Common Ground are working both locally in Dorset and nationally to widen engagement with trees and woodlands. The project will demonstrate the many inspiring ways that people are redefining woodland use around the country, and how important trees are to all communities. We want explore how community engagement can improve local biodiversity and social well-being.
Trees and woods offer great potential for rebuilding our wider relationship with nature, reinforcing local identity and sustaining wildlife. We need more trees to lock up carbon to ameliorate the effects of climate change, to help shade our towns and cities, to bring shelter and beauty to places, and we need a national debate about how, where and when this is going to happen.
The problems we face are varied. Domestically, ash dieback and other diseases and threats are on the increase. Often, the wrong sort of trees are often planted in inappropriate places, with lack of after care bringing loss and more carbon emission. And not everybody has the access or confidence to enjoy wooded landscapes. There is often scepticism about living close to big trees, indeed local authorities – London, Sheffield, etc. – often favour cutting trees down or the planting of small ornamental trees in our streets where once lofty trees were welcome. We import too many wood products and send great amounts to landfill that could be reused or recycled. Ancient woodland, community orchards and allotments are always under pressure from developers and councils for more car parks, quarries or housing, often using outdated arguments and false promises about economic growth.
Yet there is much to be hopeful about. Community woodland and social forestry initiatives are spreading all over the country at the moment. Wildlife conservation, wood fuel and timber for joinery are no longer the only reasons people are living closer to trees. Care in the community for the elderly, apprenticeships for the young, forest allotments, cooperative fuel initiatives, artistic practice, architectural education, Forest School, woodland permaculture: these are just some of the ways that individuals and communities all over the country are using woodlands today, improving biodiversity, creating new community spaces and bringing woodlands back into the everyday life of more people.