‘VERT WOODS: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE’

By Sue Redshaw, Laughton Tree Warden and member of the Vert Woods Community Woodland Steering Group.

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Attendees at our presentation.

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.

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Mavis Warburton holding the photo of herself taken about 50 years ago beside the same Beech Tree. Mavis and her husband Tony lived at Buckle Cottage in Park Lane while Tony was employed at the Sawmill which then operated in Vert Woods.

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!

Our proposed Woodland Management Plan

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On Saturday, 12th November we held a consultation meeting for those local to the Vert Community Wood in Laughton Parish Hall, which was attended by 15 people including 4 members of our Steering Group. The meeting was publicised in Parish Magazines, in local shops and immediate neighbours of Vert Woods were given personal invitations. Attendees included representatives from Laughton, Ringmer and Chiddingly Parish Councils; neighbours in Park Lane and other interested Laughton residents.

Christine Meadows presented a PowerPoint slide show of the draft Woodland Management Plan, which will be submitted to the Forestry Commission in the New Year.  This was not only a great opportunity for everyone to see what is planned but also to make observations and suggestions, to raise concerns and to hear how they might get involved.

A pdf of the presentation can be downloaded here.

The aims of Woodland Management Plan are informed by the Mission Statement, which reads: ‘Our mission is to create and maintain an inspirational working Community Woodland that puts Nature at the heart of decisions. We seek to establish a self-sustaining and thriving woodland culture that connects people with the natural environment, now and into the Future.’ In other words, the natural environment, its care and well-being, comes first in any plans we have for the woodland. Human involvement will be low-key and non-invasive.

There was general approval for the plans put forward for the woodlands.  The need for management to improve and conserve the habitat was accepted.  Concerns that were raised were more about the peripheral effect of the existence of a Community Woodland.  By creating a beautiful resource in Vert Woods, there will inevitably be more people drawn to the locality.  

So, the main concerns raised were:

additional car movements on Park Lane. Already the residents are feeling the pressure of a lot of passing traffic using the road as a cut through, not only causing damage to the verges but potentially resulting in accidents.  This increase in traffic may well be due to the rise in the use of SatNav, which directs drivers down side roads to cut journey time and avoid congestion.  A double-edged sword! The reality of increased traffic is an issue that also affects Shortgate Lane, so there might be some value in joining forces with Shortgate Lane residents in tackling this problem. A meeting between affected residents, the Parish Council and East Sussex County Council Highways Department may be the way forward.  

– provision of car parking.  There is no doubt that everyone would prefer cars to be parked off the road and would therefore support the provision of car parks but those who lived through the anti-social behaviour at the old Vert Lane car park stressed the difficulty of dealing with the residents who occupied it.  There is a real need to avoid this situation recurring.

fires, especially for those who own houses around the edge of the flammable conifer wood.

deer – where a reduction in numbers to sustainable levels would be supported.

– lack of any indication that this is a Community Woodland with constraints on its usage eg. no fires, no camping, no unauthorised shooting, no 4-wheeled drives.  We recognise that some sort of signage is required.

trees over-hanging road.  This will be addressed by a Tree Safety Survey to be undertaken around the entire boundary of the Community Woodland.

It needs noting that some of these suggestions – provision of car parking; signage; work arising from the Tree Safety Survey; deer culling etc all cost considerable sums of money.  Until we are properly constituted as a Community Benefits Society and are in a position to apply for grants, we do not at present have the resources to carry these out.  We are fortunate to have Plumpton Agricultural College using the woods for their Forestry Courses, which at least means great progress is being made in restoring the actual woodland.

There will be another opportunity to find out more at our next Public event on Friday 27th January, in Laughton Parish Hall, when we will be presenting “Vert Woods: Past, Present and Future”. We have been lucky enough to have a Woodland Trust volunteer, Hilary Hinks, gleaning the historical information which will constitute the ‘Past’ aspect of this evening’s entertainment!