2020, what a year!

What a year it’s been! Undoubtedly a tremendously challenging one for all, but we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the amazing achievements of our volunteers and staff team this year.  Global pandemics aside, Tortworth Forest Centre has gone from strength to strength in 2020, and it’s only been possible thanks to the support and dedication of our volunteers.  Thanks for sticking with us!

Back in January when most of us hadn’t even heard of Covid, we started the year with a bang. The National Lottery Heritage Fund granted us £100k for a two year Woodland Heritage Project.  This enabled us to expand our team, and our capacity for what we do. Amy, Debbie, Syreeta and Christie have joined Bec, Jake, and Gary, allowing us to engage more volunteers, participants and visitors in our work, shout a bit louder about what we do, and make loads of progress on site restoring and managing the arboretum.

Of course, Covid threw some spanners in along the way – we’ve had to cancel groups, volunteer days and events. We got quite behind on crucial site management tasks in the spring. But thanks to our amazing volunteers who came back buzzing with enthusiasm at the first opportunity, we caught up with everything, and more!  Despite the spanners, so much as been achieved this year – here are some highlights:

The roundhouse

Those of you that have been involved for a while will remember the more rudimentary shelters we’ve had in the past: a parachute hung between trees, a tarpaulin on an ‘A’ frame. Well this year we’re really going up in the world. We built our very own open-sided (at least for now) roundhouse, with a real (green) roof and a dry firepit!  It’s big enough for a socially-distanced group of volunteers to shelter in when it’s raining. And really expands the potential for hosting groups and events at the site in all weather.

The wood store

You may have noticed when you visit the arboretum that the fire is always going, and the kettle is always on! Even in the summer months the fire creates a certain atmosphere in the woods that we really like, and we try to offer hot drinks and cooked food when we can.  Luckily, being in a woodland, we are never short of fuel for the fire, but we were lacking a decent, covered store to season it in and keep it dry.  Our Tuesday group has recently built a sturdy, roofed, three-compartment store, and worked tirelessly to fill it. They gathered logs from all over the site, and one volunteer brought in a hydraulic wood splitter to make light work of processing the logs.

Site management

We started the year with great momentum, building on an impressive amount of clearing. Strong winds led to a number of trees coming down, including some large oaks, which we had barely begun to process when lockdown began.

The arboretum we returned to after lockdown was much wilder than we had seen it for some time, without regular clearance bracken and bramble were quickly taking over. Our volunteers came through once again and gradually got things back in order, clearing pathways and rescuing key areas.

With the main pathways now firmly established, elsewhere on the site we began the process of creating new secondary pathways, enabling visitors to explore new areas and get closer to more specimen trees. There was also a lot of effort put into building bridges, installing new steps and maintaining existing access.

We continued our veteran tree management, ensuring our oldest trees have enough light and room to breath. We also had our first attempts at seed collection, with the hope to propagate new trees from existing specimens.

Tree planting

Thanks to our grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this year we have been able to put more focus into planting. As such we have had lots of clearing work to do, preparing new sites. We began planting at our Autumn open day and continued with volunteers throughout October and November, planting 11 new trees and shrubs, including a new red oak, large-leaved magnolia, witch hazel and mock orange (read more in our recent blog post). More planting to come next year!

The Hawthorn Project

The Hawthorn Project started as a pilot 5 years ago and is now in its second year of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. We sadly had to stay home for the summer term, posting nature based craft ideas each week to our participants. But we came back to the woods in September with a group of new and returning women, to learn about woodland crafts, campfire cooking, mindfulness, nature connection, and of course a good cup of tea and a toasted crumpet. The project goes from strength to strength and there is a wonderful sense of support, compassion and joy in the group. We ended the term with a Christmas dinner cooked on the fire, crackers, music and celebration of what we have achieved. 

SGS College volunteers

Our HLF grant allowed us to run 4 educational sessions this year. A tutor from SGS College Filton attended one of or open days, and from that meeting we started a partnership with the college. Seven of their students came and volunteered with us this Autumn, to build employability skills and their CVs. They worked so hard, many of them having never done anything remotely like this before. They learnt how to safely use various tools, and gathered logs to saw and split, built a play platform for the goats, cleared our lane of leaves, undercut rhododendron, built a bug hotel, and cleared wingnut saplings. It was a shame we could only do 4 sessions!

Covid-secure events

Like so many venues and organisations, we had to cancel lots of events this year to comply with regulations and keep our staff, volunteers and visitors safe. We were pleased to get creative about new ways to allow people to enjoy the site, and ran a series of socially-distanced open days in the summer. These provided safe and quiet opportunities for visitors to explore the woods.  We were delighted in October to be able to run a Bat & Moth Night in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, and follow that with our annual Autumn Open Day with Tree Planting – perhaps our most successful event yet.  We are starting to plan a calendar of events for next year, Covid-permitting.