Woodland Skills Centre, North Wales

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Sustainable woodland management for people, wildlife and the planet

The Woodland Skills Centre is based in the heart of the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The centre is owned by a community-run, not-for-profit Social Enterprise company. The team manage a 50 acre site comprising woodland, an arboretum, a small vineyard, medicinal herb garden, heritage orchard, wildflower meadow with apiaries, a tree nursery, polytunnels, permanent Forest School sites, workshops and the state-of-the-art timber frame Centre buildings.

Manager Rod Waterfield who has worked at the centre since it was founded, explains the three key objectives that inform the approach the team take to managing the site and making the most of it’s resources.

“We manage our woodland and land according to three key objectives – social, environmental and economic – all of which have equal status in our planning.

“Our social objective is to provide opportunities for as many people as possible  to experience the benefits the land has to offer. When we run an event, the key question we ask ourselves is who didn’t we see? We strive to reach less represented groups and extend our reach further. This informs our programme of events for children and families and also our social prescribing programmes.

“From an environmental point of view, we aim to maximise biodiversity on site at every opportunity. The land is very low grade fertility because it is so sandy so we look at was we can produce crops that have a value but also tick lots of other boxes. For example, to promote diversity and preserve varieties, we have planted a heritage orchard and our apiary is sited in a wildflower meadow. We’ve also created a small vineyard on a small section of the site which otherwise would have gone to waste. This area now generates a profit and provides employment for those attending our programmes.

“We have been so successful in promoting biodiversity that we are now a major training centre for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. We can offer trainees the opportunitiy to find  nine native species within 100m of the centre. This is not accidental but down to our focus on habitat management to promote native species of all kinds and recording our progress.

“We are also a regional hub for the Long Forest Project, growing hedgerow plants for hedgerow renovation and for the National Botanic Garden of Wales. We work in partnership with the North Wales Wildlife Trust, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and other similar organisations. We are part of the Denbighshire Roadside Verge Wildflower Restoration Project receiving locally collected seed and growing on plants for reintroduction.

“And from an economic point of view, the woodland produces a valuable, renewable resource and we believe it should make a profit. Last year we produced and sold over 3,000 coppiced hazel poles for use in landscape and horticultural projects. Our buildings are rated EPC Band A and are carbon negative in operation. They showcase traditional building techniques using local materials but meet 21st century planning and building regulations. Achieving this was no small challenge and a learning curve both for us and the local planning team.

“We run a range of courses in traditional crafts, bushcraft courses and courses for families, schools, youth and community groups as well as Mindfulness courses as part of our health and well-being programme, and music, poetry and drama in the woods. We also run a full Social Prescribing programme working with adults and children with special needs. We currently have 19 different groups attending each week under our social prescribing umbrella, with 1-15 people in each group. These include adults with dementia, adults with mental health problems, young parents and their children and young people not in education or employment.

“For us the therapeutic benefits of our work come not only from being outside and interacting with others but from the act of doing something practical and being able to see what’s been achieved at the end of the day. Our varied site and facilities provide lots of different opportunities for people to make an impact and really take pride in what they’ve accomplished.

“Everything we do here is driven by the desire to manage the interaction between people and the natural environment in a sustainable way.“

Finally, what do you value about being a member of SF&G?

“We can tap into the expertise and skills we need through networking with other members – and also share our own knowledge and experience.”

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