands from the brink. The project has received over £340k in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop plans over an initial 18 month period, with the hope of unlocking a five year project with multi-million pound delivery grant.

‘We are delighted to be a key delivery partner for this vital project.  Under the right type of management, small woodlands in the landscape can collectively deliver many benefits well in excess of their modest size. We are excited at the prospect of working alongside woodland owners and managers to develop a package of support that makes a real difference to the management of these often undervalued and overlooked woodlands’ said Graham Morgan, Woodland Management Advisory Officer for Small Woods Association.

Small Woods is the national organisation for woodland owners, workers and supporters. Our involvement in the project is to talk and listen to landowners and find out what they need to manage woodlands more sustainably, then from that we will develop a full training programme. Small Woods will also look at providing physical infrastructure such as a small mobile retort kiln.

Launched in July 2020 with support from players of the National Lottery, the project runs over an area of 400 square kilometres, from Pulborough in the West to the fringes of Lewes in the East, and will put life back into neglected and forgotten woodlands.

‘Many woods here are in a sorry state. They are often small and fragmented and suffer from a range of issues such as development, under-management and climate change. Without intervention, there is a real risk these woods will be lost forever’ said Ed Goodall, Lost Woods Project Manager, from Woodland Trust.

Lost Woods will work with landowners and local communities to rescue these woods, boosting biodiversity, creating a more resilient network of trees and a haven for wildlife in this forgotten part of Sussex.

‘Trees are a really important component of any ecosystem. They provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife, from flood protection to shelter and food sources for ecology, for improving water quality and adapting to climate change’ said Gareth Williams from the Environment Agency.

Events and activities across the project area will give the local community the opportunity to be involved in bringing local woodland back to life. Leading woodland and wildlife conservation organisations in the area are working together to make this happen.

The main project partners are Small Woods Association, Action in Rural Sussex, Sussex Wildlife Trust, and Woodland Trust, with additional support from the Environment Agency and Ouse and Adur River Trust.

For more information about Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs visit: Lost Woods Sussex on Facebook .

Lost Woods project area map

Lost Woods project partners: 

With additional support from:  

Small Woods Association 

Small Woods support woodland owners, workers and supporters to develop thriving, sustainable woodlands now and for future generations. Well over half the UK’s small woodlands are neglected, overlooked and under-valued. Managed and used well, small woodlands are vital to thriving local economies, wildlife, and the health and wellbeing of local communities, and are hugely valuable in the fight against climate change. Small Woods provide advice to members on sustainable woodland management, as well as woodland projects, training and events, social forestry activities and research. www.smallwoods.org.uk

National Lottery Heritage Fund Logo

 

The return of nature

Wilding by Isabella Tree - Book Cover

Book Cover – Wilding by Isabella Tree.

Book Review:

Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm. Isabella Tree

By Ian Baker, July 2020

Reading Isabella Tree’s popular book in the middle of a global pandemic feels timely.  Although she could not have foreseen the perfect storm that 2020 has become, this book provides wisdom aplenty to help us consider our wider plight regarding nature and its recovery.

In the words of the author; ‘Forced to accept that intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp in West Sussex was driving it close to bankruptcy, in 2000 Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell took a spectacular leap of faith and handed their 3,500 acres back to nature.’

Wilding is an honest assessment from a position of significant privilege, from someone who sees their role of stewardship of the natural world with utmost seriousness.  It is thought provoking, sincere and full of useful references.

Longhorn cow. Photo Small Woods

Longhorn cow. Photo Small Woods

The return of nature

Wilding shows that it is possible to stand back and trust nature.  The land, our flora and fauna all still have enough fight in them to reset the clock of recovery in certain circumstances.

The Knepp experiment provides some astounding examples of recovery, for instance in bird and insect species and it will be interesting to see if Isabella’s can avoid SSSI designation, as she hopes, if Knepp establishes itself as an oasis for some of our rarest lowland species.

Isabella Tree describes how ‘rare species such as turtle doves, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding at Knepp and biodiversity has rocketed.’

Guiding nature

However, do not look here for a blueprint if you are looking to follow a rewilding path.  This is an account of a very specific set of circumstances and is not rewilding as most would understand the term.  If anything it is yet another demonstration of the limitations of rewilding in its purest sense.  There is a lot of intervention going on.  That is not a bad thing in itself, Isabella and Charlie’s experience is probably that where you have a good idea how to achieve your objectives, you act.  Where you are unsure, stand back and see what happens, you will often be pleasantly surprised.  And the rest.

Woodland owners and managers will find much food for thought here, it is certainly a book that justifies its place on a naturalist’s book shelf.

To read more book reviews by Small Woods staff visit our Small Woods blog.

 

Your Guide to Forest Bathing

Book Cover - Your Guide to Forest Bathing - Amos Clifford

Your Guide to Forest Bathing – Amos Clifford

Book Review

Your Guide to Forest Bathing: experience the healing power of nature. Amos Clifford. (2018). Conari Press; ISBN: 9781573247382

By Ed Lord, July 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.

What is forest bathing?

For the second in my series of reviews I introduce a small book that is very much focused on practical experiences within woodlands. I would be interested to know how many people, on seeing this book, find the title confusing. When I first heard the term ‘forest bathing’ a few years ago an image of some kind of hot tub surrounded by trees sprang into my mind. Since then I have read a fair bit about the concept, and even attended forest bathing sessions, and although I know it has nothing at all to do with hot tubs (despite many woodland holiday providers making a selling point of such features) I still cannot shake the image!

While I urge you to forget my image of hot tubs, Amos Clifford does not provide a concise dictionary-style definition of ‘forest bathing’ that I can quote here to clear up the issue for you. He instead spends the first 13 pages of the book slowly and carefully delineating what forest bathing as a practice has come to mean to him. There are some key aspects to this lengthy definition, not least the biography of the author: Amos Clifford is based in California, and he is the co-founder of a training and certification provider called Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT). He states that forest bathing is related to ‘forest therapy’ and the East Asian practice and research field called ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, but while these are “focused on boosting wellness and preventing disease” his idea of forest bathing is a “more casual experience among the trees, unburdened by expectations, oriented to simple pleasure” (p. xix). The point of this “experience among the trees” is to feel more connected to nature and the ecosystems and processes within which we are embedded – improved personal well-being is almost just a side effect or an afterthought of this reconnection rather than a primary aim of forest bathing.

‘Bathing’ in the woodland atmosphere with an Actif Woods Wales group at Gelli Hir Woods, Swansea. Photo Small Woods

‘Bathing’ in the woodland atmosphere with an Actif Woods Wales group at Gelli Hir Woods, Swansea. Photo: Small Woods

Practices in the woods

This is a very practical book and much of it is a guide to spending time in the forest, and developing a particular orientation to the environment. Forest bathing is not just wandering in the forest, nor is it ‘green exercise’, rather it is about developing a relationship through practices that build what Clifford calls “an optimal flow” (p. 42). This ‘optimal flow’ is found through a combination of structure, such as starting with a symbolic “threshold” crossing, and flexibility, by “playfully engaging in a non-directed flow of emerging events” (p. 61). Much of this practice – structured and flexible – is related to aspects of mindfulness, including slowing down, being present in the moment rather than ruminating on the past or the future, and exercises that utilise all five senses deliberately. Despite the surface similarities, however, he suggests that applying mindfulness concepts can “trick you into making efforts to experience anything other than what the forest offers” (p. 44). By this slightly cryptic assertion he seems to be saying that the elements of the forest setting – rustling branches, the earthy smell of leaf litter, trickling water in streams – are, and should be, enough in themselves.

Numerous specific activities are described in the book, most of which could be tried in a local woodland or park, and this makes it a useful resource to dip in and out of at leisure. These activities include a breathing exercise, a reflection on an element of the surroundings such as a stone or twig, following animal tracks, finding a familiar ‘sit spot’ to which one returns for 20 minute observations over a long period of time, a ‘tea ceremony’, and using zoom and time lapse videos on your phone. There are a lot to try, and these can be practiced flexibly, and joined together to make a ‘forest bathing experience’ that one can repeat alone or share with a group. This practical approach is something that sets this book apart from some of the more theoretically and research oriented books published in recent years about nature and human health.

Ed Lord making warm drinks with a Kelly Kettle during an Actif Woods Wales session at Craig Gwladus Country Park, Neath. Photo Small Woods

Ed Lord making warm drinks with a Kelly Kettle during an Actif Woods Wales session at Craig Gwladus Country Park, Neath. Photo: Small Woods

Coed Lleol / Small Woods and ‘forest bathing’

For anyone who has engaged with Coed Lleol / Small Woods, including on our Actif Woods Wales project, there will be elements of Amos Clifford’s ‘forest bathing’ that sound familiar. For example one of our leaders, Lymarie, has led some popular ‘mindfulness in nature’ sessions in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, which utilise breathing exercises and carefully noting how the woodland engages all five senses. At Coed Lleol / Small Woods we don’t, however, tend to use the terminology of ‘forest bathing’ (or forest therapy, or Shinrin-Yoku) to describe our activities. You will find that we talk about ‘Social Forestry’, which has some important differences to other models of wellbeing work in nature, such as Amos Clifford’s template.

Social forestry has a strong woodland skills emphasis, from a point of view of seeing conservation and woodland management as inseparable from the economic and social utility that these environments can have for their local communities. So, while Coed Lleol’s ‘social forestry’ can include recognisable elements of ‘forest bathing’ described in this book, to my mind it is more inclusive and socially engaged. For example Clifford’s model of forest bathing originates from a particular Californian context and assumes a certain level of ‘nature connection’ to be already present as a starting place. Social forestry of the type developed by Small Woods has an appeal to groups often excluded, disengaged or disconnected from green space, nature, and woodlands. This is something that is readily apparent in the range of Agored certified qualifications that are offered in our different locations in Wales.

I think there is much to learn from Amos Clifford’s North American model of ‘forest bathing’, and I have been fortunate to meet many practitioners carefully adapting some of these practices to be more relevant in a Welsh context. Inspired by this, I enjoyed piloting an indoor ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ taster with a group at Mind in Neath last year. It would be great to hear from others how they are making ‘forest bathing’ work in different contexts, and if anyone tells me they have put I hot tub in their woodland I will smile and shake my head!

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

 

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.