National Forest Community Woods Network hold October gathering at Whistlewood Common

20th Oct 2021
group photo

Whistlewood Common community garden and woodland hosted a meeting of the newly formed National Forest Community Woods Network at its Melbourne site in South Derbyshire earlier this month. The October gathering followed on from a well-attended inaugural event held at Timber festival in July where members shared their opinions on a range of topics they would like to see discussed. 

Twenty-five groups were represented at Whistlewood, sending more than forty delegates to brave the capricious autumn weather. The voluntary groups working to manage their local woodlands throughout the Forest are at various stages of development, so opportunities to get together and learn from one another are invaluable.

Enabling people to get involved with the woodlands on their doorstep is a fundamental part of our work here at the National Forest. Hundreds of woodlands have been created in these 200 square miles over the last 30 years, and many of the trees are now high above our heads, at the stage where the woodlands need to be managed. Management includes pruning and thinning the trees, taking out some to give others space, and to let more sunlight through to the forest floor to encourage wildflowers and insects. By managing the woods, people can create useful products such as fencing materials, firewood, stakes, charcoal, and craft materials. 

The vision behind the creation of the Forest was that people who live here would feel truly part of the Forest, so we are always keen to support and encourage community woodland management groups. Setting this network up in partnership with the Woodland Trust – who own over 20 woodlands in the Forest – is an exciting development. 

Laura Wigg-Bailey, a professional fund-raiser within the heritage and environmental sector, offered advice and led a discussion on “getting funding fit”. Laura emphasised the need for voluntary groups to have the right constitution and governance in place before they apply for grant funding if they wish to be successful. In a wide-ranging talk in the warmth of the Whistlewood roundhouse, Community Woods Network volunteers shared experiences around getting their group on the funding ladder and explored every method from crowd-funding and matched funding to freecycling and scrounging. 

PC Paul Russell from the Derbyshire Police Rural Crime Team gave a fascinating talk covering every aspect of his team’s expansive role. Topics included poaching, hare-coursing, vehicle and equipment theft and prevention, and legislation on protected species. PC Russell was keen to reach out to volunteer groups working within the rural environment whom he sees as additional “eyes and ears” for the Rural Crime Team. He spent considerable time talking to delegates about what they could expect from their police force and how they could assist, including some novel and cost-effective ways to deter vandalism and theft on rural sites.

Lunchtime was blessed with warm sunshine and delegates were able to enjoy a picnic lunch outside the roundhouse while the networking continued. An impromptu swap-shop was set up where several groups were able to share resources. It is hoped that this will continue through the group’s social media and at future events.

The afternoon session was a round-table discussion on the recruitment, training and retention of volunteers led by Zoe Sewter of the National Forest Company and Rachael Cranch of The Woodland Trust. Members from established groups were able to use this as a forum to share experiences and advice with recently formed groups or those wishing to set up. 

The day was rounded off with a guided walk of the site which demonstrated the scope of Whistlewood’s achievement and vision. It included a visit to the roundhouse, shelter and outdoor kitchen, the forest school area, forest garden, proposed community garden and orchards where delegates were actively encouraged to help themselves to fruit.

Anyone planning to set up a voluntary group working within woodland in the National Forest who thinks they may benefit from membership of the Community Woods Network should contact us