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Bearsted Woodland Trust, United Kingdom

Bearsted Woodland Trust

In 2003, a special chalk landscape adjacent to the old typical english village Bearsted with a population of about 10.000 people and close to a conservation area was planned to develop for housing. About hundred new houses was planned to build but the community of Bearsted did not want to see this landscape of the North Downs in the middle of Kent in England destroyed by housing development and other industrial development that was going on there and so a resident of the village bought the land. “I will buy the land if others work with me to care for it, to preserve and manage it".

The Bearsted Woodland Trust came into being. It is a charitable Trust with a Chairman, Treasurer, Trustees and a Management Committee, all working voluntarily for the conservation, management and enjoyment of the site. Within the Trust, there are professionals such as an environmental consultant who gives advice to the Management Committee how they can plan the site and preserve it not only on the short term but also for future generations. An annual meeting is held every year where there are decisions made about the site. Members were consulted about these decisions: there are about 1000 local people who are members of the Trust. Members who live and stay in the community are called Life Members and pay 100 Pounds annually to the Trust and have unlimited access to the site. Others who are not staying in the community pay 5 Pounds annually for the management and maintenance of the site. All members get a newsletter from the Trust.

The area contains mixed grassland, an orchard, woodland and a wetland area consisting of a stream valley. This wetland is linked by a bridge to the valley. This bridge was newly built from the money that the community raised, together with making the land accessible for wheelchairs. The land has 16 acres (6.5 ha). In the first three to four years, the first steps were the clearance of the site and planting of native trees on the chalky, sandy and clayey soils with the help of the community. In the beginning, 600 people joined the Trust as they wanted to see the land conserved.

A management plan was developed with the environmental consultant and conservation adviser within the Management Committee, which describes planting schemes. In the beginning, people planted the “People's Wood", an area planted with about hundred native trees in 2004 to celebrate the opening of the site and to enable an ecological system. The management team is a team of about 20 volunteers with a team leader who is a retired engineer. There are management meetings three to four times a year. They purchased a multipurpose tractor with the funded money for the work. They mow some sites of the grassland, keep the weed down, buy new trees and plant them. Often trees are dedicated to a family who donated the tree or to a family or people that experienced a tragedy. Part of the woodland is old woodland with dead and diseased trees. The people leave the trees there for promoting wildlife and enhancing biodiversity. Especially a big crow population is present there as well as woodland birds, different woodpecker species and other wildlife. The people planted also fruit trees to enhance the wider bird population. Some trees that are cut are stored and used for ecological purposes such as encouragement of frogs and insects and other wildlife. Part of the grassland is cut for hay. The hay is used by a nearby farmer who takes it for fodder.

Each year, monitoring is carried out by a local ecologist. Derelict areas that has an own ecological character have to be monitored for not being dangerous to the people. Species surveys are carried out every one or two years to monitor the flora and fauna. Many species lists exist. Planting projects with outside organisations are going on such as the wildflower project. There will be a Programme of Work over the next three years to test the soil, sow wildflower seeds and collect them for a seed bank for research and promotion.

The site is a great opportunity for the community to enjoy the nature and wildlife, for extended walks and dog-walking. There are some events on the site, a fireworks display in November with many people who come to the site to see it. Also, as a by-product, there is occasional work on the site for small contractors such as tree surgeon or occasional farming that helps the local economy. Two photographers from the community take pictures during the seasons that are published on the website of the Trust. A children's manning maze was designed and constructed through the work of 60 to 80 volunteers who dig the pathway for the maze in only one morning. The people are very keen on working and preserving the land and they often come together to work hard on the site. In 2009, the Trust won two prices in the Biffa Awards because of the big number of volunteers that came together to build this maze. There is also a children's play area that was provided in 2009 by the local Parish Council after the Trust's agreement. People raised money to build a tractor barn by volunteers. Sometimes, visitors from outside come to the site and also people from different countries as there is a big motorway not far away from the village. School children come to visit the area for education purposes. They come and learn about the woodland, animals, the birds and plants and some come to plant trees. The Trust hopes that these children are the future generation to look after the site and preserve it for the next generation. One of the threats to the site is sustaining the number of volunteers. Disease and severe weather that affects the land is a threat to the site. They lost trees from storm. Also, sustaining sufficient money to manage and maintain, and to also extend the land eventually in the future is a threat. But most important are dedicated people who will actively work for the land in the future.

Sources

  1. Personal communication with the Deputy Chairman of Bearsted Woodland Trust, John Wale, December 2010
  2. Bearsted Woodland Trust website http://www.bearstedwoodlandtrust.org/, accessed December 13, 2010