Without whom….

One of the most refreshing things about The Woodland Edge, aside from the fresh air, fresh ideas, and refreshing showers after a night in a tent, was the mixing – on equal terms – between people employed in the environmental sector, local members of the community, and volunteers. 

I’d like to thank all the volunteers who took part:  Hannah Aitken, Lisa Chell, David Clegg, Richard Cooke, Allan Covey, Sarah Covey, Claire Criddle, John Dryden, Patricia Dryden, Tim Duffen, Michael Fairfax, Geraldine Field, Gordon Field, Jamie Goodwin, John Greenshields, Alex Harding, Charles Hill, Sue Howard, Tricia Hutchinson, Ben Livick, Bob Lloyd, Tim Loosemore, Peter Maben, Nick Milton, Grahame Moses, Jocelyn Murgatroyd, Simon Newcombe, Dee Nightingale, Andrew Quinlan, Sarah Quinlan, Laura Quinlan, Mike Ridge, Stuart Rigg, Margaret Robinson, Anna Spiess, Tony Spiess, Martin Taylor and Rosemary Viant.

On a simple practical level, the event couldn’t have happened without volunteer support.  Volunteers cut the scrub to prepare the site, gathered the firewood, laid the ground reinforcement for the vehicles to get in, helped erect the tents, manned the car park, watched the fire, sat on reception, patrolled the site, and then helped take it all down again at the end.  And throughout they were ably coordinated by Neroche’s volunteer coordinator, Jilly Ould.

Jilly Ould, Volunteer Coordinator

But volunteering was much more pervasive in the whole event than that.  Volunteers and members of Neroche’s local stakeholder group, and the volunteer-run Blackdown Hills Trust, took part in all the group discussions, offering a prominent voice for the experiences and perspectives of people who give their time for free to projects like Neroche.  As a result, workshop discussions about community involvement and governance weren’t academic – they were grounded and genuine.

In fact, much of the specialness of The Woodland Edge as an experience was down to that very real, generous and human sense of people coming together to create a welcome in the woods.  We all have much to learn from that, wherever we happen to be in the woodland universe.

Volunteers Dr Rosie Viant, Bob Lloyd and Dianne Hood, with Neroche Administrator Caroline Newcombe (second right)

– Gavin

Whistle while you whittle

Throughout the conference delegates and volunteers have been able to visit the artists in residence, Michael Fairfax and Gordon Field to create artworks to take away or present as an offering to the ceremonial fire at the end of the event. The opportunity to sit and whittle hazel while chatting (whittling) away made this a light hearted networking hub.

Michael would take each whittler into the wood to select a piece of hazel for their artwork. He got them to reveal and heighten the healed wounds of the hazel. Gordon was letting people tie and decorate found objects as potential offerings. As almost everyone wished to whittle, Gordon concentrated on constructing the sculpture for the ceremonial sculpture.

Whittling is very therapeutic, those who are trying it for the first time were keen to learn to carve safely so they can whittle away the hours. As well as creating the fire structure Gordon with the help of Neroche Conservation Volunteers cleared some of the ash and hazel beneath two of the veteran trees who were not happy with all the youngsters below them. The energy fields of these trees were soon moved out into the wood creating certain very intense emotional experiences for a few of their unsuspecting visitors.

The ancient tree trunk – what does it measure?

Scattered amongst the neighbouring forest at the woodland edge conference venue are a number of veteran oaks. These ancient trees are prominent guardians of this piece of the forest, indicating one of its past uses as wood pasture and deer park. The age of the oaks is measured in terms of centuries. Gordon the tree dowser believe’s the one shown here is perhaps 586 years old, as the tree’s conference label declares.

Many people will look for faces, characters and other features in trees young and old, but these old oaks seem especially charismatic. Perhaps the trees have enjoyed all the special attention they’ve received over the last few days, including being illuminated at night by colourful spotlights. Some of these mighty oaks have earned their own name. Although they are often thought as looking feminine in form, they have male titles as a rule, such as Sir William, who will feature in a later blog.

The 586 year old tree shown in these pictures, named by the locals as Sir Hugh, was measured during the conference to satisfy curiosity about the tree’s impressive girth.

It took two of us to measure the trunk! I invite you to guess the result – tell us what you think by using the options below…

This is just for fun so take your pick and look out for the answer next week.

– Rick

Temporary Trio play us out for the day

Tonight we were joined by a talented group of local musicians who call themselves Temporary Trio. They’ve only been going a year and they’re already starting to churn out a very unique sound.

There was four of them this evening I think, but I guess there’s normally three? Maybe a name change is on the horizon. Here is one of their songs which we recorded by the campfire a few hours ago..

If you enjoyed this tune take a look at their website. I’d like to wish them all the best for the future.

– James

Eric enthrals and we all stare at trees

Stealing the show today was Eric Madden. A story teller, Welshman, musical extraordinaire and according to his profile, resident of Cae Mabon, the home of hobbits. Strolling into the big-top canteen tent last night you would’ve thought the star of the circus had just arrived. This is the kind of guy who could tame a lion if he could be bothered. Casually last to dinner, he chose to plonk himself down next to me and I think I was the only idiot on our table who didn’t know who he was. Speaking at this mornings session though, Eric effortlessly captured the imagination of his listeners and it does not surprise me that people know him.

Eric Maddern tells a story to an arrested audience by the campfire

To start formal proceedings off at the Woodland Edge conference this morning Rosie Viante, local resident and Chairman of the Blackdown Hills Trust delivered a motivating speech on the success of the Neroche Landscape Partnership over the last 6 years. Delivering the introductory icebreaker session which followed, Eric teamed up with Lisa Schneidau of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, another formidable storyteller in the making. Eric shared a story of a colleague and friend of his, Madimoma Somé, a man educated here in the west, who chose to return to his rural African village at the age of 16. The story talks about Madimoma’s initiation into adulthood and his invitation by local tribesman to stare solidly at a tree for several hours on end.

Copyright James Thomson 2011

Gavin Saunders of the Forestry Commission welcomes everybody to the conference

The local boys undergoing this intriguing task were apparently able to figure out pretty quickly what it was they were supposed to be looking for in this tree. But for Madimoma and his western education, he sat alone covered in sweat and ants for three days. Eric invited this mornings participants out into the woods to experience a slightly watered down version of this sensation for ten minutes. Reporting their findings back to the group, some people had seen family members in the roots of the trees they’d engaged with, whilst others simply saw ecosystem services. Higher up in the canopy, participants associated tree branches and leaves with optimistic feelings of reassurance and music. Another participant understood the ongoing competition for light as being like a war zone.

Copyright James Thomson 2011

Participants venture into the forest to stare at trees for ten minutes

At the end of the session Eric informed us all that it was the image of a dancing woman which eventually emerged for Madimoma during his youth. It’s probably too late in the night to figure out the significance of that particular metaphor though, so I will leave you with my quote of the day by William Trahern, voiced during this mornings session by a participant.

“Why do we do all the things we do, when we can just sit under a tree?”

– James

Strange visitors in the night

We’ve downloaded some amazing footage of Roe deer recorded on Rick Minter’s infrared camera-trap set up last Friday. You might even notice the young one hanging out the back. Our camp-site manager Ben is going to be taking a group out into the forest shortly to lay down some extra bate to see what else we can capture. Rick informs me that lavender oil (the type you might pour into a hot bath for a relaxing soak) works the best for this. Let’s see what tomorrow has in store, hopefully the live music tonight from Tim Hill on sax and Sue Mo on banjo will bring them all running.

Houston. Do you read me?

After a 400mile car trip, three slightly more enjoyable train journeys and a few stops at some relatives along the way, I’ve arrived at the Woodland Edge. Setting up my blogstation earlier on it was a bitter-sweet feeling of relief when I plugged in my dongle wireless device and discovered I was still connected to the world-wide-web somehow… I was kind of hoping the thing would fail on me so I could make the most of this unusually brilliant English weather, but there was no such luck today. According to this 3G coverage map below, the only place I’m likely to escape internet access is in the deepest darkest forest.

So here I am in Somerset, shacked up in my own little tepee, blogging away into the ether with a nice pint of local ale sitting by my side. Having moved into my new home for the next few days I’ve already made a new friend – it’s a daddy longlegs, and it’s taken quite a liking to the white glow currently emanating from my laptop. I’m hoping it doesn’t attract anything scarier than that though cos I’m possibly the last up by now. Fortunately however, a local volunteer has constructed a wooden sign to go outside my makeshift office which reads “BLOGGER’S TENT”. If that doesn’t warn the Exmoor Beast off I’m not sure what will.

You can see some of the goings on from Neroche Forest today in the slideshow I have put together here. I’ve already met many interesting characters, but Gordon the tree-dowser stands out as a definite highlight. I’m not sure what he’s been up to exactly, but the trees tonight are now glowing a variety of different colours and beyond them the stars out in force. I just came back from the campfire where most of the new conference arrivals have retired for the evening, having been treated to a fairly hefty dinner and some freshly roasted chestnuts. It seems things will kick off early tomorrow so with limited shower water available I should probably get to bed.

– James