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Woodland Edge

Audrey Vaughan - volunteer at Hicks Lodge Cycle Centre

Audrey Vaughan - volunteer at Hicks Lodge Cycle Centre

“I was somewhere I’d never been before. I thought:  I’m getting wet, I’m getting cold - I’m enjoying myself!”

Audrey Vaughan, (pictured above, with husband Martin), first heard about The National Forest in the early 1980s when she was stopped in the doorway at her son’s playgroup and asked if she would sign a petition. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got a National Forest in this area?” She remembers thinking how weird that sounded:  how could you create a National Forest here amongst all the houses? Would they all be knocked down?

Living in Ashby de la Zouch, it was not long before she heard “that it had all happened and there were offices in Donisthorpe.” No houses knocked down.

A few years ago, Audrey was keen to start cycling again. A friend brought her to Hicks Lodge, a reclaimed opencast site between Moira and Ashby, now owned by the Forestry Commission, where a range of cycle trails were under construction. Cycling around these restored Audrey’s confidence and there was then no stopping her – cycling gave her such a sense of freedom.

Later that year the café opened at Hicks Lodge. Cycling and cake - how perfect! She brought friends and family to the centre at weekends and her husband, Martin, loved the site as it was perfect for developing his passion for wildlife photography.  Audrey wanted to spread the word to make sure the future of this fantastic place that gave her so much pleasure was secure.

When there was talk about setting up a volunteer group and she was asked if she would join, she was a little wary: “I’d never really thought of myself as a volunteer before – other people volunteer in charity shops and so on, but that’s not me. And I hate paperwork and meetings! But I just love this place - love cycling, love cake, love being outdoors! I was totally committed to looking after Hicks Lodge and keeping it nice.”

‘Keeping it nice’ extends to so much more than Audrey ever imagined. “We’ve been removing tree protectors and planting trees.  I wasn’t really aware of, or interested in, the wider management of the site before, thinking it was a matter of litter picking – but I have learnt so much and it’s fascinating.”

One day their task was to clear tree guards from a dense piece of scrubby woodland near the café itself. “It was hard work but the wildlife was amazing: I saw a lizard, and shrieked. I saw a grass snake, wriggling away from the shrieking. I went to take a tree guard off, and a field mouse was asleep at the bottom. I went to take another tree guard off and found a bird’s nest, complete with a clutch of eggs. There is so much here when you get in close.”

Another session was in the depths of winter. The weather was not good but the group was still happy to go out. Their task was to drain the puddles that had built up on the cycle tracks, by digging their heels into the ground at the edge of the gathered water and create a channel to encourage the water to flow to lower ground. As they continued working along the trails, she found herself at the far side of the site, where she’d never been before. It had been raining. It started to snow. She was a long way from the café. She thought: “I’m getting wet, I’m getting cold, I’m really enjoying myself!”

Audrey sums up what being a volunteer at Hicks Lodge is like for her:

“We have fun. I’ve met nice people. I’ve learnt a lot - about wildlife, birds, seeing things, learning things; it’s all about discovery.”

Volunteering at Hicks Lodge:

·         “Do as much as you want to, or can do. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” Audrey finds this advice from the Forestry Commission rangers very helpful. Most sessions she is happy to pile in and do whatever is going on, but other times she just wants to be on site, perhaps have a gentler walk.

·         Audrey’s group meets once a week. They have received training in woodland management and health and safety and are now fairly self-sufficient. They have a list of tasks and, once they’ve signed in and have someone else to work with, they can go out on site and get on with the work.

·         The Forestry Commission organised a barbecue as a thank-you for all the volunteers at their nearby sites in The National Forest:  Sence Valley, Poppy Wood, Robin Wood and Hicks Lodge. Audrey says: “It was really nice to meet people you work with in a different context.”

Volunteering in The National Forest

·         There are volunteering opportunities across the whole Forest.

·         There are lots of groups already looking after the Forest in their local area and support is available to help new groups develop skills and attract new members.

·         See more:

Logo design: Audrey's extra skills

A few years ago Audrey did a Fine Art degree at Loughborough University. She went on to do printmaking, and has exhibited her work at Ashby Arts Festival.  When the volunteers were asked if they would like to design a logo, Audrey instantly knew that job had her name on it! She could see immediately what she wanted to achieve: a reference to the standard Forestry Commission logo but acknowledging the cycle trails and the site’s heritage as an open cast mine. “So some of the curves of the tree are cogged wheels; they might be the pit head gear, bike wheels or gears,” she says. “I wanted to convey the essence of this very special place: Hicks Lodge, past and present.”