Blog: Where next for community forestry ?

Posted on January 10, 2019 by

In October Llais y Goedwig sent Adrian Farey from Elwy Working Woods on a mission to attend the Scottish Community Woodland Association Annual Conference in Strathpeffer and report back to members.  Adrian attended the same conference two years ago and wanted to see how policy and the groups have made progress in comparison to those in Wales.  Here is his conclusion:


The Caledonian Sleeper train deposited me at Inverness with just enough time to catch the bus to the conference and arrive slightly late.  A few years ago I caught the same train to Forres for the 2016 CWA conference and after two days was impressed by the groups doing mostly social forestry but wasn’t inspired .  This time round I was hoping they could give me something to get my teeth into. . .

The conference room at the Strathpeffer Pavillion was warm,beautifully wood panelled and reassuringly calm; an impressive change from the mud and noisy chaos of our timber yard which I’d left in some hurry what seemed like only a few hours before.  I stood at the back half awake ,wondering where to put myself when I was rescued by Anna Lawrence a Director of CWA Scotland who welcomed me to her table where a number of alert people were sitting iPads and note books at the ready.

I pushed my chair back and resolved to doze comfortably at least until coffee break but was woken almost immediately by Megan MacInness, Scottish Land Commissioner, talking about land reform.  Land reform! I haven’t heard those words spoken seriously since we invited John Seymour, recently deceased self sufficiency guru, to speak at our village hall some twenty years ago.

After that start, I found it difficult to resume any dozing as she was followed by Chris Blake from Green Valleys CiC talking about a vision for landscape scale community stewardship of public land in the South Wales Valleys, called Skyline, followed by a Stewart Boyles film about groups from Knoydart.

Buoyed by this dynamic agenda I had some positive conversations over lunch; this time around everyone seems more aware of the current issues and purpose of forestry, with views akin to mine.  When I see a woodland I think product – what can I make this into.

After lunch I foolishly joined a guided tour round Aigas Community Forest; 700 acres of ex Forestry Commission softwood bought three years ago by a group representing the local community.  Foolish because it was chucking it down with grim persistence, and I hadn’t come Goretex prepared!   In spite of the conditions I was still impressed with the expertise and commitment with which they manage such a huge estate.

Sunday began with a workshop on the impact climate change might have on our forests and our choice of tree species for resilience to disease.  After an interesting discussion hosted by Andrew Heald of Confor we concluded that, as with Brexit, nobody really knew what to do. The suggestion that we should pay heed to the latest science was gratifyingly rejected in favour of observation, experience of local conditions and common sense.

The last thing we talked about was inevitably Brexit; disadvantages and/or advantages. While most groups bemoaned the obvious insanity of the awful business, our table was almost alone in pointing out that climate change was a significantly greater threat and if Brexit somehow forced us to be more respectful of our local resources and woke us up from the cuckoo land that we so thoughtlessly languish in, then perhaps some good may come of it.

The long journey back to Wales had me thinking about the differences between Scotland and Wales. For two days I had talked with people passionate who wanted to regain some control over their land, intent on change, reform and everything connected with a sustainable future, and I was going back to a Wales where I don’t feel we are there yet, although the Skyline project is a start.

Reflecting on this situation I think geography and community have much influence; at the conference we heard from remote communities who, through their isolated position are forced to think about how to use resources to sustain local communities.  Whereas in our own patch of Wales, everything is on the doorstep.  Through necessity change happens and us lot in Wales should take note of what our Scottish friends are doing and grasp the mantle.  Community Groups who are involved in woodlands have access to land and with it comes all sorts of possibilities.  Even if it is only putting up a shelter or workshop and producing anything from those woodlands it is a start.  I have a vision of a network of rural timber businesses reconnecting our communities with the land, sustainably managing woodlands and employing people in skilled jobs that support a community.  I’d be interested to hear from other groups in Wales who share that vision.

Adrian Farey is Director of Elwy Working Woods in Abergele.   You can contact Adrian through the Facebook Page. 

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