It’s good to talk

Participants got deep into debate today at the woodland edge workshop sessions held this afternoon. Workshop topics included ‘community involvement in woodland management’, and ‘making better use of the resources from woods’. The discussion in small groups allowed many detailed points to be considered, and then reviewed by a larger set of the participants. The workshops ended with key messages agreed by participants. These were then scribed onto large display boards. Two of the sets of comments from amongst the six workshops are shown below. Most of the workshop groups agreed upon the relevant questions for their strand of the topic and then set about answering them. Just click on the images to see the text more clearly. Further results of discussion from the event will appear on the blog soon, including the individual points of view written onto leaves, used instead of the more conventional technique of post-it notes. – Rick

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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

All Together Now

Here’s an overview of the breakout sessions looking at meaningful community participation and empowerment in our woods which took place yesterday. In total there were two break out sessions on Thursday covering the subject area.  Having a different set of people at each session allowed the subject to be looked at from different angles and pursue the title in a slightly different way. Both sessions were introduced by Jenny Archard (Freelance facilitator and outdoor learning practitioner, Devon) and an introductory talk was given by Alison Millward – Urban wildlife consultant.

Copyright Kate West 2011

The first group was very much dominated by Neroche conservation volunteers describing their experiences and their views on the development of their volunteer role during their time as a volunteer. Many recognized the need for space to develop their role within a project; starting out as a worker with little or no responsibilities, but recognizing that as involvement becomes deeper, there is a feeling of wanting to become more involved with the management of the group, but always with the backup and support of paid staff.  The volunteers expressed the vital ingredients of knowing about the outcomes of their work and investing in the future of groups by involving younger people.

The group also looked at the need for ‘professionals’ or ‘paid workers’ to become skilled up in how to work with volunteers.  People management skills are key, and knowing what volunteers are expecting and are looking for in their work.  In this way, it can be seen to be less of ‘controlling’ the volunteers, and more looking to the supporting and managing of a group and guiding it towards more independence.

The second group was looking further in to the idea of sustainability of a group; recognizing the need for clear objectives, and taking a pragmatic rather than fundamentalist approach.  There was a recognition of the need for real community empowerment, and how being able to focus on a particular local site helped with community involvement. Rosemary Viant who was one of the original members of the Neroche Local Stakeholders group talked and answered questions about the development of her role from initially being involved by giving an opinion on behalf of the local community, to the development of The Blackdown Hills Trust.  Her role has changed to being far more involved with the development of the cattle project, and being directly involved in writing funding bids, and looking towards future projects through the charity.

– Jilly (Volunteer Coordinator)

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.