By Sue Redshaw, Laughton Tree Warden and member of the Vert Woods Community Woodland Steering Group.
Our presentation on the 3 rd February was well-attended with over 60 people gathered in Laughton Parish Hall. We are grateful to all who turned out on a particularly wet and windy night. The feedback that we have received so far would seem to indicate that it was well worth the effort!
I was privileged to introduce the proceedings and gave everyone a warm welcome. I’m not that happy standing up in front of a large audience but, as this event had been my initiative, I felt compelled to do it! I introduced the members of the Vert Woods Community Woodland Steering Group and our speakers, giving a particular mention to Jim Smith-Wright from the Woodland Trust, who has been working with local woodland owners, advising on restoring ancient woodland.
Our presentation started with the ‘past’, so Christine Meadows and Jim took over to talk about the history of our woodlands, defining what is meant by ancient woodland and how to identify the indicative species and archeological remains. Hilary Hinks, an energetic volunteer researcher with the Woodland Trust, has carried out extensive research, notably interviewing Tony Warburton, who worked as Foreman at the Saw Mill in Park Lane, and recording his memories as an exercise in social history. Sadly, Hilary was unable to be with us due to illness but her work is to be produced as a podcast for the Woodland Trust and I will keep you posted on its progress and availability.
We then moved on to the ‘present’ with Ian Rideout, Head of Faculty for Forestry, Horticulture and Foundation Learning with Plumpton College, speaking about Plumpton’s involvement with Vert Woods. He started by explaining that Plumpton College is the only full spectrum Forestry and Arboriculture training centre in the south, as well as offering the full range of other land and wine-based courses. (Plumpton wine is available at Waitrose!) They have been working in Vert Woods since 2014 as well as linked woodlands such as Sandpit’s Wood and Pink’s Pines. The students come from a range of courses at various levels, including Countryside Management, Forestry and Ecology, at L2, L3 and degree standard.
Although the college is asked for assistance by lots of landowners, Ian made it clear that it is not just a cheap source of labour. The partnership with Vert Woods works to mutual benefit through mutual effort, whereby the woodland improves as a habitat by selective thinning, the tutors get to work in a ‘training ready’ environment supplied by the Community Woodland and the students get better experience within a well-structured woodland restoration plan. Through this structured partnership and the exposure of young people to working in woods, the woodland and the wider community both benefit.
Ian was followed by Stewart Boyle, who covered some of the educational and community engagement activities already undertaken in Vert Woods. There was then a screening of a short video showing a Chestnut Coppicing Course produced by Stephen Sangster, below.
Marina Robb, director of Circle of Life Rediscovery, was next to speak. Marina has been running ‘The Woodland Project’ to enhance family health in an area of the Community Woodland that she leases for this purpose. Marina emphasised the importance of Nature connection for children and families, who have no access to woodlands and have little opportunity to do things together as a family, particularly when they have a child with complex needs.
There was then a break for refreshments organised by Marion Kemp and Marie-Helene Dalila Boyle, with an opportunity to ask questions and ‘network’!
After the interval, the discussion moved on to the ‘future’ of Vert Woods as Christine Meadows outlined the Woodland Management Plan intended to improve the health and biodiversity of the whole woodland ecology. This Plan has been approved by the Forestry Commission, which is excellent news as we are now able to move forward with its implementation. Finally, Stewart Boyle offered a flavour of the community engagement and share ownership opportunities that will be available later in 2017 via the Community Benefit Society that we arein the process of setting up.
We hope that all attendees found the evening enjoyable and informative. Your feedback would be very welcome! And I would like to add my thanks to all members of the Steering Group, who put in so much time and effort to make this a successful evening.
Great team work!