A year in the life of the Central Region
We’ve been living under the dark cloud of COVID this year and it feels like it’s been a worrying time for so long now. During the start of the year we went through the first lockdown, volunteering was temporarily postponed and many Woodland Trust staff members were furloughed. Many people sought solace in their local woodlands, took comfort in long walks in the fresh air and had renewed interest in native wildlife. People who’d not necessarily been interested in visiting greenspaces in their neighbourhoods before explored these for their daily exercise and we saw an increase in visitors to our Woodland Trust sites, which was fantastic!
Whilst we’ve adjusted to a new way of living, we’ve also had to adapt to this new situation by following new guidelines when it comes to volunteering. Thank you for sticking with us during these tough times! Our work hasn’t stopped even though making some of it happen has been a bit tricky this year. Join me as I run through the events of the last 12 months.
January – it seems like a long time ago doesn’t it! Right back at the start of the year we were busy interviewing volunteers who eventually became ‘Dog Ambassadors’ for us as part of our work at Uffmoor Wood. We’ve had a few issues in the past at Uffmoor, with anti-social behaviour taking many forms, one of which was issues around dogs on site. The ambassadors are dog lovers who engage with dog walkers who visit Uffmoor, to explain the reasons why we are encouraging responsible dog ownership.
February brought with it new opportunities to work with non-Woodland Trust volunteers who carry out practical conservation work in woodlands that are not part of our estate. There are obvious benefits to working with others who share our aims and values and this is through the Woodland Trust’s Community Woods project. This month also saw the launch of a brand new Woodland Working Group at Martinshaw Wood, in Leicestershire. Steeped in rich history, the Woodland Trust purchased Martinshaw wood in 1986 and has since then worked to restore the site to semi-natural ancient woodland. We are looking forward to welcoming new volunteers to this group in 2021.
We managed to host our one and only face to face volunteer event at Belton House during March. Speakers came to talk to the volunteers who attended about a range of Woodland Trust projects. Heather Cook, gave a presentation on our ‘Reconnecting Grantham to its historic landscape’ project. Volunteers Peter Armstrong and Ali Wyatt talked about the Londonthorpe Woodland Working Group, and the National Volunteering panel respectively. The volunteers were then treated to a tour of the formal gardens at Belton house and we received some great feedback. We were lucky to be able to run this event, by the end of March the UK had gone into its first lockdown!
After hearing about the work that Heather Cook was project managing at the Belton event, the good news was that in April we found out that the project had been granted funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The bad news was that during this month volunteering was paused and the volunteer development officers got furloughed!
Being in lockdown gave many of us more time. For those of us lucky enough to be able to do this, escaping the confines of the house was a refreshing break, and we were allowed to visit our local greenspaces once a day. In May we saw a welcome increase in visitors to our sites, however a downside was that a small minority of people treated our woods badly. Our site managers were kept busy keeping things in order.
A dry and sunny June gave us some lovely days for exploring woodland and during this time volunteering began to resume. Our Observatree volunteers were out actively surveying our woods in Essex and Hertfordshire for Oak Processionary Moth. This is really important work as it helps us to locate nests, which need to be removed for both conservation and health and safety reasons. The specialist knowledge that these volunteers have provides vital information which helps out the site managers.
July saw the national launch of the brand new relief warden role, and in the Central region, volunteers from Heartwood, Tring and Pepper Wood signed up for this role. Supporting the site managers, the relief wardens kept our woodlands clear of litter, carried out tidying up and path clearance duties, all at a time when our woods saw a huge increase in visitor numbers.
Meanwhile, over at Hainault Forest, in August George Lewis was recruited as development officer for the Hainault project. Hainault Forest is situated near Romford, and the acquisition of additional land will provide us with woodland creation opportunities, will allow us to carry out conservation work and will increase our opportunities to engage with the local community.
As summer turned to Autumn, with the arrival of September we had a double cause for celebration. Our Bramingham Wood group celebrated its 35 year anniversary, and we reflected on how lucky we’ve been as an organisation having so much volunteer support over the years on this site. Of course, we are truly thankful for all of their help! We also received the brilliant news that our Heartwood relief wardens received a ‘Heroes of Hertfordshire award’! This was presented by the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire and the Lord Lieutenant in recognition of their work at Heartwood, carrying out wardening duties, litter picking and more whilst the forest was under pressures from extra footfall and reduced supervision. Well done to our Heartwood relief wardens!
We were still very keen to ensure we had opportunities for volunteers to take part in training and in October we carried out our first successful virtual volunteer training event with volunteers from Central and Northern England attending. Forester Edward Mills led the ‘Introduction to Woodland Management’ session, via Zoom. Due to the success of this session we are organising more virtual sessions in the future, so keep an eye on Whittle!
November is the start of tree planting season! Out in the Eastern Claylands Treescape area, which covers most of Suffolk and Essex, our tree stock volunteers get stuck in to help put together tree packs ready for distribution next month. This was still possible this year, with careful health and safety planning.
And so we reach December and the end of the year. We’ve had periods where it feels like time has slowed down, almost as though we were stuck in some kind of suspended animation, but now we’ve got to December it seems like the year has flown by! Thank you for your collective efforts this year. We’ve protected and maintained our woods for another year and we look forward to 2021 with ambition and positivity!
Amanda Brookes -Volunteer Development Officer (Central England)
Feature image – Peter Frese (Pexels website)
January woodland image – Toby Young
Belton House images – Estelle Slegers Helsen
Londonthorpe volunteer – Amanda Brookes