Offwell Woodlanders News
Website address: www.offwellwoodlands.co.uk
Offwell Woodland wins CPRE Award: Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trust has been awarded First Prize in the Devon Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) ‘Our Outdoors’ competition 2017.
The prize was in recognition of the ‘special place’ the woodland provided for the community and recognised the work that local volunteers had done in improving the buildings and habitats to make it part of ‘Offwell’s Outdoors’. Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trustee, Vernon Whitlock, said: “It is great to see so many people from the Parish enjoying the woodland. We are particularly pleased that Offwell Primary School are able to use the woodland and lakeside classroom for outdoor education.”
The children at Offwell School were also ‘highly commended’ for creating a poster depicting what they most enjoyed doing outdoors. The school was awarded £50 and Elana Pavey also won an individual prize and was ‘highly commended’ for her individual effort.
Introducing Rob Greenhalgh
Forestry Commission Community Ranger for East Devon and The Blackdowns
Q As Forestry Commission Community Ranger for East Devon and the Blackdowns, what is your main role?
I’m here to help facilitate a woodland culture for local communities. It’s about inviting people to actively take part in the management and planning of our public forests. After all, we are here to manage the forests and woodland under our ownership on the public’s behalf. I want to establish good relationships with our communities and encourage you to use our woodlands for activities that improve the quality of life, health and learning. It isn’t purely a numbers exercise, my role is focused on helping to create a ‘sense of place and value’ for our visitors and partners. Ultimately we want people to enjoy the benefits of what we have to offer – tranquillity, adventure, stunning views and access to nature.
Q How many Woodland Trusts are you responsible for?
We also work with the Blackdown Hills Trust, as well as with a lot of other groups on our beat (‘beat’ is the term for patch, or estate. It’s the area we manage and look after). These include Forest Schools, local cooperatives and social enterprise schemes aimed at well-being and mindfulness supporting some of the more deprived and hard to reach groups within our communities, as well as variety of event organisers, AONB’s, charities and wildlife surveying partners. We also work alongside the statutory bodies such as Natural England and Historic England on the most special places.
Q How do the various Trusts differ in their approach to habitat conservation, and access? Does this depend on the fragility or otherwise of the habitat?
We try to encourage access where possible, and all of our partner organisations share the same ethos. If we can all work together to promote the benefits of wildlife conservation alongside the healthy management of our woodlands and forests for sustainable purposes, there seems no reason not to want to share that message. Although we do face restrictions in certain areas when it comes to public access and habitat sensitivity, we strive to ensure the wildlife and special places that are accessible are valued and cared for by the local communities as well as us and our partners. Educating our visitors is always vital, and organisations such as the Offwell Woodland Trust help us to promote that message in a positive and fun way!
Q What kind of work do you get involved with, ie practical hands on, networking, school education, conservation work, fund raising etc.?
My role covers a very diverse range of skills. There are aspects of practical work but my focus is predominantly on the accessibility of our woodlands, inspecting and maintaining our trails and footpaths, and inviting communities to enjoy these. Networking obviously features highly in that respect, it’s important for me to be able to build trusted relationships with our local communities and partners. I also work to support projects that enhance our conservation goals and actively take part in survey work happening within our woodland. Education is part of all of our roles within the Forestry Commission, however, we do have a dedicated Learning Team with Rangers throughout the district who support us and our partners in delivering events and activities to school groups and the general public more widely. Collectively we all aim to improve the understanding of the role forestry has in our countryside. I’m a small aspect of delivering that message.
Q How does the Forestry Commission balance the need for conservation against the requirements of running a viable business?
We are proud of our record of delivering sustainable forestry management. Sustainable forestry means the balancing of the three main elements of people, wildlife and income. We are certified in this by an external auditor under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme, which awards us both FSC and PEFC certification. The actual balance of how we do this is not a short answer, but basically we assess each site and then protect and enhance those special features identified. Some sites become more heavily focussed on timber, whilst others, such as Offwell, the scales are tipped toward benefitting and enhancing the social and wildlife aspects.
Q What made you want to do this work?
I’ve always been immersed in nature – I was fortunate enough to grow up with a woodland on our door step and access to the moors of Lancashire and fells of the Lake District. Since being a youngster I was always out making dens and climbing trees, usually with a faithful canine companion at my side. I once came across some National Trust Wardens whilst wandering the moors, land rover parked up, dogs in toe, surveying some peat bog habitat. After a brief chat with them, and what felt like an epiphany, I realised there are jobs out there that revolve around caring for and enhancing the natural world, and you can take your dog! I was hooked. After spending my early adolescence in mundane jobs, at 23 I decided to make the change. I went to university and soon after applied for roles throughout the country within this sector. And here I am, 10 years in the south west and not a sign of my northern accent disintegrating!
Q What would you say is the most difficult and frustrating part of your job?
There isn’t one – it’s hard to believe but I’m very happy in my work. It’s a pleasure to come to work every day and essentially do what I would be doing in my spare time anyway, i.e. wandering the countryside and helping to improve our natural world. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is still being considered a tourist every summer by any true West Country resident – this summer alone, even with my Forestry Commission uniform on, I was asked if I was lost at least twice! At least the Devonians share the same caring side as my fellow Lancastrians.
Q When will we be seeing more tree harvesting on Forestry Commission land at Offwell?
We work to a rolling programme where we revisit each site every five years to harvest the increment of growth in the forest – this means that if the forest has put on 50 tonnes of wood we will remove roughly 40 tonnes of timber, ensuring the wood remains more productive. The calendar indicates that Offwell should be next reviewed for harvesting in 2019, which means we will likely be starting our planning and measuring in late 2018.
As part of our Woodland Management Plan we are working towards restoring the wetland area in the woods. Over time willow has over-grown in the reed beds and the open water has been reduced by the growth of branched bur-reed. We have almost completed the cutting back of the willow amongst the reeds and are now concentrating on reducing the willow on the margins. We are also making progress with pulling the bur-reed. This is particularly slow work as it involves wading into a foot of water and two foot of mud and pulling it by hand. You may also have noticed that we have cut down a number of trees on the pathway along the edge of the wetlands. This is to reduce the risk of trees blowing over in the winter storms and comprising the integrity of the earth dam. Our apologies for all the mud on the pathway. Hopefully, the November rains should soon wash it away.
In July the whole school enjoyed a woodland welly walk with parents and carers joining in. Favourite activities were building fairy homes and making dens. Years 4 and 5 also took part in a Forest School session led by a Forest School Specialist. Years 5 and 6 have also enjoyed art classes in the cabin.
2016 was an eventful year at the Woodlands. We have said a sad goodbye to David Tilbury who provided a lead and guidance for the Trust for over 10 years. David and Rosemary have moved to Lincolnshire and we wish them both well.
Janet Banfield and myself have now effectively taken over the role of local trustees and I take responsibility for day to day management. Although Douglas Syers no longer works for the Trust he still assists on volunteer mornings.
We have a small group of six volunteers who do sterling work maintaining the habitat for wildlife and visitors. We meet every Tuesday morning and on some Wednesday mornings. If anyone is interested in volunteering or finding out what we do please email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lakeside classroom and toilets have been given a make-over and Offwell School can now use it whenever they wish for lessons in connection with their ‘welly walks’.
We are now actively working with the Forestry Commission to improve the woodlands and the trustees are keen to establish a good relationship with the local community who have free access to the woodlands at any time.
I will be writing a regular monthly column for the Offwell Village website and there are regular updates on our Facebook page – search for Offwell Woodlands.