One of the things I like best about working with community campaign groups is the chance it gives me to indulge my secret love of fancy dress. Ok, it’s not so secret – it’s fairly well known in the Trust that if you ever need someone to dress up, I’m your tree – but I do blame the Trust for bringing out this latent tendency: my very first week in the job I had to ‘be a tree’ twice; first as part of a presentation about campaigning in front of the entire Trust at the staff Conference, and the second time for a campaign video we did called ‘Caught in the Act’ (easily my favourite starring role to date).
So I was delighted to have a chance to don a cossie again last weekend, this time in support of local campaigners who are working so hard to defend Smithy Wood, just outside Chapeltown near Sheffield.The members of Cowley Residents Action Group are the real heroes in the long fight to save Smithy, and Sunday’s ‘Save Smithy Wood’ picnic was down to their hard work. The event was all about celebrating this valued ancient woodland, gathering local people together and learning more about its incredible history. It was a beautifully hot and sunny day, not the best weather for fancy dress to be honest and I did rather doubt my earlier enthusiasm!
Being there at the gate to welcome folks into the picnic area, I got to say hi to almost everyone who came along. A lot of them went over to the Woodland Trust’s stand where they could register their objection to the proposed development, sign our petition and find out what else they could do to help the campaign.
We saw hundreds of people during the day. There were families with baskets and blankets who stayed all afternoon to picnic, as their children played on the swings and the giant bouncy castle and ran about having fun.
I had the honour of being asked to draw the raffle! I also had the chance to visit all the stallholders to say a little thank you for being part of the day; it was wonderful to see smaller groups as well as the local Friends of the Earth and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust represented, and also to meet members of the national Forests Campaign Network who travelled some miles to show their support.
My favourite part of being a ‘tree’ during an event like this is that I get to flit about, chatting to people about why they love woodland and giving out those all-important hugs! Most of the time this goes down really well, as I find that even the hardest of hearts can be melted with a smile and a hug. Some very young children are naturally shy and can even be a bit frightened when a tall thing dressed in green with strange objects sticking out all over it comes looming towards them, but once I get down to their level and they realise I’m a person dressed up, they tend to be more interested than afraid, touch the ivy in my hair and my green fingernails –and if Mum and Dad have a hug they usually want one as well.
I took a few children over to some of the largest trees in the picnic area to identify them using the Trust’s leaf swatches. One youngster, aged 10, came over to tell me he had given one of the real trees a hug. He said “I could feel its energy. I do hope none of the woods are destroyed.” These are the inheritors of Smithy Wood, and many of them understand what could happen here. Let’s hope sense prevails and the wood will stay safe, so these children can bring their children to play in Smithy Wood and discover its magic, just like their parents do now.