Votes close soon for a fantastic woodland project which is up for a National Lottery Award – founder Tim Kirwin tells us all about it.
Tim devised the concept of The Woodland Communities Project in 2007 and has worked on it ever since. In total he has worked in the environmental sector for 21 years, 8 of which were for the Trust as a site manager. A proud Mancunian he has always been passionate about working in urban areas in an environmental capacity. He now owns and manages Wilder Things – an environmental consultancy specialising in environmental education, training and project management.
“The Woodland Communities Project has come a long way since its humble beginnings as an idea to encourage communities surrounding woodland in Warrington and Runcorn to use them in positive ways. Back in 2007 I sat down with the Grants Officer for the Woodland Trust and shaped a project that would change the way we would tackle some of the issues we faced managing urban woodland in Cheshire. I remember saying to one community member in Runcorn that if I didn’t get the money for the project I would quit my job! Fortunately for me 2009 brought success with a grant from the Access to Nature scheme run by Natural England and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. They could see the potential within the project and believed in what we wanted to achieve.
And so it began. A great team was put in place and numerous contractors lined up for the delivery of the project with one main objective; to involve as many local people as possible. We worked in schools, youth groups, with local community groups and guides to name a few. We cajoled and persuaded and talked to as many folk as would listen to try and get them involved.
We focused our attention on 10 urban Woodland Trust woods within Warrington and Runcorn. There are dozens of woodland oases in this area and we had to tackle a number of issues such as high levels of fly-tipping, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Consequently the sites were under-used and just as importantly local people had a poor perception of them.
With the help of BTCV, Groundwork and Halton Conservation Project we worked with the young and old across the two towns. Over 9000 hours of volunteer time were given, exceeding our original target 23 times over. Opportunities to learn new skills were provided and many site improvements were completed directly through volunteer labour. These works had a lasting impact on the landscape of the woods making them more usable and safe.
We worked in 30 schools with 4831 children attending Woodland Discovery sessions in the woods led by our very capable staff. For some children this was the first experience of ever visiting a wood. It wasn’t unusual for a child to express a view of having the “best day of my life” after attending a session.
It seems amazing that a simple act of going into a wood and learning though play and discovery could have such an impact but opportunity and permission was all it took. The teachers who attended were also enthused and we worked with some to increase their knowledge and skills of the woodland environment so they could continue their sessions into the future.
The Friends of Gorse Covert Mounds, created through the project, is now a vibrant group of people who are still utilising their own skills to run events and deliver projects to young people. One member of the group had never visited the wood before joining the group but enjoyed the experience so much that she now goes regularly and has made firm friends.
Another group, Murdishaw Nature Detectives are still running activities for young people in Murdishaw Wood; it is clear they haven’t lost their initial enthusiasm and want to continue serving their community.
The money from the Big Lottery Fund allowed all of this to happen and more. I am bowled over that the project which started as a seed of an idea has now been nominated for a National Lottery Award. I set out wanting to encourage more people to get involved with woodland and I think we have made a great start. I hope that the legacy of this project will continue through the groups and the teachers who have been involved and the woodland will continue to play an important role in the lives of the people of Warrington and Runcorn. This project is the catalyst for the future of local woodland across the country.”
Voting ends at midnight on Wednesday 24 July – to vote call 0844 836 9690 or go to www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards.