What is a community woodland?
Local management of a woodland
So what is a community woodland? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers!
Fundamentally, ‘community woodland’ (CW) refers to any woodland where the local community has some degree of control over how the woodland is run or managed. Such woodlands are usually supported by a community woodland group (CWG).
The woodland may be owned or leased by the community group, or it may be managed in partnership with another organization (usually the landowner) through a management agreement.
Survey figures indicate that around 27% of CWGs own their woodland, while over 70% care for the woodland through a management agreement with the owner (Wavehill 2010). Around 59% of community woodlands in Wales are located on local authority owned land (Wavehill 2010).
Invariably if you visit a woodland managed by a community group it ‘feels’ different from one managed by a landowner or an agency or a tenant. This is because the focus of management is often on generating multiple benefits for the community (eg areas for children to use, wildlife havens, wooden sculptures and art, coppicing to create products and local jobs).
A key feature of a community woodland is that some or all of the objectives of managing the woodland are written by a group of local people with a passionate interest in that woodland. A second defining feature is that the benefits arising from the management of the woodlands are shared.
In Wales community woodlands can be found in many types of woodland, from conifer plantations to ancient natural broadleaf wood, and they be of all sizes from a few acres to several hundred – and they can be in rural or urban areas.
Community woodland groups
Community woodland groups (CWGs) can take many different forms and there is really no fixed definition of what a CWG is or how it should be – other than that it should be fit for purpose for what that group wants to do.
One formal definition of a community woodland group is ‘a community led group which takes an active role (either independently or under supervision) in the management of a woodland which it may own or lease or work in under the owner’s permission’. (Wavehill Report 2010).
Quite a lot of the community woodlands in Wales are managed by and for the people who live in the local area around the woodland ie the local community or communities, for example Blaen Bran Community Woodlands.
Other woodlands are cared for by what are known as ‘communities of interest’; a group of people with a particular interest in woodlands (for example for producing firewood) who then try and engage the local community in their activities, such as Coed Marros Co-operative.
Community woodland groups can constitute themselves in many different ways; for instance as Co-operatives, as Community Interest Companies, as Charities, as Social Enterprises or as simple Constituted Voluntary Groups. 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.
Managing a woodland for the benefit of your community can be very rewarding – to see a neglected woodland come back to life and be used and appreciated by many people is wonderful. But it can also be quite a daunting undertaking – there is a lot to learn and a lot of time to put in. You can read case study accounts by different Llais y Goedwig members in Llais y Goedwig publications.
Each community woodland group is unique
What are the main reasons why people decide to take on a community woodland in Wales?
Each community woodland group emerges from its own unique set of circumstances, reflecting the local woodland, the individuals involved, local concerns and opportunities. In each case the benefits of taking on the responsibility for a woodland seem to outweigh the costs of time and effort involved.
Some of the commonest reasons are:
* A wish to see local woodlands managed differently, e.g. Long wood community woodland wished to engage the woodland owners (Welsh Government) in a discussion about reduced clear fells and creation of local jobs
* A common interest or passion for the environment or for a sustainable way of life, e.g. Coed Marros was established by a group wanting to practice a low impact lifestyle
* A threat to the local woodland, e.g. Golygfa Gwydyr community woodland was set up to protest the construction of log cabins in an Natural Resources Wales managed woodland
* A desire to set up a new facility for local activities, e.g. Pobl y Forest wanted to be able to run forest school activities
* An opportunity created by grant funding may trigger a community to set up a group, e.g. Nanteos woodland group was established to be able to access Cydcoed funds
* Inspiration from an existing group – the seed of an idea can come from visiting another community woodland, e.g. the Cwmtalwg Woodland Residents group was established after visiting a project in England
Research and documentation
The community woodland movement has been growing steadily in Wales for over a decade.
This has been documented through a number of surveys and reports which have been carried out that provide a detailed picture of the development of community woodlands in Wales, as well as a series of Llais y Goedwig publications such as advisory notes and case studies, written by Llais y Goedwig members.