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The Comedy of Errors

An Ancient Woodland Campaigner in Notts

5 November 18 illustrations: Alex McDougall

"I always knew I wanted a job in the environmental sector, but to be honest I didn’t know this job role was even a thing. I kind of fell into it."

Some people out there probably just think of us as hippies, tree-huggers, or NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). But we need to see beyond the “trees are nice” concept. Woods and trees make a massive contribution towards our everyday life: they provide oxygen and take in carbon dioxide, they filter air pollutants, they provide shade and shelter, and they provide homes for wildlife. Really, we’d be lost without them.

There are always naysayers, but some people do recognise the important work that conservation organisations like The Woodland Trust do. We play a vital role in holding developers to account, and ensure that the UK’s valuable habitats and wildlife aren’t just being ridden roughshod over by new development.

I come across people from all walks of life: from friendly-but-exasperated local people fed up with their local woods and trees being lost, to consultants who publicly pride themselves on being good at getting planning permission for developments within ancient woodland. So the good, the bad and the ugly, really.

The worst part of my job is losing campaigns, or developers getting their way, which basically means ancient woods or trees end up getting destroyed. It’s pretty devastating when a developer gets their plans approved for a sand quarry within twenty hectares of ancient woodland. It’s crazy that some people think it’s acceptable for centuries’ worth of natural history to be lost for a commodity like sand.

We’re currently working on over 750 live threats to ancient woods, so it takes a lot of work for our team to keep track of how everything is doing and to make sure we’re not missing any new threat cases. We’ve already had a huge achievement in influencing a change in planning policy to give ancient woodland better protection. Ideally, developers should be working with local communities to ensure their woods are protected rather than doing the bare minimum, as is current practice.

A typical day is always a juggling act. I’m not the best organiser of my time, but I make it work somehow. Mostly, I’m identifying whether developments going through the planning process would impact on ancient woods and trees, and engaging with local planning authorities to ensure developers are respecting the woodland and not causing damage or loss to these habitats. After that, it’s writing blogs, record-keeping, looking after current campaigns, and providing advice to the general public who are concerned about their local woods being under threat from local councils or developers.

Developers should be working with local communities to ensure their woods are protected rather than doing the bare minimum, as is current practice

I love it when I get to visit the ancient woods or trees under threat from development. It’s a bit of a weird one walking around some awesome wood, and at the same time being acutely aware that it could be trashed in a couple of years’ time. But generally, it leaves me more inspired to protect it.

I always knew I wanted a job in the environmental sector, but to be honest I didn’t know this job role was even a thing. I kind of fell into it. After uni, I moved back to my family home and started volunteering with the Woodland Trust while doing bar work. After six months, I left to get myself in to a better paid job, but was pretty miserable doing those bits and pieces.

My previous mentor at The Woodland Trust eventually got in touch to say that she was going on maternity leave and that the Trust were looking for cover on a one-year contract. I applied, got the job, and was offered a full-time role at the end of the contract. I’m glad to have found this job; it’s definitely inspired my interest in trees to the point that I’m now juggling work with a professional diploma in arboriculture, which is the study of trees.

I’ve got to know a pretty big wood in Staffordshire that’s going to be largely destroyed by High Speed 2. It’s in a totally rural area and is surrounded by this stereotypical but beautiful British dairy farm. It’s been really cool to visit regularly, and to take in the wildlife, fungi and spring flowers that I never would’ve known about otherwise. The place has stuck with me.

I’d like to get out more and undertake more site visits. It gets a bit stuffy in the office at times, and it helps to be able to get out and soak in the wood you’re trying to protect. Currently, we rely on undertaking desktop assessments; unfortunately, as a charity, we simply don’t have the resources or capacity to visit every wood we’re campaigning for.

We’ve got quite a bit busier in the past year. Our team and our volunteer network have grown which means we’re now doing more work than ever. I’ve taken on more responsibility over the years and have become the go-to for our media work, which is something I really enjoy.

Recently, for our Tree Charter project, our team asked people to send in oak galls. When we opened the envelopes, the packs were full of insects, so our desks were covered with caterpillars and the like for a good few days. It’s never a dull one.

Woodland Trust website

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