Feb 21 2019

Volunteering at Burntollet Wood – By Adrian Tarr

Last month Ian Graham, woodland warden brought along his colleague from AllState Adrian Tarr to join a volunteer task day in the Faughan Valley for the first time.  Adrian enjoyed his morning so much that it inspired him to write the article below to encourage more staff from AllState to get involved.


Woodland Trust Volunteering at Burntollet Wood

On Wednesday 23rd January we volunteered for the Woodland Trust at Burntollet Wood, taking advantage of the new ANI (AllState NI) volunteering policy. This allows all employees to volunteer for approved projects for up to 15 hours per calendar year, giving us the opportunity to learn new skills, share skills and take part in a wide range of events.

We joined a few other Woodland Trust volunteers at Burntollet Wood for a 3-hour session on what was one of the coldest days of the winter so far. The road to the Wood was just about passable however access to the car park was off limits due to the weather conditions. Luckily, we could all find spaces just off the road to leave our cars. The ground had a layer of fresh snow and there was a chill in the air as we left our cars to begin the short walk into the Wood.

Bronagh Gallagher, from the Woodland Trust, gave us a rundown regarding the work we were carrying out, which was coppicing Hazel trees and creating habitat piles from the coppiced wood. We got the obligatory safety run down as we were using saws. We were also shown how to identify Hazel trees. This was important as not every tree species is suitable for coppicing and if we had attempted this on the Oak trees that grow in this Wood we would quickly have turned from conservationists to eco-terrorists! Luckily Hazel trees are easy to identify, once shown what to look out for, even to the complete amateur, so the Oaks were safe.

Coppicing is a traditional form of woodland management, for species such as Hazel, which involves cutting back trees to almost ground level. This was the first time that coppicing had been carried out at Burntollet. Although the technique looks very brutal when you do this, and everyone’s first thoughts were that they were doing great harm to the trees, this is actually very beneficial.

Coppicing stimulates new growth in the trees, removes dead or diseased wood and extends their life, so they live for considerably longer than un-coppiced trees of the same species. Additionally, this leads to more light and heat reaching the forest floor, which presents an opportunity for woodland plants and flowers to establish. Another advantage is that the other species of trees in the vicinity have more space to grow. This is particularly helpful for the Oaks that were planted amongst the Hazels. All this was unknown to us before we started this task, so as well as doing some rewarding hard graft we were learning something new too.

Armed with bow saws and loppers we got stuck into work. The nature of the work meant that we didn’t feel the cold and it was so enjoyable to be out in the fresh air doing something that would have a beneficial and lasting effect.  The work was carried out in two stages, first the trees were pruned back by loppers to give better access to saw the trunks, which were then sawn as close to ground level as we could. One of the volunteers had the task of gathering up the wood and branches that were cut off, gathering up the debris and arranging this into piles. The purpose of this was to create habitats for small mammals, insects and birds, thereby attracting more wildlife into the Wood.

The 3 hours passed so quickly. We found the work really satisfying and as a team we covered a great amount of ground. There was a good camaraderie and we got to meet different people from different walks of life and chat away while we were working. We finished off back at the cars, had some tea/coffee and reflected on the work we carried out. It was a wonderful feeling to take part in this task, knowing that it would have a positive effect on the environment.

With regards to the new ANI volunteering policy, we would thoroughly recommend this initiative. There are so many volunteering opportunities to take part in, both inside and outside, some physical and some not. There is something for everyone and it gives us employees a chance to get out of the office to volunteer on company time, learn new skills, meet new people and make a positive contribution on behalf of ourselves and ANI.

If this article has whetted anyone’s appetite with regards to participating in volunteering for the Woodland Trust under the ANI volunteering scheme the next volunteering day is:

Tuesday 19th February – More coppicing at one of the Woodland Trusts Faughan Valley locations.

Happy Volunteering!

(We had another two AllState staff members come along and join us on the 19th thanks to Adrians lovely article!)

Photographs by: Adrian Tarr

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