Free workshop announced : NEW CREATURES OF THE FOREST?


The return of beavers, boar, lynx and wild grazing to the landscapes of Britain

1 October  2011,   10.00 – 12.30

A free workshop @ the woodland edge conference venue, Neroche.

Experienced practitioners will give illustrated talks on how these wild animals can shape the environment around them. The discussion will consider whether and how these animals might become more widespread in Britain.

Key issues to be addressed will include:

·   What are these species’ effects on the ecosystem?

·   What is the recent experience with these animals in the UK? 

·   How do practitioners, policy makers and the pubic feel about returning these species?

10.00  Welcome & Introductions

– Rick Minter and Gavin Saunders –

10.05  The Awakening Forest – re-wilding the land or the people?

– Peter Taylor & Rick Minter –

10.15  Current experiences with beavers in the UK and future prospects for beavers in England

– Derek Gow & Lisa Schneidau –

10.35  Discussion on the potential for beavers in England

10.50  Realising lynx in our wildwood – how might it happen

– James Thomson & Peter Taylor –

11.10  Discussion on the potential for lynx back in Britain

11.25  Wild grazing, including experience from managing heck cattle in Devon

– Derek Gow –

11.45  Discussion on wild grazing – issues, policies and practices

12.00  Optional walk to view and discuss the longhorn cattle in Neroche

12.50  Close

Lunch will be available to purchase from the outdoor conference catering facility. A discussion article based on issues raised at this event will be prepared for ECOS.

Speaker details:

Gavin Saunders is Project Manager of the Neroche Scheme

Peter Taylor is author of ‘Beyond Conservation – a Wildland Strategy’

Rick Minter is editor of ECOS and adviser on public perceptions in the outdoor environment  

Derek Gow advises on mammal restoration projects, including beaver reintroduction schemes

Lisa Schneidau is Director of Conservation at the Somerset Wildlife Trust

James Thomson is a media adviser who has researched the potential for lynx reintroduction


From natural processes to human ones

No matter how broad-minded we feel we might be as an individual, we all relate to the world around us, including wildlife and woodlands, with our own personal values. We each look at a place and consider what matters to us through our own window.  In a charming but rather un-loved orchard in my Parish, I see the last fragments of the orchard landscape which was once widespread in the locality, festooned with fruit and lichen, and keeping the pastoral feel of countryside steadily becoming more sanitised.  But somebody else in the Parish sees the old orchard differently: an applicant for paintballing sees a potential for a stag party and team-building events to support paintballing – an activity some people view as risible. An ecological consultancy has supported the applicant, downplaying any concerns about impacts on the area’s bats, owls, lichens and insects.

The paintballing application will be settled not by a process of discussion, but by a set-piece planning decision. But in many other instances, the different needs we have from the landscape, and the different potential we all see from various parts of it, can be negotiated and discussed. Different views through people’s different windows can sometimes conflict or cause tensions, or can allow people to realise a big picture, of different interests coming together for a greater whole.

It is processes like Community Forests, AONBs, landscapes like Neroche, which provide frameworks for collaboration, big picture thinking, and considering how to settle tensions on ‘what matters’.  Yes, these processes might sometimes stifle things for those who want to race ahead and act on their own, and for example clear ‘scrub’ that might be other people’s bird habitat or supply of sloes, but maybe it’s mostly good to talk and to haggle.  So as we grapple with agendas like wildlife connectivity, and greater community use of woods and forests, the existing and new processes, from Transition Towns (or forests?) to formal and informal partnerships across public private and voluntary bodies will come into focus. We will no doubt give them some thought during parts of the Woodland Edge event.

– Rick

Imagining the wildwood

I’m intrigued, not only because the Woodland Edge conference will somehow be happening within the forest itself, but just a stones throw from Taunton Racecourse. I’ve a loose affiliation with this place and a grey memory of photographing some hardy punters there one very breezy February afternoon. I learnt two things that day… 1. If your trains heading due north to Cheltenham, you’re going to the wrong race meeting  2. Having a camera round your neck can be a passport to generous hospitality, but a compass is a more reliable source of direction. I’m expecting something quite different from the Woodland Edge to what I experienced in the Members Enclosure a few years ago and I reckon that’s a positive. Wishfully, I’m hoping there’ll be a lovely stew simmering away in Camp Neroche to guide me in off the M5 when I make my way down from Edinburgh in a few weeks time (that was part of the deal yeh Gavin?)

Call this work?! Overlooked by the oaks on the edge of the woods, the team try to get down to timetable planning

If you don’t know the precise whereabouts of the event, from what I understand you’ll need to aim for a pub called the Greyhound Inn and then go north-west for a bit. I might claim to know something about what the venue looks like by peering down at it from space, but I prefer to let Gavin Saunders’ photos fertilise the roots of you’re imagination. After browsing the fruit’s of the Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme’s website, I can’t help but speculate on the possibility of glimpsing a wild boar in the undergrowth or listening to the damp chorus of rooks homing in for the night. Having spent the last two months in Edinburgh putting up with whiny seagulls at my window like something out of a Hitchcock film, Michael Palin’s desire to escape the confines of his pet shop for something wilder feels quite pertinent.

Considering I was only introduced to Monty Python a few weeks ago by my flatmate, Alex Mitchell’s cartoon was completely lost on me when I received it back in August. First impressions can be deceiving, in haste I had initially mistaken Neroche as the event’s corporate sponsor. Having done some research on the matter though, I realised it was actually the name offered to the forest site in the 13th century when it was kept as a royal hunting estate. According to this nifty leaflet ‘Neroche’ is derived from the Old English nierra and rechich, meaning “the camp where hunting dogs were kept”… I guess a lot has changed since it’s royal days I will have to wait and see. Unless the racecourse now doubles up as a greyhound track during the week, I probably don’t need to worry too much about being savaged by dogs in the darkness of the night.

The conference planning group sit in the sun at the conference site, dreaming of the day when all the tents and people start arriving...

Over the next 2-3 weeks I will try to report back to you bits and bobs of what I see, hear, smell and eat from within the Woodland Edge as the event unfolds. So with 120+ attendants and delegates expected to land on Camp Neroche from all over the UK later this month, be sure to grab yourself one of those last remaining pairs of tickets as we announce the line-up here. As the leaves begin to fall, volunteers have been out and about crafting seating areas for participants over the weekend. I can just imagine myself sunk into one of these rustic creations now, lazily sipping on some local cider and reflecting on the days proceedings in front of an open fire. To top that off, I guess all we need is one of those better-late-than-never Indian summers…

– James

Cultural services of woods – Uh?

When we tick the box saying a woodland provides ‘cultural services’, or offers ‘social benefits’, what do we really mean? Is it about a wood being a place for mountain biking or orienteering? Or can it be about people learning new skills, from creating paths and stiles, to actual forestry? Where does art, storytelling, or sculpture trails fit in? And are ecologists allowed to get cultural benefits from a wood, or should they stick to their wildlife and keep to ‘science’?

A further complication is the ‘here and now’ against ‘the future’. Are we considering what features and resources we want from a woodland now, or people’s desire to use a wood in new ways in future? And what about money, income, and livelihoods – are people able to harness the different attributes of woods in ways that are relevant to circumstances today? Can we harness more products from woods such as  timber, food and energy, and still allow recreation to happen and wildlife to flourish? What is the full harvest of a wood, and who could influence it and gain from it more?

Many of us are debating these points in our own circles (and with our own terminology and language) up and down the country, and the Panel offering views to government on the future use of forests will have key things to say in the coming months. And crucially, many practitioners and some communities are making things happen – reviving old practices in woods and discovering new uses, skills and experiences fit for the times. The Woodland Edge event will provide a chance for people to swap notes on these and related matters, as our new forest lore emerges…

– Rick

The forest telegraph…

Welcome to the blogsite for the woodland edge conference. As well as providing a more spontaneous link with the event, it will offer a sideways view of the things going on before, during and just after it all happens.  

The blogsite will offer thoughts on topics being discussed at the event, and anyone with an interest is welcome to add their view at any stage. The blog also has links to the programme and other event details, and hopefully a few snippets which might amuse.

During the event the site will offer comments and pictures of the various things occurring, from comments of people huddling around the fire or having left their first workshop, a speaker’s honest reactions, quotes on people’s post-its (or are we going to use leaves?) , and a look at the creations from an evening bushcraft session. The content may be elemental in all sorts of ways!

A big thanks to conservation and media expert James Thomson who is masterminding the blog on behalf of the event. Thanks also to Alex Mitchell for sketching out some nice cartoons like the one above. We hope the site will both visualise the event and offer helpful soundbites from all dimensions of the gathering.

– Rick