Wooplaw Community Woodland Workshop, August 2007

How woods and communities are linked

Disparate communities

Communities are ill-defined (that's a good thing)... and unique (that's good too). There is the community group involved with the "community woodland" and there is the wider community, not to be confused with each other. What is the view from the inside looking out and the outside looking in? - from the outside looking in, the profile of the "community woodland" can be surprisingly low.

Wooplaw is "the community woodland without a community" - because it's between several villages, not near to any one. One of the workshop group used to live near, then "I moved away - just occasional visits, maybe only every two years - but I was always a member, always received newsletters": the connection always remained. In any case the Borders are "a disparate community", so "we redefine community!" Hill Holt Wood has a wide base, as well: "…our community is loosely defined…"

Woods on the doorstep

Community woodland can mean something very different: "…a few acres of wood, a stone's throw from the village green. It's part of the community, part of the heritage, but no one thinks about it, it's just there…" That's how it should be - how it was; how it still is in Austria, Germany, Switzerland "…there's more to it than just calling it 'community woodland': it should be part of our nature." Others agreed: "We need to rebuild the lost forest culture in Scotland."

Vandalism - the negative impact of the wider community

"Yes, we get some vandalism. It comes and goes - one group grows up and then it stops for a while." "In some cases, the community's attitude to youths doesn't do them any favours".

A radical approach might be the answer: "I go to welcome the underage drinkers on Friday and Saturday night." Or, more prosaically: "The woodland is locked at night" - access may be permitted, but it is controlled. (This last was Hill Holt Wood, which is in England, where the laws on access to land are very different.)

How do people get involved with community woodlands?

"If you come to a village with kids, you integrate." "I'd just moved into the area… I saw a notice [about the community woodland] - I haven't got away since!" Sometimes it starts with an offer of land from outwith the community, and then a community has to be "enticed" to become involved.

How do people stay involved?

There's the issue of volunteer fatigue… and volunteer motivation: "I duck in and out. I enjoy buildings, structures, green woodworking…" It's all about energy, coming and going in waves - sometimes at Wooplaw there have been lots of people, and lots of publicity - David Bellamy coming to Melrose; other times it was just Tim Stead with a wheelbarrow. Recently, new people came in and were gobsmacked by what's been achieved so far… At Hill Holt, a very different project, around 14 jobs have been created within 14 hectares of woodland, with a management committee recruited from many sectors of the community in the surrounding district.

What is normal in many European communities is not normal for us: we have to re-grow the links between the community and the local woods.