COVID-19

Non-statutory advice to Small Woods members on visiting and working in woodlands following the updated government advice on movement restrictions, first published 24th March, updated 12th May 2020

 

This advice has been assembled using government advice and requirements, best practice as shared by other organisations and responses to questions raised by members.  Government has issued a series of sets of guidance since the Prime Minister’s statement on 23rd March first announced #Lockdown. Guidance issued during the initial stages of the situation emphasised the need to stay home to counter the threats posed by the virus and its implications. Subsequent statements have simply clarified that position, until last weekend when the government indicated its intention to lift lockdown progressively.

For the time being, although little seems to have changed in some ways, the situation across the UK has become much more complicated as advice in England is now different from that in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Although restrictions on exercise have been relaxed in England, this is not the case in the other three countries, where the Stay Home message is still in place.

Even though there is some loosening of restrictions in England alone, Social Distancing stays in place throughout the whole of the UK.  The fact that this is a deadly virus has not changed and the purpose of keeping away from people outside your household is to reduce opportunities for virus transmission for your protection and that of everyone you might come into contact with.  Social Distancing is therefore likely to be a long-term feature of how work is done and lives are lived. This needs to be borne in mind by anyone who is planning work and activities in woodlands, potentially for the rest of 2020 and maybe longer.

The key change for woodland owners, managers and users now is that there is now no restriction on the distance you can travel to take exercise, so unless you wish to cross a national border, from England to Scotland or Wales there is no longer any bar on people travelling long distances.  This means that woodland owners, managers and users who have not been able to visit distant woods can now do so, which will be a great relief for many.  It also means that so can everyone else.  This means that if you need to do work for which you need to maintain social distance anywhere near a path, you need to be extra vigilant to ensure there is no inadvertent contact.  It also means that you are more likely to need to explain work you are doing to curious visitors.

Simple signs that state the purpose of the work and the need to remain as distant as possible will help to ensure you do not have to speak to passers by.  Although this is often a joy of being in the woods, there are good reasons now why face-to-face conversations with strangers are to be avoided.

The summary of the movement restrictions and other Covid-19 related guidelines from www.gov.uk can be found here.

The following text is Small Woods Association interpretation of the advice at the current point in the emergency period.

The main message – everyone should stay at home unless the journey is absolutely necessary, although leisure visits can now be taken to areas an unlimited distance from home. Whilst this continues to remain under review, any lifting is likely to be slow as the Government acts to avoid a second spike in infection.

As of May 13, 2020, the Government guidance now states:

“ You can … spend time outdoors – for example sitting and enjoying the fresh air, picnicking, or sunbathing; meet one other person from a different household outdoors and exercise outdoors as often as you wish following social distancing guidelines.”

How to interpret government advice for Small Woodland owners:

Like most other individuals and organisations, Small Woods are listening carefully to the Government’s advice. We are also in contact with Government officials on the implications of the advice. What they tell us is the advice is fluid, however, it is now loosening progressively. We will aim to keep our media feeds up-to-date, as we become aware of new advice.

For woodland owners – whether you live near to your wood or not:

  • Visits for exercise are encouraged, as long as you are can follow current advice about social distancing
  • Be sure to stay distant from anyone else
  • Do not travel in a car with anyone other than a member of your household
  • Do not share tools, equipment or food with others

For practising woodland managers, professional or otherwise, please note that Defra has clarified the position on key workers as follows:

“Those involved in the supply chain of wood for key goods (including, but not limited to pallets, heating, packaging, tissue paper, timber harvesting, sawmills) should be considered key workers.”  You shouldn’t have been stopped on your way to or from the woods previously, and this is even less likely now.

The intention of this definition is to ensure that the “the supply chain of wood for key goods” remains in operation as it is producing goods and services the Government regards are essential at this time. That includes the wood fuel supply chain, on which many will still depend for their heating next winter. Without work now, these supplies will then run out. The advice on essential workers applies to all operators, regardless of size, it is not simply focused on larger operators. The importance of keeping to social distancing protocols in all of these operations is critical.

Defra have further clarified that: “Ecologists and environmental professionals should therefore be able to continue with outdoor work, including ecological surveying and supervision, where they can continue to follow Public Health England guidelines.”

Deer and Squirrel control has been a particular concern, with a number of members raising this concern. In line with British Pest Control Association and BASC guidance, it is clear that pest management cannot be done from home and is essential to the health and sustainability of well managed woodlands. “At present pest management professionals can go to work during the Government’s partial lockdown.” (bpca.org.uk)

UK Government has provided further guidance: “with the exception of some non-essential shops and public venues, we are not asking any other businesses to close – indeed it is important for business to carry on.” Their advice on outdoor working including commercial forestry can be found here:  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/social-distancing-in-the-workplace-during-coronavirus-covid-19-sector-guidance#outdoor-businesses

For woodland owners – if your wood is more distant and your visit is solely for leisure purposes:

  • If your wood is distant or in a tourist area, then it is still advisable to exercise nearer home.  We suggest you keep visits to a minimum, out of sensitivity to communities in these areas to reduce the risk of causing additional burden on local NHS services.  Rural Communities, particularly in the National Parks, are very concerned that the change in Government guidance is going to lead to uncontainable pressures on their communities and the services they rely on.

If your visit is to do work that is needed in your woodland, then there are no restrictions on your visit.  If, however, you feel there is a danger that you may be challenged while going about your necessary tasks and duties in your woodland, the Small Woodland Supply Chain Letter of Comfort may still be helpful to explain the need for the work you are doing.  It is an interpretation of Government guidance, which is intended to support the work of woodland managers, foresters and the related supply chain.

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.

The Known Risks:

  • Contracting the virus – it is impossible to be 100% certain that you will not come into contact with other people and the virus could be on your gate post, or even within your wood where people may have had access, whether legal or otherwise.
  • Staying safe in woods – Social distancing may be difficult, as many woods have access through them and along their boundaries via Rights of Way. Even practicing social distancing, given the length of time that the virus can survive on surfaces, access points are a risk. Even our neighbouring land owners may legitimately be touching gates and stiles. You also cannot guarantee against trespass.
  • Sharing the virus – you may be carrying the virus without knowing it and risk passing it on to others, especially the vulnerable.
  • Injury – Woodland management work also carries the risk of injury and this is not the time to be adding to the load being experienced by the NHS.

Everyone will have to decide what constitutes an ‘essential’ journey. Fundamentally it is up to each person to interpret the rules for their own circumstances, with wider society in mind, as everyone’s situation is different.

Useful self-test – “What would a nurse advise?”:
Woodland owners and managers are used to being very self-reliant and are used to assessing risks primarily from our own point of view. Coronavirus and the restrictions that relate to it are different. We are being asked to behave in a way that reduces risk for society as a whole. We are all very good at justifying our own actions, by looking at how their implications affect ourselves. A clinician takes a view of the whole population and they would advise on the basis that we all act to reduce the incidence of transmission of this horrible disease. Seeing the number of ambulances on the roads, anything we can do to reduce the risk of infection is the most important factor.

Is there any risk you could contract or share the virus?
The point is not whether there is a justification for the journey itself. Rather, if there is any danger that you will come into contact with other people, and the journey isn’t essential for reasons of human health, you should not make that journey. It is likely that many people already have the virus, but are not aware of it, because it is a mild case, or they are in the early stages. The cold, hard fact is also that you could pass it on or pick it up from a gate or a stile.

We appreciate that many jobs that had been planned for the next few weeks will now go by the wayside, but our society now faces a greater issue and we now need to act to save those who are more vulnerable as well as enabling the NHS to continue to cope.

Some general practical advice to help keep everyone safe:

  • It is even more important to follow bio-security protocols than ever. Wash all equipment and PPE, particularly gloves and boots.
  • Take sanitiser with you so you can sanitise your hands regularly and anything you might touch.
  • Sanitise anything like gate latches and locks that you handle in order to access
  • Wash or sanitise your hands after using any access points, eg, gates or stiles.
  • Don’t work in groups of more than two. If you would normally work with someone from a different household then observe safe social distancing rules at all times. Ideally, work out a timetable so you can visit the wood separately.
  • Avoid public transport if possible. Instead walk, run, cycle or drive to your wood, either on your own or with one other member of your household.
  • Do not pick up anyone on the way or travel with them.
  • If you meet anyone, then maintain safe social distancing protocols (stay at least two metres apart).
  • Don’t make anyone a cup of tea.
  • Don’t share tools.
  • If you take your dog(s) with you, ensure to keep them in sight and under genuinely close control. They could encounter someone you don’t see and become unconscious vectors of the disease.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly before and after eating food, and when you get home.
  • Use disposable gloves wherever possible.

Best practice advice could change, and we will update this guidance when we have new advice.

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