The Woodland Edge - a very special few days
The national conference which took place on the Woodland Edge at Neroche in September won't be forgotten by those who took part, for a very long time.
The combination of weather, setting and people proved a heady mix. By huge good fortune we caught a gorgeous few days of Indian summer sunshine. The location was magical, on the edge of the forest with the ancient oaks in the background and the wooded scarp of the Blackdowns on the horizon. And a lively group of about 130 people - local volunteers, practitioners and staff from many organisations across the UK - made for a spirited, positive set of conversations.
The purpose of the event, which was organised by the Forestry Commission with support from the British Association of Nature Conservationists, was partly to mark five years of collective effort at Neroche, and partly to offer the Neroche forest as a setting for a discussion about how woodlands can and should work for people, anywhere in Britain, into the future.
We live in challenging times, plagued with economic, environmental and social uncertainty. Above all this event provided a boost to everyone's confidence, giving heart and courage to everyone involved to continue to work for positive change.
The conference heard from a range of inspiring speakers, including Howard Davies, chief executive of the National Association of AONBs, Peter Taylor, author and environmental consultant, storyteller Eric Maddern, woodland ecologist Jonathan Spencer, and social entrepreneur Nigel Lowthrop. And on the final day of the event, Tim 'Mac' McCartney, founder of Embercombe, and high-profile author Jay Griffiths left delegates enthused and reinvigorated.
The main work of the conference took place in a series of discussion workshops, many of which took place in circles out in the woods. Subjects included how to enable effective community involvement in woodlands, how to restore wildlife habitats, how to promote learning and well being in woodland settings, how to maximise carbon storage and improve sustainable harvests from woods, and how to tell the story of woodland history to new audiences.
Amongst the most notable achievements of the conference was the shared discussion, on equal terms, between environmental professionals and volunteers, with everyone's experience being respected and heard. A strong theme was the need to break down barriers between 'experts' and 'non-experts', and between the different disciplines and professions who have an interest in our wooded landscapes. The message was clear: what we have in common is more important than that which divides us, and woodlands are great places for finding common interests, and sharing common harvests.
Alongside the main conference business there were opportunities for delegates to whittle in wood, watch a fire poi demonstration, listen to evening music and stories around the fire, or simply wander in the woods amongst the medieval pollard oaks.
A live blog was maintained throughout the event by blogger James Thomson. The blog is continuing to serve as a forum for taking the conversation at the Woodland Edge, forward into the future. Visit http://woodlandedge.wordpress.com.