Thank you to our woodland eyes and ears
Lockdown – the buzzword of 2020, the action that has seen communities come together but also some anti-social behaviour that has resulted from people staying at home and discovering their green spaces. While it is difficult to understand why people go into such beautiful places to cause damage, we are grateful that we have a team of volunteer Woodland Wardens across the country who were able to continue supporting Site Managers by reporting all that they encountered, once additional safety precautions were put in place. Those volunteers that weren’t able to continue their usual volunteering roles – for example, members of Woodland Working Groups – have also been able to give their time as Relief Wardens, helping the Trust deal with the surge of problems that the pandemic has brought to our woodland havens. From bonfires to ghosthunters, each wood has had its share of challenges.
Some of our wardens cover multiple woods on their patch and no two are the same, though what the Wardens spot on a regular basis may be familiar. Tim Hewke, who has volunteered as a Warden in Kent for over a year, has been extremely busy, dealing with camps that have been set-up, fires being lit and littering, to name but a few issues.
Stephen Want, another Warden in Bucks, Berks and Oxon, has been volunteering for a similar amount of time and, like Tim and his other fellow Wardens across the country, is a great representative of the team. Stephen started out after years walking his standard poodle, Inca, in Old Copse (now one of the woods he wardens in) – he loved the wood so much that he used to collect litter on a regular basis because he couldn’t bear to see it being mistreated. When he retired a few years ago, Stephen felt a need to be useful again. Being a Geologist and enjoying the great outdoors, he thought that something conservation related would achieve that. After his initial enquiry, things rapidly developed as his interest grew and he currently wardens in six woods, covering approximately 143 acres (58 hectares)!
Stephen says: ‘I believe my role can be distilled down to ‘Observe-Record-Report’…. I record any issues I observe and report them back to the Woodland Trust Site Manager. At regular intervals, I walk around each wood looking for issues such as signs of unsafe or fallen trees, evidence of illegal or undesirable use of the woods (e.g. motor vehicles being driven/ridden through the woods, unauthorised firearms use (poaching), fly-tipping, vandalism, littering etc.) and any signs of encroachment by neighbouring property owners. I also put a lot of effort into the relationship with members of the public using the woods to help to raise the profile of the Woodland Trust and to encourage them to share with me any issues or concerns they may have about the woods.
I always carry a rubbish sack and pair of gloves so that I can collect litter whenever I’m visiting the woods – some of it can be surprisingly large such as car tyres, old bicycles etc (the largest item I came across was a boat trailer!). This is not officially a part of my role but is purely selfish -I hate to see the woods spoiled by litter! In addition to the above, I’m occasionally asked to carry out ad hoc tasks; for example, recently I was asked to survey each wood and record the locations of any possible badger setts and after the recent very strong winds I was asked to check each wood for trees which have fallen over footpaths or roads.
The most enjoyable aspect of my role is just being outside in the woods and the feeling that I make a difference by helping to protect these woods.’
How lucky we are to have such wonderful volunteers and we are so grateful to every single part of the team who helps us during these strangest of times. You are vital in standing up for woods and trees and making sure they and their inhabitants stay safe too. We hope you have a peaceful end to 2020 and look forward to hopefully seeing you in person again in 2021.
Words: Anna Claxton and Stephen Want
Pics: Tim Hewke and Stephen Want