A special place for all the community
What are the benefits of having a community woodland ? The answer from groups and their communities all across Wales would be ‘lots!’
Perhaps the most important is a sense of place – of connecting people to the land and their heritage. A local woodland that is managed by local people provides a sense of ownership and pride that does not exist in woodland managed in other ways.
At the heart of Community Woodlands is a desire for the benefits to be sustainable; environmental, social and economic.
The first priority for community woodland groups is often nature conservation – ensuring the forest is cared for and that it provides a home for many varieties of trees and plants and animals.
Some woodlands may have been neglected for many years; they may have been vandalised, used for ‘fly tipping’ or simply un-managed due to the owner’s resources being too stretched or it being uneconomic to do so.
Community woodlands are often looked after by enthusiastic volunteers who are prepared to give up some of their time to simply look after the woodlands. The main volunteer activity is conservation or environmental improvement. This can involve routine maintenance, coppicing, removal of invasive and non-native species, encouraging biodiversity, creating paths and maintaining fencing and tree planting.
Work done by groups such as Coed y Bont in managing part of the Welsh Government Woodland Estate woodlands to encourage more biodiversity, improve walking networks and to encourage more of their community to visit with activities and structures is a typical example.
A huge range of recreation activities take place in woods and forests across Wales: bike riding, dog walking, bush craft, forest school, outdoor theatre and picnicking to name a few.
A community woodland provides an outdoor hub for a huge variety of social activities that can bring together a community and help with visitors physical and mental health and well-being.
Examples such as Golygfa Gwydyr community woodland demonstrate how all of these bring opportunities to socialise, to exercise, to feel better, to learn and to have fun.
Many community woodland groups also see the potential to sustainably harvest firewood, timber and other products from their forests – they may want to ensure they are not dependent on grants to sustain their woodland activities or they may want to help create local skills and jobs.
Setting up a social enterprise to help improve skills, create jobs and supply products to local markets is a natural progression for some community woodland groups; there can be an economic benefit from community woodlands as well.
This path is not for all groups and there is an additional level of responsibility as a group becomes an employer and a trading organisation. There are an increasing number of Llais y Goedwig members who have considered this option and are willing to share their experiences.
Community woodland groups such as Blaen Bran and Long Wood as well as cooperative groups like Elwy Working Woods have gained an understanding of markets, and have experience of setting out job descriptions, employer insurance, training and skills. Some of the markets that community woodlands have now entered include firewood, charcoal, greenwood furniture and using the woodlands as a venue for outdoor activities. There is helpful research and documentation into this area by organisations such as Forest Research UK and Shared Assets and a project called Making Local Woods Work.
Llais y Goedwig project Goods from the Woods is the development of an online market place for timber, and non timber products from woodlands. The new website Coednet could help promote sales from our Welsh Community woodlands and sustain a new way of working for some community groups.