Earlier this year, we entered the Royal Forestry Society Excellence in Forestry awards in the Small Woodlands (up to 20ha) category. We really didn’t think anything would come of it, but were keen to get the input of the judges, highly-experienced foresters, who would come to visit the woods. Our philosophy has always been to get as much advice as we possibly can, so we can do the best job that we possibly can in making the woods a paradise for wildlife, and a great site for groups to visit. So the chance to get this expert input was not to be missed.
Previous winners in this category have always been more commercial than ourselves, so we felt that we didn’t have much of a chance to win, although felt we might be up for a “commended” if they were willing to support a wildlife project.
So it was, on a grey and cold day in May, the woods looking far from their best, that the judges visited. They seemed to be impressed, and were offering things to think about for us, some tips and ideas, and we were very happy. At the end of the visit, they thanked us for entering, and we awaited the start of June to hear the results.
So, imagine our surprise when we received a phone call from the RFS telling us that we were the winners! We thought they had made a mistake. We had no idea we were up for a prize at all. After downing a bottle of bubbly, we thought we would wake up and find it was all a dream.
In their press release, the RFS judges Tim Sawyer and Rob Guest said ”
“What really tipped it for us was the excellent new planting they have done in a field they bought adjacent to the mature woodland. They also have good regeneration of oaks in the mature woodlands, use their woodland produce and hold open days. It is one of the best small woodlands we have ever seen.”
The Excellence in Forestry awards are held on a regional basis, rotating through four English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we beat strong competition from Worcestershire, right up to Cumbria.
Now obviously we could not have done this without a lot of help, so here is the Oscar-Winners speech, but you have to imagine this being delivered in wellies and waterproof jacket, rather than glamourous dresses and bling:
The Forestry Commission – we have had a lot of support from the Forestry Commission throughout the years we have owned the woods, in the form of grants, and also of expert advice. What is sad is that this advice system may be in jeopardy as a result of funding cuts – Paul Webster in particular has been amazingly supportive of our project, and we could not have done this either without the money or without his expert input.
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust – again, amazingly supportive and full of advice and enthusiasm. They have helped us again and again with queries and questions relating to improvement of the habitat, as well as supporting us in our quest to get a wider landscape-scale conservation project going in the Anker Valley area.
Butterfly Conservation – great help and advice in setting up appropriate planting in Betty’s Wood, so we could get target species of butterflies into our site (and it worked!), as well as regular moth surveys at the site.
Pond Conservation – advice over digging our original 6 ponds in Alvecote Wood, as well as our 5 new ponds in Betty’s Wood – indeed, the director came and helped us mark them out while Bill in his mechanical digger did the work. Amazing stuff, and these are now turning into superb wildlife ponds.
Alvecote and Shuttington Parish Council and North Warwickshire Council – lots of support for our work, and sympathetic consideration of all our applications to the planning department. Absolutely essential to getting good woodland management up and running on the site.
Warwickshire County Council Forestry Department – Ken Simons has been amazingly helpful, again, full of advice and support.
Maurice Arnold – amazing local naturalist and founder of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, who has been visiting the site for many years, and who could give us the benefit of all his wisdom, local knowledge and experience of setting up wildlife sites.
Local farmers who may have initially viewed us with suspicion, but have come to be very supportive – in particular Richard White at Swan Farm in Grendon, and our neighbours Ken Holloway and John and Mark Baines.
And everybody else who knows us. But in particular, the wonderful volunteers who have turned up in foul and cold weather to help us with coppicing, building, logging, tree and hedge-planting and all manner of other woodland management tasks. We apologise profusely if we have failed to name any individuals or organisations. So many people have helped us, and this is no reflection on individuals or their contribution to our woodland project. You are ALL amazing!
We will be picking up our award in Manchester on 3rd July and this includes a cheque for £1000 which will be ploughed back into management of the woodland and its improvement.