From a spud to a network, the Community Woodland network

Twenty years since its creation, Spud Wood is a thriving broadleaf woodland and shining example of how community groups can achieve their aims. We’ve used the lessons learned to inspire the launch of the new Community Woodland Network, making it easier for local groups to make a big difference to the environment.

Spud Wood’s example

Not far from Altrincham, ‘Spud Wood’, was named by local residents and created by the Woodland Trust in the 1990s from – you’ve guessed it! – a former potato field.

Almost twenty years on, Spud Wood is a thriving broadleaf woodland and many of the local residents are now members of a CIC (Community Interest Company). Existing to run a local ‘wood allotment’ scheme in the wood, the CIC extracts firewood for their own use and thins the new woodland at the same time.

Now in its second year of existence, the enthusiastic group has a waiting list and covers costs through a small membership fee.

Having met some of the group’s founders late last year, I was impressed by their energy and commitment. By covering costs, creating a sustainable fuel source and helping to manage the new wood in a way which will benefit wildlife, they are a great example for future community woodland groups.

The Woodland Trust have worked with communities for more than forty years. Since we were first set up in 1972 our aim have always been to see a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife.

Over the years, we’ve distributed tree packs across the UK to help local people create new copses and woodland. We even celebrated the millennium by creating 250 new community woods through our Woods on Your Doorstep initiative. And local individuals continue to enjoy and help manage our woods to this day.

More recently, the proposed sell-off of the Public Forest Estate in 2011 has generated a public outcry.  And leading to the Independent Panel on Forestry report, which called for a new ‘woodland culture’ for the 21st century. And we couldn’t agree more!

How can we help create a new ‘woodland culture’?

We think that one of the first ways to create a new ‘woodland culture’ is to make it easier for community groups to establish themselves, like the one associated with Spud Wood.

There are already around 700 community wood groups in the UK, ranging from ‘friends of’ groups to social enterprises. But research conducted in 2010 showed that just 0.2 per cent of the UK’s woodland cover was actually owned by a community body. This is in contrast to countries such as France, Italy and Germany where thousands of local communities own and manage woodland.

From the conversations we have had over the years, we know that lots of people are interested in woodland management and even ownership.

But whether it’s about wood fuel supply or maintaining a local place of natural beauty (or, even better, a bit of both!), it can be hard to know where to begin. In our experience, barriers can include a lack of skills and knowledge, a lack of confidence about running a group and even a lack of access to land or funding.

So to offer some help – from woodland management to governance advice- we’re launching a new online network for you.

Introducing the Community Woodland Network

The Community Woodland Network is intended to bring like-minded groups and individuals together to share their experiences.

We know that this kind of approach has made a real difference in Scotland and Wales where the number of community woodland projects is growing year on year. And we want to encourage that kind of movement to happen in England too.

The Community Woodland Network will also offer some seed funding to help groups get off the ground. And we have secured some funding to do so in the north of England which we hope to extend elsewhere.

But this is just the beginning.

At the Woodland Trust, we believe that life is better with trees in so many ways – and we want to help rekindle the relationship we all have with them.

We want every community to have the opportunity to access the many benefits that woods can offer their neighbourhood – and if the new Community Woodland Network can help that relationship build into something direct on the ground, then that’s even better.

Beccy Speight is the CEO of the Woodland Trust.

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