Community Woodlands

Churwell Environmental Volunteers 2016

This dedicated team of volunteers has been remarkable; they have transformed not only the physical characteristics of the woodland but also the relationship between the community and its common land.

Churwell Primary School enjoy pond dipping

Site owned by Leeds City Council

Managed by: CEV contact Janet Harrison

Gold Award: Excellence in Forestry 2016

Churwell Environmental Volunteers (CEV) maintain and improve 4 ha of woodland in the Morley area of Leeds. The site is split into two roughly equal halves – an older oak/sycamore ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) compartment on higher ground and a newer area of broadleaf planting on lower ground. The site is surrounded by houses that were built on old industrial land and agricultural land used for rhubarb growing. These houses brought people into closer contact with the woods, which had suffered from neglect and attracted anti-social behaviour.

Following an action day which was covered on BBC Springwatch in 2008, a group of invigorated locals began to meet and carry forward the work begun during the initial clean up event. Their enthusiasm for the project was supported by the Woodland Officer at Leeds City Council, who provided advice, protection and funding for small projects.

As the project has grown and attracted more and more volunteers and visitors, the woods have become much more open and welcoming places. The influx of people from the local community has driven out the anti-social element almost completely.


The site is being managed by the Churwell Environmental Volunteers to meet social and environmental conservation objectives. Bat boxes, seating areas, a wildlife pond and a commemorative Jubilee oak, have all appeared in the few years since the CEV formed. No commercial activities are planned for the site.

As well as weekly volunteering days for the day-to-day tasks like path improvement and weed control, the committee organises quarterly fundraisers to purchase tools and materials necessary for the maintenance and improvement of the site.

They also encourage interested parties from local schools, scouts and councils to come and see how the woods are being revitalised.

A narrow-gauge light railway has been installed in the valley bottom, which provides an opportunity to ride through the woods astride a train. This generates a revenue stream during regular open days.


Fundraising must continue if the wood is to be maintained and further improved. Local businesses have already offered sponsorship, and additional strategies for raising capital are being explored.

The biggest challenge may be that the CEVs are about to run out of space; the newer half of the site is well-developed, and there is only so much improvement that can take place. However, there is a move afoot to discuss with owners of an unused neighbouring field to come under the influence of the CEVs.

The success of the CEV has been remarkable. In eight years, they have transformed not only the physical characteristics of the woodland but also the relationship between the (relatively new) community and its common land, giving a sense of pride and purpose to a previously unloved area. Their enthusiasm is tangible, but it has not interfered with their willingness to take professional advice and create a sound management plan.

Key Achievements

CEV meets every Thursday & Saturday with 16 or more (ages 15 to 75) volunteers attending.

Their achievements include:

  • constructing a Central Point & Field Centre
  • clearing bramble to aid natural regeneration of woodland and expose the carpets of bluebell
  • coppicing the new woodland to make hazel hurdles; creating glades for butterflies wild-flowers
  • re-laying old hedges and planting new ones to increase nesting sites for birds
  • rebuilding a dry stone wall
  • digging a series of ponds to increase the wildlife diversity
  • building a pond-dipping platform
  • constructing an artificial bank & special nest box for a new resident pair of kingfishers
  • planting 5,000 spring bulbs
  • laying over three kilometres of footpaths to make circular walks
  • planting a wild-flower meadow


  • raised sponsorship from local business & public donation
  • built a Miniature Gauge Railway through the woodland
  • provided ride-on trains at fund-raising events throughout the year

What Impressed the Judges

“The Churwell Environmental Volunteers is one of the most impressive and effective voluntary organisations we have ever encountered.

In a relatively short space of time, they have successfully turned the fortunes of the area around and created a much valued and important asset in this densely populated area. The woods are now fully accessible, teeming with wildlife and no longer suffer from tipping or vandalism.

The numerous open days and events cater for a wide range of interests, and the pond dipping and miniature railway are great assets and emphasise the importance of diversifying activities to increase appeal. This has all been achieved with extremely limited resources but masses of enthusiasm and volunteer input.

We were extremely impressed by what has been achieved and by the wholly inclusive nature of the group who have developed strong links with a range of organisations including ethnic schools, scouts, guides, local and regional councils and the local Police Community Support Officers.”

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Author: Mike Page