Planting Community Woodlands

Coronavirus has limited people to their homes with only short walks for exercise in their local area. This has restricted access to the natural environment, which in turn can have consequences for both physical and mental well-being.In rural counties such as Lincolnshire, farmland often surrounds villages and towns so that access to the countryside close to people’s homes is limited to roads and a small choice of footpaths and other public rights of way.

Government has plans for increasing the woodland cover of Britain from 11% to 17%. Other targets are “1.5 billion trees to be planted by 2050” and “30,000ha of new woodlands per year” (the Government Committee on Climate Change). But there is an ongoing debate about where these new woodlands and forests are to be planted.

Rather than argue about tree planting targets, this could be an opportunity to plant new publicly accessible woodlands on fields that surround towns and villages. Bourne has large accessible woodlands to the South and West which are easily accessed on foot from the town and enjoyed by walkers and cyclists alike. By contrast Spalding has no such facilities and access to open countryside is very limited except by car.

Kirkby Underwood has Callan’s Lane Wood just about within walking distance. But Rippingale, despite being surrounded by open countryside, has no public open space apart from a small playing field.There are several instances in Rippingale, and other villages, where houses back onto arable fields. This is a source of conflict because the residents suffer with the noise and pollution (spray drift) from farming operations and are not allowed to access the land behind their back gate. Meanwhile the farmer tries to produce an economic crop from small irregularly shaped fields while at the same time coping with trespass, vandalism and fly tipping.

This situation continues because farmers receive a grant from central government (Basic Payment Scheme) so long as they farm the land. The Basic Payment Scheme is being phased out over the next 5 years. Landowners will then not be able to farm these awkward fields profitably.This could be a golden opportunity for planners to designate areas close to towns and villages as Community Woodlands for the enjoyment of the local community. Once designated it will become clear that the land cannot be used for housing and so it will be available for purchase by the local authority or national government for woodland planting.

Instead of setting impossible targets for tree planting and leaving others to argue about how it should be achieved, we should be identifying areas for new woodlands where they will be of most benefit to people and to wildlife. Community Woodlands will be designed from the outset with public recreation and the environment in mind. These woodlands can also be compatible with producing high quality hardwood timber in the long term.Woodland owned by the Forestry Commission (Bourne Woods, Callan’s Lane) are managed to produce a crop of timber. Although they are open to the public for quiet enjoyment, they are still production woodlands. A recent heavy thinning of the trees in Callan’s Lane with heavy forestry machinery during very wet weather showed how certain forestry operations are incompatible with public recreation, wildlife and indeed with the health of the woodland itself.

My company, Aveland Trees Ltd based at Dunsby, has 40 years of experience designing and planting woodlands. In 2008 we planted Nursery Wood next to our tree nursery. The woodland was designed to demonstrate how to establish new woodlands using ecological principles and with public access and wildlife as the main considerations. 12 years on I would like to invite everyone to see how Nursery Wood has developed and perhaps to use it as blueprint for new Community Woodlands.