Woodlands, Biodiversity & Healthy Communities

Pete Etheridge, Dorset Coppice Group

Woodlands are one of the UK’s most highly prized and valued habitats that offer a sanctuary for both wildlife and people alike. Here in Dorset, we are fortunate to have a wide range of woodland types, from coppiced woodlands to high forest, commercial plantations to wet alder carr. Many of these woodlands are in private ownership, but many such as Wareham Forest & Blandford Forest are managed by Forestry England on behalf of the Crown Estate. In addition to this, we have a range of woodland nature reserves managed by charities such as Dorset Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. Many of these woodlands have publicly available access, although this may be managed at times for operational reasons or to protect sensitive species of wildlife.

Whilst woodlands may appear old and static, they are in fact a dynamic and changing habitat. Almost all of the woodland in the UK has been actively managed for hundreds of years for its timber products and it is that active management that has resulted in the often biodiverse and wildlife abundant woodlands that we see today.

The recent and ongoing Covid19 pandemic has reinforced the value of natural spaces for local communities. Over the course of the past 16 months, with international travel restricted, new and increased visitor pressures have come to bear on our countryside sites. From an increase in visitor numbers (and associated litter), through to increased dog walking (and subsequent deposits) and disturbance to ground-nesting birds, it is fair to say that our countryside is enduring unprecedented pressures. It doesn’t all have to be bad news however…

Dorset Coppice Group was established in 1999 by a number of Dorset woodspeople who came together to form a local group in order to promote their products and services. In the last 22 years the Group has grown into a thriving community of people interested in preserving and maintaining our native woodlands. Whilst professional coppice workers still form the mainstay of the group, its members range from charcoal burners to bushcrafters, wildlife artists to woodturners, toddlers to woodland veterans!  The Group is open to all who share their passion for woodlands and woodland crafts.

As a Director of Dorset Coppice Group, I have seen first hand the positive effects that engaging local communities continues to have on both their wellbeing (physical & mental) as well as the biodiversity benefits to the woodland ecosystem. Throughout the pandemic, our site has remained largely open and played host to a range of groups who have been able to take advantage of the remote and socially distanced ‘Living Classroom’. When volunteer work parties have been possible, these have been buzzing with people seeking the opportunity to get outside, contribute to their local environment and learn some new skills along the way.

The past 16 months have been a challenge for all of us for so many different reasons but, looking ahead, conservation volunteering offers so many benefits, including:

  • Making new & likeminded friends
  • Learning new skills (or even a new trade!)
  • Contributing towards biodiversity enhancement/improvement
  • Spending time in a beautiful environment
  • Taking time out – away from laptops, emails, phone calls…
  • Space & time to reconnect with nature (no-one on a Work Party expects you to work incessantly!)

Our woodlands are an incredible habitat that offer so much to both people and wildlife. Their continued management is so vital in tackling both the decline in wildlife diversity & abundance as well as the climate crisis. Sensitive woodland management is a complex prospect but, with the right approach, our woodlands can provide so many opportunities for wildlife, rural businesses and local communities.

Dorset Coppice Group runs volunteer Work Parties on the second Saturday of every month, open to members and non-members alike. If you would like more details, please email info@dorsetcoppicegroup.co.uk. www.dorsetcoppicegroup.co.uk

Photo credits

Photos 1 & 3 ©Justin Crawford. Photo 2 ©Richard Budd