Creating a new community woodland
Coming together as a group
When a community decides it wants to be more involved in taking care of a local woodland, it is embarking on a journey that will be immensely rewarding and at times very challenging.
Community woodlands are established for many different reasons; to save a woodland threatened by sale; to see the wood provide more local benefits or to revive a neglected woodland. In each case a local community group has decided it wants more control over woodland decision-making.
Some community woodland groups are created by a ‘community of interest’ – for instance a group of people with a strong commitment to environmental concerns. Other groups are created by a wider community of people living in the same place. However the community woodland group begins, the more local support you can build the stronger your group will be.
It is important to come together to decide whether there is enough local appetite to sustain a group over the long term (beyond immediate project funding). Some communities may decide the cost of transport to visit the wood regularly is too great, or they may decide to simply use a local wood more actively and leave the management to the owner.
If you do decide to go ahead, then be sure to develop some common understanding within the group on your aims – try and reach a general consensus on why you want to look after the woodland. Gradually some decisions on a Constitution for the group and a legal structure can be taken. There are many options to be considered when deciding on a legal structure (including charitable status, a constituted group, community interest company etc). Guidance on this, and other factors to consider when setting up and managing a community woodland group are provided by Llais y Goedwig members in Resources, including the Llais y Goedwig Advisory note ‘An Introduction to Community Woodland Groups in Wales’.
Woodland opportunities across Wales
There are many opportunities for establishing community woodlands across Wales. Some groups are able to purchase small neglected woodlands for modest sums, others have succeeded in raising substantial funds to purchase large productive woodlands.
Many land owning agencies are keen to encourage more community involvement in their woodlands and have dedicated schemes to enable groups to create community woodlands on their land, often through management agreements. These landowners include: Welsh Government, local authorities, Woodland Trust, private woodland owners, the Wales Wildlife Trust and Woodlands.co.uk.
Working with land owners
Llais y Goedwig is happy to offer advice on a case by case basis. Contact Llais y Goedwig through the Network Coordinator for assistance including introductions.
The Llais y Goedwig Resources, created by member also has a growing number of useful Llais y Goedwig publications and other documents, including a database of land owners, and an advisory note ‘Managing woodlands with a community – a guide for landowners’.
Welsh Government woodlands
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is the agency tasked with managing the Welsh Government estate on behalf of the people of Wales. NRW has a well-thought out scheme called Woodlands and You (WaY) which encourages community groups to approach NRW with any idea they may have for using the Welsh Government woodland estate; either for events or for long term projects.
Through their website, approaching your local NRW office or downloading a WaY project form is a good way to embark on WaY. The WaY scheme enables communities to enter into a variety of different agreements, from basic event permissions to management agreements and leases with NRW for long term community woodland projects.
Local authority woodlands
Many local authorities across Wales have substantial holdings of woodlands. There is no dedicated scheme for community engagement in the management of local authority woodlands of the type developed by NRW.
In 2014 Llais y Goedwig contacted all the local authorities in Wales to better understand their position on community involvement in the management of their woodlands. The situation varies greatly but most local authorities will welcome approaches by local communities and are open to entering into partnership agreements.
Llais y Goedwig works in partnership with the Woodland Trust/Coed Cadw in Wales. The Woodland Trust/Coed Cadw is also keen to encourage greater community use and management of woods in their ownership in Wales. The Woodland Trust now has as one of its strategic goals the promotion of a ‘community woodland culture’ across the United Kingdom.
Private woodland owners
There are private landowners who are happy to be approached by community groups and to allow them to be involved in some way in woodland management. There do need to be clear arrangements in place between the community woodland group and the owner, for instance to ensure adequate health and safety cover is in place.
Wildlife Trusts Wales
There are six Wildlife Trusts that cover the whole of Wales. Together they have 23000 members, manage 216 nature reserves covering more than 8,000 hectares. Each Trust is happy to be approached by community woodland groups, with some good working relationships in existance such as Montgomery Wildlife Trust’s Dolforwyn Woods, and various Trust’s associate members of Llais y Goedwig, but there is no fixed process, it will vary depending on the priorities and resources of each Trust.
This company buys and sells woodlands. It also has a number of woodlands in Wales which it holds on a long term basis; it is keen to encourage community involvement in the management of these woodlands.
In addition, the company hosts a useful community woodland web page where communities searching for woodlands and landowners keen to work with communities can contact each other.