How to start a community woodland

Getting a community wood started

Join our network. Form an informal group of like-minded individuals. Think about what you hope to create for your community. Decide what type of organisation is appropriate for your group. Show you are serious - start fund-raising! Create some local publicity about your aims.

Finding a site

Begin to build-up a record of land ownership in your community, including land belonging to local authorities and utilities. If you aim to buy a site, try to find a sympathetic seller who will give you time to fund-raise. The chances of buying on the open market are slim.

Funding the creation of a wood

Consider other possibilities besides outright ownership – such as leasing, or planting with permission on land belonging to others, including private individuals, trusts and local authorities. If a major development is likely, is there a chance of creating a community wood as a planning gain?

Perhaps surprisingly, experience shows that funding is not as big a challenge as finding a site. As well as local fundraising activities, consider applying to local and national charities for funding. Is your site within an area eligible for ‘land fill’ funding?

If you can get say half the funding in place, consider approaching the local community for individual pledges to raise the rest. Government grants may assist in the cost of planting. Do not forget to raise a substantial fund to cover the cost of running and maintaining the wood after it has been planted.

Your organisation, and the administration of the wood

At the outset, a simple unincorporated organisation – with a constitution, officers and bank account – may suffice. In the longer term, especially if you intend to own land, you should consider incorporation and limited liability. The Charities Act 2006 will enable ‘Charitable Incorporated Organisations’ to be set-up (when the relevant part of the act is in force, probably sometime in 2009.) To do this, your aims must be charitable. You will also need to consider insurance and public liability, accounts, grants, cash management and finding trustees.

Designing and managing the site

Involve the local community, preferably with the help of a professional – usually a landscape architect or forester. Think and plan carefully before you decide to plant. There are many considerations in what is a significant investment. Often the temptation is to plant too many trees. The spaces in between are as important. Consider the impact of the wood in the landscape, and the need for fences, hedges, paths and access (including vehicular access for management). As well as the trees themselves, the vegetation in the open spaces will need to be managed, ground flora preserved and encouraged, and biodiversity enhanced.

Always consider trees and shrubs typical of Wychwood

  • larger trees – oak and ash
  • smaller trees – field maple, the wild service tree, hazel, holly
  • shrubs – the wayfaring tree, spindleberry, midland hawthorn, blackthorn and dogwood

Silviculture – looking after the trees

Trees need protection not only to get established, but from pests such as rabbits, squirrels and deer. Occasionally there may be some vandalism which needs to be managed. In their early years those trees which may in the long term produce useful timber need pruning and thinning. Coppicing and the marketing of woodland products may be necessary.

Involving the Community

The local community will need encouragement to become involved. Get people interested from the outset, and keep them informed. Young people are often difficult to involve. Schools, children and grandparents will be key groups, and don’t forget dog-walkers and joggers. As well as activities directly involved in the creation and management of the woodland, consider ‘satellite’ activities to widen support - such as moth trapping evenings in summer, bat detection, photography competitions and children’s story telling evenings.