An inspiring visit to Elwy Working Woods

Posted on August 4, 2016 by

The Visit

Ffarm Moelyci woodland group including people from the surrounding area recently visited the woodlands, sawmill and various timber framed workshops and buildings belonging to the Elwy Working Woods Cooperative near Abergele. Our host was Adrian Farey who is part of a group of 15 people who collectively work in and manage several woodlands in the area using mostly continuous cover methods. We began our visit at the sawmill, with a woodmiser saw in a yard full of logs and sawn timber.  Adrian explained the operation with inspirational enthusiasm. He then took us through part of a woodland he planted 25 years ago. It is a mix of broadleaf and conifer which is looking very well established. We ended up at his new shared workshop, a vast Crook framed building, where three of his team were laying out a new timber frame extension. After refreshments and an intense talk about their operation we went to another woodland, the site of a firewood enterprise (and the home of a young local stonemason who is living in a timber framed cabin there). This is social forestry written large with jobs being created, housing provided and a shining example of what can be achieved with vision and lateral thinking.

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The Woodlands

Elwy working woods is a new woodland planted 25 years ago. The land was scarified for planting by screefing (removing the surface vegetation) and is now a lush mixed conifer and broadleaf high forest with fruit tree edges. The main species are larch, scots pine, western red cedar, Douglas fir, ash, oak, silver birch, hazel, willow and some sweet chestnut, wild service and even Elm and black locust. Some are thriving but others have been effected by squirrel damage. There is a squirrel control programme ongoing which has mitigated more extensive damage. Although not a solution, pine martins have apparently been spotted in the area and may help reduce squirrel populations. An interesting discussion was had about compromise and the resilience and biodiversity benefits of having trees that may not be perfectly suited to site.  Also of interest and fun was identifying European larch, Japanese larch and Hybrid larch which all have different timber properties and growth rates. The silvicultural method Elwy use is a form of bespoke continuous cover, with decisions about crop trees depending on several factors; what the mill would like, how long will the growth take, which species are in danger from pests and diseases, and how will the choice effect the overall mix of the woodland with about 100 trees per hectare. Lots of pruning up to the crown has been done on potential timber crop trees improving form, airflow, changing light levels for the woodland ground flora and generally improving the atmosphere. The woodland looks well managed and beautiful. Harvest of trees is minimal and often by chainsaw and alpine tractor keeping access rides to a minimum.

The Elwy Working Woods coop

The Elwy Working Woods Coop has a minimal fee to join, for a share giving equal voting rights. The group is mainly local, self-employed timber or woodland workers who share skills, resources, costs and insurance. They do their own thing, but are joined by a common identity. This translates to the woodland and its buildings, providing a place for people to add value, reduce expenses and provide employment.

The impressive timber framed workshop was self-built by volunteers and the Coop funded it. This process develops a work ethic and social cohesion that is essential. Social/work relationships take time to build but they are the heart of any community. The next stage will be to develop a timber drying shed and fund raise for a 40KVA generator that will power some of the industrial woodwork machines that are being voluntarily stored/donated. Yet another example of how through building relationships, problems can be overcome through new working models of value exchange.

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Take home message

Our group saw woodlands that had 10 years more management than our own, which enabled us to see the effects of decisions we are making with our own woodlands. But most importantly, we are now confident that not only can Moelyci develop a timber framed workshop/classroom of its own but we know what is possible when people are proactive and motivated.  The relationships built through these knowledge exchange visits really do help move ideas into focused plans. We intend to develop this visit into further group visits and would love to visit some European woodland communities . Many thanks to Llais Y Goedwig for funding this visit yet another inspirational organisation.

Jonathan Burke and Mike Bithall

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