• Adam Dawson

Local Woods For Local People

Updated: Jan 12

Growing Better Connections have organised a series of events and two short films to showcase through shared experience, the many benefits of community management of local woodlands.

Penllergare Community Woodland Volunteer Day


This is a written extract from the first film, "Introducing Community Woodlands & Local Opportunities" (just click on the link to watch it), The first section is from the introduction and the second from the summary, a patchwork quilt of inspiration based on the experiences shared by our speakers.



What is a Community Woodland?

It can be whatever you dare to dream it could be, and it will mean many different things to each member of your community.

Essentially, they are any woodland where the local community has a degree of control in its management, generally through lease or purchase. They are all slightly different depending on the aims and circumstances of the community, the age and species of the trees, and the wildlife that calls them home. Some common themes tend to run through community woodland groups, like providing opportunities for employment, education, recreation and well being, as well as the materials, resources and rich habitats that we all need for life. These themes, and the ways to achieve them, will be explored by our speakers through the examples that they will describe in the video.


In the European context: France has 11,000 forest communes owning over 3 million hectares of forest. They grant concessions to local people to gather firewood, harvest timber, produce food and other uses. They contribute to a tree cover that is 5 times greater, and a forestry economy that is worth 6 times as much as that in the UK. In Germany rural communities have had forests for centuries, and their ownership is enshrined in forest protection laws.


In Scotland, Wooplaw woods was one of the first community woodlands in Britain. In 1987 55 acres were bought for and by the community, assisted by local sculptor Tim Stead who made and sold a wooden axe head every day for a year, to raise funds. It is open to all comers who are encouraged to walk around, to listen to the bird chorus, to visit the wildlife ponds, or picnic at their Log Cabin. They hold events on the last Sunday of every month, and host training courses.



Green Woodwork Workshop at Wooplaw Woods


This simple beginning has led to establishing business incubators for furniture makers and crafts people, local timber supply chains and supported further community land purchases. Activities which have by now provided training and inspiration to thousands of woodland managers, artists and artisans. It has also led to the establishment of Forest Crofts, affordable, living and working spaces with land, available to members of the local community who recognise that opportunities sometimes come dressed in overalls and look like work.


Woodland Croft, Scotland


There are now at least 650 community woodland groups in the UK, of which more than 300 are in England, 200 in Scotland and 150 in Wales.

Let’s see if we can all work together to add to that number, here, in North Pembrokeshire.


We hope that the video will resonate with your own ideas and aims for your local woodlands, that will germinate as you hear about the inspiring projects presented here. It will highlight some of the resources and practical steps required, and the sources of funding available to give wings to your ideas.


Growing Better Connections can help to support the growth of those ideas, and the formation of new groups, to take forward the ideal of linking communities and landscape. The diversity of our communities and woodlands can offer fertile ground for opportunities to benefit people and nature, strengthening the resilience of both in a rapidly changing world.


Learning new skills Llangattock community woodland


In Wales, these people share their experiences in the video, and describe why community management of local woodlands is so important.

Jamie Miller who is the Chair of the trustees at Longwood Community Woodland, and runs a successful roundwood timber framing company. He will be sharing the story of Longwood’s 17 year journey and the changing roles of a community woodland. Highlighting a few of their recreational, educational and social enterprise activities.

Chris Blake is the coordinator of the pioneering and inspiring Skyline Project, and will be exploring how landscape-scale land stewardship can help communities become economically and environmentally sustainable.

Elizabeth Much from Llais y Goedwig believes that enabling communities to use their local woodlands is more important than ever. With interest in outdoor spaces and planting trees becoming ever more popular across Wales, she's hoping that the new funding for community woodlands will see more people managing and getting into their local woods, and wants to support them to do so.




Summary

In the video you will hear some fascinating examples of the power of community action, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Reclaiming their landscapes and bringing them into community stewardship. The people who live in a place are the best custodians of it.


Remembering their heritage and revisioning their future. Balancing nature, jobs, community and access to land. Not just access to walk, cycle, sit and watch and listen to the forest, but access to the resources: timber, fuel, food and fibre. Creating places that you want to be in every day to meet the needs of the local community.


There are clearly challenges ahead, both in making this happen and in keeping it happening. Organisations such as Llais y Goedwig can help to support communities through those processes. As they are led by their members, they can respond to the needs of their members. Their members are also available to share their experiences, knowledge and insights gained along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask for as much help as you can.


Longwood have faced some highs and lows along their journey and have managed to keep going by ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, building on the aspirations of the community to pull together towards achieving diverse goals within a common space.

Skyline are setting precedents within Wales releasing public land into public management. Progressing economic and social objectives in an area where the scars of heavy industry have been felt deeply. The landscape has already started renewing itself, through projects like these the community can also regenerate itself.


Engaging the heart before the head has mobilised communities, and social enterprise has been one of the keys to longevity and sustainability within these projects. Llais y goedwig’s Dewis Gwyllt project is designed to support those enterprises based around non timber forest products.


Tim Stead's Wooden Axe heads


Bringing art and creativity both into the woodlands and the processes of forming groups and sharing ideas can inspire great achievements. It takes time, learning patience with each other and the slowly growing trees, can open up new ways of communicating and achieving long term goals. Benefiting people, nature and places now and for generations to come.


If you would like to talk to us about your ideas then you can find our contact details on our website, and we look forward to chatting with you.

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