Oct 04 2021

It’s all going on at Whistlewood common

Whistlewood Common hosted a meeting of the newly-formed National Forest Community Woods Network at its Melbourne site in South Derbyshire on Friday 1 October.


This network is a joint initiative between The Woodland Trust and The National Forest Company which seeks to increase opportunities for success through networking amongst diverse voluntary groups working within the National Forest region. The October gathering followed on from a well-attended inaugural event held at the Timber! festival in July where members expressed their opinions on a range of topics they would like to see discussed. Twenty-five groups were represented at the event sending more than forty delegates to brave the capricious autumn weather at Whistlewood.


PC Paul Russell from the Derbyshire Police Rural Crime Team gave fascinating talks to groups of volunteers covering every aspect of his team’s wide-ranging role within the force. Topics covered 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.


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.


Lunchtime was blessed with warm sunshine and delegates were able to enjoy a packed picnic lunch outside the roundhouse whilst 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 schools 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 Zoe Sewter at the National Forest Company.


Helen Bralesford, Community Woods volunteer


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