17 Sep 2020
Tristan Haynes – Telford Woods Project Co-ordinator for Small Woods writes:
A Community Woodlander is someone who has an interest in directly managing a distinct woodland area to produce woodland products, in a way that not only improves that woodland but also benefits the wider community in some way. We hear how Mark Eccleston, Community Woodlander at The Hem, in Telford, has developed his woodland business while working with the community.
Meet Community Woodlander, Mark Eccleston
Mark is a local man who has always held an interest in nature, photography and craftsmanship. Following a career in working on the railways, Mark took the opportunity to work in partnership with the Local Authority to area on their behalf. He has also attended several courses at Small Wood’s Green Wood Centre in Coalbrookdale, and Small Woods have worked with him in his woodland through various projects.
Since 2011, Mark has had an agreement to occupy around five hectares of semi-natural woodland, at the Hem in Telford, owned by Telford & Wrekin Borough Council. During his tenure Mark has returned the woodland into a cycle of production, thinning the mature broadleaf trees and creating an understorey of hazel coppice which is now in a productive rotation cycle. The biodiversity of the woodland has significantly improved now that more light is able to reach the woodland floor and the dormant seedbank of Ancient Woodland Indicator species can germinate and flourish once again.
‘Spending my time in the woodland over a long period has given me the freedom to develop a range of activities that contribute to my making a living, whilst seeing for myself everyday how these are also actually helping to improve the woodland environment. Since letting the light in, planting an understorey, controlling the brambles and restoring ponds in the woodland I’ve seen an explosion in the amount of ground flora coming up, as well as the insect and bird populations, and have recently also started keeping Bee’s here which are having a wider environmental benefit’ said Mark Eccleston, Community Woodlander
Mark processes harvested timber into firewood and charcoal on site and makes his living through the sales. Mark has also initiated several environmental projects on-site, including the establishment of a ‘forest garden’ area, keeping woodland bees and creating a boardwalk to enable the visitors he permits into his woodland to walk around the entire area, including over a wetter part of the woodland.
Mark regularly hosts groups whose health & wellbeing may benefit from spending time in the woodland and participating in its management, such as schools and corporate volunteers. Mark is well networked within the local community, green spaces groups and the wood-working community in particular, and regularly helps out on tasks where there is a mutual benefit.
Through the Telford Woods project, Small Woods work with Mark, supporting him with volunteers and
‘Developing a local network of Community Woodlanders like Mark will not only result in the intensive improvement of specific woodland sites, but will also ensure that we have access to skilled and trusted individuals for the supervision of volunteer teams, social forestry groups and apprentices to work on specific tasks’ said Tristan Haynes, Telford Woods Project Co-ordinator, Small Woods
Why might a Community Woodlander work with the community?
Typically, a Community Woodlander will work to an agreement that grants exclusive use of an area of woodland, and the products from its management, as a base from which to make their living. In return they will not only be improving the woodland they are working in but will also agree to contribute their skills towards assisting in community-based management of woodland in the wider local area to some extent.
The Community Woodlander may make their skills available through inviting specific groups to work with them on their site, maintaining a bank of tools for use by community groups, managing access to other woodland areas, supervising tasks or providing specialist skills (such as chainsaw work) and use of equipment (such as charcoal kilns). Depending upon the nature of their agreement, the Community Woodlander may benefit directly in return by having the rights to any timber produced, for example.
Land managers adopting these principles can therefore facilitate not only socio-environmental improvements to woodlands in their area, but also the creation of a learning pathway through which interested individuals, with the potential to make a living by managing a woodland, can develop their skills without being subject to any significant overhead or need for capital to purchase woodland outright.
‘Through acting as custodian of this site, Mark has been able to improve the biodiversity of the woodland whilst providing mutually-beneficial opportunities for the groups he has worked with. These include improving health, wellbeing or engagement in education, whilst also contributing towards its sustainable management’ said Matthew Seabrook, Tree Officer, Telford & Wrekin Borough Council
How does the community benefit from having a local Community Woodlander’?
For communities situated close to areas of under-managed woodland, the benefits of having a Community Woodlander based locally are numerous. Whilst there is a lot a community can do themselves to participate in the management of a woodland, especially if it has been designed or restructured for this purpose, there will always be tasks that require the skills, and equipment, of a qualified craftsperson.
A Community Woodlander agreement is a financially sustainable way of managing local woodlands on a community-basis, as their consistent presence will ensure that these skills are available to assist communities, regardless of whether there are funded projects taking place, or not, at the time. Furthermore, depending upon the nature of the Woodlander’s business, it is likely that they will manage access to the woodland area to those who will benefit (e.g. woodland sector work experience and career progression), whilst working together to improve the woodland environment. Finally, through the Community Woodlander’s business itself the community is likely to have better access to timber and woodland products that have been produced through sustainable woodland management.
Mark has welcomed corporate volunteer groups to help manage the woodland, including a team from Severn Trent.
‘We had a great day out of the office getting to know each other better through doing some practical activity which we know will benefit the woodland and help Mark out too’ said Debbie Goodale, Corporate Volunteer from Severn Trent
To discover woodland skills and training visit: Small Woods