New life and old traditions
The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees.
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Youth Officer, Karen Price is working with young people so that they can discover, explore and enjoy the arboretum, either as part of an organised group or as individual visitors.
Its been a busy time in the coppice coups at Westonbirt this winter with the Community Coppice Programme. Almost 50 teenagers have now swapped their pristine trainers for green wellie boots and endured rain, and even snow, to bring new life into one of the derelict coppice coups off Willesley Drive.
The Battle of the Bramble is nearing an end with just a few rogue tendrils holding out against the onslaught of loppers that has rained down on them. Hazel, holly, field maple and ash, all of which have been quietly going about their own business of growing for the last 80 years, have been felled and processed into bean poles and faggots, pea sticks and hedge stakes.
But what may at first glance look like a scene of destruction, is already springing back into life. It seems strange to cut down a tree to help it grow but that is really what coppicing is all about. The arrival of spring will stimulate a vigorous regrowth of multiple stems from the remaining stump, which will quickly flourish into trees again.
Bluebells, orchids and Arum lillies are beginning to poke their heads above ground, and the increase in sunlight now reaching the woodland floor will soon awaken wood anemone, primrose and hopefully violets. More wild flowers means more butterflies and the birds that feed on them and their larvae. And before long, the biodiversity of the once derelict coppice is thriving once more.
And what about the wellie wearing teenagers? They are helping to keep alive centuries-old traditional skills; learning about managing the woods, charcoal burning, carving spoons and making faggots.
But they are also taking away a lot more. They have learnt perseverance when lighting a fire in the rain. To take risks to try something new and to manage risk when felling a tree. To work as a team by looking out for each other's safety and wellbeing and to break down a task between them to make it more manageable.