Community Woodland of the Year Award 2023

Congratulations go to our gold winners, Gibside, National Trust in Tyne and Wear, and to silver winners, York Community Woodland.

By Wendy Necar · October 26, 2023

This Award encourages and rewards woodland projects that benefit communities. We are looking for woodland which has been established and managed in a way which is sustainable and beneficial to the landscape, the local people, biodiversity and the economy in the short and long term.

1 Gibside National Trust, Rowland’s Gill, Tyne and Wear

Pictured: Woodland thinning with the Gibside social forestry team

“Gibside’s Social Forestry programme is the flagship element of its approach to working with volunteers. There are some remarkable individual stories and personal journeys attached to the participants. It is also providing real environmental benefits to the estate. We felt that this programme of social forestry is having real impact.” Judges.

Key features

  • Volunteer teams include Social Foresters, Conservation Rangers and a Roaming Ranger
  • Brave Space for its people
  • Social Forestry Group includes participants with neurodivergent needs, asylum seekers, refugees, and young people
  • Traditional skills, photography and bird ringing training

“This award is a testament to the vast amount of planning and work that has gone into bringing our woodlands to life through community participation from volunteers and staff alike. Over the last two years at Gibside we have been able to develop a project that has the mental and physical wellbeing of the community at the forefront of our woodland management work. This wouldn’t have been possible without the wonderful, diverse group of people that we have been able to bring together. They have made a huge personal contribution to the future of nature conservation at the National Trust.” Nick Wilson-Smith, Gibside Ranger.

Pictured: From left, Martin Hugi (The Woodland Trust, Sponsor), Tim Cassidy, Nick Wilson-Smith, Pearl Saddington and Jodie Peachey from Gibside with RFS President, Ben Herbert and Hilary Allison (Judge)

Gibside is a Georgian landscape garden looked after by the National Trust, a pocket of nature on the edge of Gateshead, Newcastle and Durham.

Pearl Saddington, Senior Volunteer & Community Officer has challenged the traditional National Trust volunteer recruitment process to make it easier to get involved and more inclusive.

“We established the social forestry team as an opportunity for people who don’t normally volunteer, to encourage them to get involved with the National Trust. The group has organically grown and works with our ranger team to co-produce the variety of tasks and skills development.”

The group are guided by the Gibside Estate Design Plan and Woodland Management Plan. This incorporates works needed across the woods for nature, heritage, and people. Gibside focusses on connecting communities with its nature and history via skills training from scything and charcoal to invertebrate photography and bird ringing.

Its 240ha garden contains Plantations on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS) and Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW). Part of the estate is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) important for reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

2 York Community Woodland owned by City of York Council

Leaseholder under the Woodland Partnership scheme: Forestry England

Pictured: Officers from City of York Council and Forestry England volunteers at a community planting day

“This is definitely one to watch! It’s a great start to a major community woodland creation project using a different model for creation in a climate, nature and well-being emergency. This is still a fledgling project in terms of delivery and implementation although the consultation phase has been exemplary. A lot has been done in a short space of time to get this large project to the point of delivery.” Judges.

 Key features

  • Over 400 local people and 30 local stakeholder groups took part in the design
  • Positioned on existing Sustrans National Cycle Network, local bridleways and rights of ways to link up with city centre and nearby rural settlements
  • Local people helped create new wood meadow areas and planted the first 3,000 trees, including 70 specimen trees
  • York was awarded Queen’s Green Canopy ‘Champion City’ status for these efforts

“The team is thrilled that York Community Woodland has been recognised for such a prestigious award. It’s great to see the skill and effort of hundreds of local volunteers rewarded. This project represents what York’s communities can achieve when we work together towards a shared goal.” Cllr Jenny Kent, Executive Member for Environment and Climate Change, York City Council.

Pictured: From left: Martin Hugi (Woodland Trust, Sponsor), Paul McCabe, Jenny Kent, Nick Short and  Jess Coope from York Community Woodland with RFS President, Ben Herbert and  Hilary Allison (Judge)

In 2019 City of York Council pledged to plant 50,000 trees by March 2023 to help achieve Net Zero carbon by 2030. In 2020, it purchased 78ha of land on the city’s urban fringe to create a new community woodland for York. Extensive site assessment and stakeholder engagement led to a co-designed woodland vision and UKFS compliant woodland design plan.

Forestry England was selected as its woodland creation and management partner under Forestry England’s Woodland Partnership scheme.  The City of York Council is a member of the White Rose Forest which played a critical role in supporting the woodland’s early development.

Objectives include sequestration of residual carbon, enhancing biodiversity, improving the health and wellbeing of residents and providing new green jobs, skills development and volunteering opportunities.

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