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The Dorset AONB Partnership has been leading a Community Woodland Network for the past two years, linking likeminded groups in West Dorset. Prime Coppice was one of the founding members of the network. They have held a number of events, both at a national and local level and provided opportunities for different interest groups to get involved in the wood. The owners, Dr Ruth Fuller and Kit Vaughan have also given their time freely to inspire other community groups to take the next steps. During 2015, Dorset AONB Partnership has funded some of the more significant forestry work at Prime Coppice, which was holding up management of the site. This has allowed them to develop their offer to the wider community and they now run regular volunteer work parties where people get actively involved in woodland management. In return, the volunteers are rewarded with local, sustainable wood fuel.
With the support of the Dorset AONB Partnership, Ruth and Kit are showing that sustainably managed woodlands can provide social, economic and ecological benefits to the local community and become a hub for learning, networking and communicating about sustainable management. This journey began in 2011 with the purchase by Ruth and Kit of Prime Coppice. In 2012, they successfully applied for a grant from the Dorset AONB Sustainable Development Fund, which enabled them to improve the infrastructure within Prime Coppice so that they could accommodate visitors and better share their experiences. Since then Dorset AONB Partnership and Ruth and Kit have collaborated on a number of joint initiatives, including the Cabinet Office’s ‘Community Energy Peer Mentoring’ programme and the Big Lottery’s ‘Communities Living sustainably in Dorset’ project, that has enabled delivery of sustainable woodland management, learning and connection with nature and sharing and connecting with people.
Sustainable Woodland Management: Ruth and Kit have put into practice sustainable woodland management. They are restoring coppice areas, thinning unmanaged areas, improving the ride and path network, expanding glades and open areas, managing the woodland edge for biodiversity, restoring woodland ponds and wet areas and increasing the structural diversity in the wood. They are using sympathetic management practices such as horse extraction of timber, brushwood piles and ‘layering’ coppice to expand the density of the hazel coppice. They have also fenced areas to ensure protection from deer. They are working with skilled local woodsman as well as volunteers and trainees, thereby providing employment, training opportunities and experience for different groups of people. It is hoped that Prime Coppice can also become a model for other small woodlands in Dorset, demonstrating the value that accumulates from getting woodlands working again.
Learning and connecting with nature: With the support from the Dorset AONB Partnership, Prime Coppice has held a number of training events and courses, including: green woodwork skills, sustainable fuel wood production, coppicing, working woodlands with horses and climate resilient woodlands. Opportunities have been provided for different groups to get involved in the wood, from people attending courses and events, to volunteers learning hands on skills, to mother and baby groups keen to get outside with their babies and toddlers.
Sharing and connecting with people: Prime Coppice is an ideal venue for people who are interested in woodland issues to come together to network, learn and share, as demonstrated by the use of the outdoor classroom as a venue for a wide variety of talks and activities, including team building days and talks on firewood and climate change.
For 2015/16 – Prime Coppice only
For 2015/16 – For all community woodlands supported by Dorset AONB
Being part of the Community Woodland Network, and other initiatives supported by the Dorset AONB Partnership, has been particularly valuable in terms of learning and developing new skills. Through study visits and exchanges with other woodlands, Ruth and Kit have been able to validate their approach at Prime Coppice. Given that they are relatively new to woodland ownership and community projects, it was invaluable to share experiences and get the input of others, learning about a range of issues including managing and supporting community groups; how to run an economically viable woodland business in a sensitive woodland site; balancing social, environmental and economic objectives in woodland management; policy frameworks for woodlands; machinery, harvesting and extraction options; and business diversification options. Through collaboration with Dorset AONB Partnership, it has enabled learning to feed into local and national policy and planning processes, as well as a range of local and national stakeholders, including community groups, wildlife trusts and local councils. Through collaborative communications, Prime Coppice hopes to be part of the movement trying to reshape public and policy attitudes towards nature. Communicating the value of nature and scaling up the learning from Prime Coppice is therefore a key part of the vision for the project. The Dorset AONB Partnership’s role has been primarily a facilitator, bringing together Prime Coppice with other community woodlands and sharing experiences. The key message from this approach is that it needs little resource, but provides significant benefit to the community woodlands in terms of validation of their approach.
Dorset AONB Partnership
(c) Common Ground
Key search words: Woodlands Community Biodiversity Wildlife People
Photo Credits: Dorset AONB / Prime Coppice