New Year, New Opportunities, New Threats

2012 is a new year full of opportunity for Alvecote Wood – opportunities to improve the woods, and also to help the community in many different ways.  2011 was a great year for us.  It started with a bare former wheatfield, and ended with a lovely new wildlife site at Betty’s Wood, complete with meadows, 5000 new trees, a new hedge and colonisation by a huge variety of plants and animals.  Nature is just waiting for an opportunity, and in Betty’s Wood, it saw one and took that opportunity with both hands.

So what of 2012?  First of all, we have been planting again, and this provided an opportunity for a group of people from the Starfish Project in Tamworth:  this project, which seeks to help people who have had misfortune in their lives, brought a group of folk to help with tree planting in Betty’s Wood.  We had small areas we did not complete in 2011, as well as the replacement of trees that didn’t make it.  We spent a beautiful Friday in the woods, planting, working and enjoying the pleasure of being outdoors, working with our hands, and doing something positive for everybody to enjoy.

Other friends, old and new, joined us the following couple of days as we created a new coppice area in Alvecote Wood, and completed the re-planting in Betty’s Wood.  More people will join us to enjoy coppicing over the next few weeks (we hope!).

We have also been approached by a company who train Forest School teachers:  these teachers go on to teach children about nature, respect for the environment, how we are part of nature, and can work in harmony with it, and learn from it, and learn to respect ourselves, other people, and all of the species that surround us.  This is a programme we whole-heartedly support, and if we can help to train people to teach children in the outdoor environment, that would be brilliant.  We have also completed our CEVAS training (Countryside Educational Visit Accrediation Service) which allows schools to see that we can provide quality educational experiences in our woodland for children and adults who would like to visit and learn what we do there.  We hope this will lead to more children and educational groups enjoying our woods in 2012.

We have also embarked on a series of talks to local wildlife and general interest groups about our woodlands, why we bought it and what we have been doing for the wildlife there, starting with Tamworth Wildlife Group.  We hope that this will inspire more people to become interested in owning and managing wildlife sites as we tour around the local area, speaking to people, and running site visits for them when the weather warms up in the Spring.

As well as our programme of open days (last Sunday in every month from March), and open evenings (Wednesday evenings from April), we will be running more photography courses, and a meeting of the Small Woodland Owners Group to discuss landscape-scale conservation.

We are participating in, and supplying data to surveys on breeding birds, butterflies, moths, dragonflies and mammals – another opportunity for the woods to be valuable in building up a picture of what wildlife is around locally, and what changes are taking place.

Opportunities everywhere – for wildlife, for people, and for the woods to be a force for good – and we are delighted that our vision is starting to take shape and we are starting to make a difference.

So what are the threats?  Well, for a start, there is HS2 (High Speed Rail 2).  The route from London to Birmingham does not go anywhere near our woods, but there is a high chance that the route from London/Birmingham to Leeds will.  The route has not yet been published (it was briefly made public by The Telegraph earlier in 2011, only to be withdrawn).  Requests that it be made public have not been granted.  The best bet is that it will go up the M42 corridor, but it could go through our woods, or very close to it.  We simply don’t know, and we are very concerned.

Another potential threat is the pressure being exerted on the Independent Forestry Panel by some organisations to make all woodlands open to the public at all times (under the Right to Roam legislation).  Our woodlands has never been open to the public, but we are opening it up more and more, to allow groups and individuals to enjoy it, while allowing nature to take priorty most of the time.  A small woodland like ours has very little of its area away from paths and places where humans (and their dogs) will wander.  A larger woodland can provide plenty of sanctuary, but ours – not very much.  Our experience has been that the majority of people who want to enjoy the woodland, respect it and behave well, but a minority set out to steal, poach and cause damage by riding bicycles and motorcycles and driving 4x4s.

We would love to be able to open to the public more, but we would need an on-site warden or ranger to ensure that the impact is minimised and that damage does not occur.  We cannot afford this, and we hope that our efforts in making a previously-inaccessible woodland open at certain times will not be undermined.  Throwing open the gates will, in reality, mean that our equipment is stolen, our firewood is stolen, our trees are stolen, vehicles, horses and bicycles damage the soil and wildlife is shot, trapped, poached and ultimately driven away from the site.  We will no longer be able to provide a safe, enclosed environment for children to visit, learn and play, and for groups such as Scouts to come and camp there.  The value of the site for everyone will be degraded.

But we must be optimistic, as there are huge opportunities, and we hope to work with, or around, the threats.  It is a new year, we are doing new things, we hope to meet and work with new people, and most of all, we hope to see new wildlife moving in and enjoying the party.  Happy New Year.

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