Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs – project update
It’s been a while since we last updated you on our landscape-scale partnership project in Sussex, the Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs – with partners the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Small Woods Association, Action in Rural Sussex and the Environment Agency.
Since April 2020, when the Trust were given the green light by the Heritage Fund for the project’s development stage, we’ve been working on a five-year plan to transform the landscape. By working with our partners to engage woodland owners and communities, we seek to increase connectivity, improve habitat condition and diversity, and encourage public engagement and connection with the trees and woodland in the project area. The next stage will be to write and submit an application for the delivery phase next year.
Developments so far include:
- Across the project area, we have identified and contacted almost 100 owners of woodlands of three hectares or less, asking if they’re interested in an initial consultation for inclusion in the project. The response rate has been higher than expected – which is great news – and we’ve since carried out initial site visits, completed restoration surveys and commissioned management plans.
- We launched a survey on our Facebook page asking people for their views on visiting their local woods and any barriers they face. We had 250 responses in the 8 weeks following the launch, smashing our target of 200. (PS – follow the project on Facebook!)
- Restoration work began last winter in three pilot woods, removing conifer and invasive non-native species. Further work is scheduled for this winter including thinning of an oak woodland in Hurstpierpoint to benefit veteran trees, enhance light levels and encourage ground flora.
- Five Veteran Tree Recorder volunteers came to an event to hone their surveying skills and to meet face-to-face for the first time. They’ve since been trained to use GIS and have developed the methodology for ensuring that all ancient and veteran trees in the project area are recorded.
- We had great feedback from pilot storytelling events at local schools, led by a local community-based creative arts company. These children will further be involved in sharing local stories for our ‘Stories of the Wildwood’, which will be based on local history, folklore and legends.
- Sussex Wildlife Trust held an event for 20 woodland owners and advisors to discuss lower-intervention woodland management practices for creating ‘wilder woods’. They’ve also been busy running Forest School taster sessions and have been carrying out surveys in urban hotspots to identify barriers for people who do not currently visit woodlands.
- Action in Rural Sussex led 13 walks for the public and held two events for young carers at a local nature reserve. Another community engagement event, ‘Learning from Loved Woods’ was developed and delivered in partnership with Scaynes Hill Sustainability group. This sparked conversations and provided networking opportunities within the local community to generate ideas and connect with the project. A ‘woodland winddown’ session for staff and volunteers working with underserved communities gave them the opportunity for some restorative time in the woods and generated inspiring ideas of how they might help their clients benefit from woodland wellbeing activities.
- Small Woods Association hosted a focus group with five woodland owners during which management issues were discussed. They have also devised 30 training courses for woodland owners based on the 100+ responses they received to a skills gap survey.
To sum up, it’s shaping up to be a fantastic project with new ideas and ways of working being continually developed. We’re well on track to signing up the 20 landowners needed to go through to delivery stage of the project and are reaching out to even more community groups and individuals who will be able to enjoy the abundance and beauty of these restored and reconnected woodlands.
Thank you to Project Manager – Lost Woods of the Low Weald and Downs, Nicky Scott, for this update and Grace Davis for her assistance.