Wrapping up 2021, and our two year Woodland Heritage Project

Yesterday saw our last session of 2021, our final Tuesday volunteer day for the year, and of course the shortest day of the year. We got into the spirit of the season, and the solstice, by planting the last trees of the year, eating mince pies and making festive wreaths.  It also marked the conclusion of our Heritage Lottery Fund project which has come to an end after 2 years, and which we want to take this opportunity to celebrate.

In January 2020 we were awarded £100k by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a Woodland Heritage Project.  The grant has enabled us to manage the site for 2 years, and make significant improvements to it also; it has proved to be an exciting and significant chapter in Tortworth Forest Centre’s story, and the history of the Tortworth Arboretum, and has created a lasting legacy. We have engaged with more visitors than ever before, and continued to offer volunteer opportunities in the face of a global pandemic.  We now have a planting plan in place, and have begun planting trees and shrubs to ensure the survival of the tree collection for future generations. Thank you to everyone who has helped us achieve all of this!  

We’re working on a full project evaluation which we’ll share in the new year, but in the meantime we’re shouting about these achievements:

Site management

“The funding has allowed our vital restoration and management work to continue, reaching new goals in terms of areas under management, tree health, paths and interpretation, as well as greater understanding of the collection.”

Jake Stow, Collections Manager

Two years of active maintenance by our amazing volunteers has seen huge improvements to the health of our tree collection, and also the experience of visitors to the site.  We’ve made really good progress in improving accessibility by maintaining and creating paths, and carefully chosen key areas have been firstly cleared, and then successfully retained. 

We also worked with a consultant to produce a planting plan for the arboretum. It outlines a selection criteria for new trees and shrubs, to ensure new plantings maintain the arboretum’s unique treescape, as well as being practical in terms of site management.  We have been able to fully protect new trees and shrubs with fences to keep out deer, goats and rodents.

Our grant included a budget for tools, and new equipment such as scythes and splitting axes has greatly improved our capabilities for restoring and managing the site.  The tools, along with signage, and tree records and labels, are part of the legacy of the project that will benefit the organisation and visitors for many years to come.

Some highlights

  • We’ve created two new pathways
  • We’ve cleared and retained key areas using scythes
  • We’ve planted 32 new specimen trees and shrubs 
  • We’ve built a new wood store and have greater capability for processing firewood
  • We’ve installed a Welcome sign, 5 new tree information plaques, 13 tree numbers to correspond with our ‘Top Trees’ map, and an events notice board for visitors
  • We’ve migrated to a new numbering system for the tree collection, and re-labelled 50 trees
  • We’ve had initial success with seed collection and propagating from our existing trees


Our volunteers are the backbone of the arboretum restoration, and get involved with almost every aspect of it.  Over the course of the last two years our volunteer days have continued to grow in popularity and more and more people enquire about volunteering with us; over 90 people have volunteered their time to help restore and manage the arboretum. We’ve run 16 open-access Sunday volunteer days and 75 Tuesday volunteer days with a focus on mental health.  In 2020 we also ran 4 volunteer days for SEND students from SGS College Filton. We are proud that thanks to this grant we have been able to buy a minibus to run for all of our volunteer days and Open Days, enabling people in Bristol without their own transport to participate in volunteering activities.

Volunteer tasks have included –

  • Creating dead hedges for habitat and structure
  • Removing/undercutting invasive Rhododendron
  • Processing fallen trees and branches; processing wood for our new wood store
  • Clearing around specimen and veteran trees, allowing them access to light and space to grow
  • Bramble, bracken and bamboo management
  • Creating new pathways and maintaining the existing pathways
  • Repairing steps and bridges
  • Pulling invasive knotweed
  • Caring for our resident goats and maintaining their enclosure
  • Clearing new areas for events and for tree planting
  • Covering our new roundhouse with soil to create a living roof
  • Planting trees and shrubs and protecting with fencing; weeding and inspecting the plantings
  • Using ecology resources and iNaturalist to record and identify fauna and flora

It’s not just about the practical achievements though. Our volunteers have told us they feel great (both mentally and physically) for being in the woods and being active, that they’ve learnt new skills and knowledge, and that they love the sense of community and the feeling of doing something useful.

“I love being in the woods and the combination of physical exertion and natural mindfulness leaves me physically exhausted and mentally rejuvenated”

“[I volunteer] for mental and physical health as a catalyst to natural recovery, as well as the sense of well-being and camaraderie. I have a love of nature, and it gets me learning and taking part through the year, a sense of perspective.”


Throughout the pandemic we have taken great care to offer visitors opportunities to explore the arboretum that have fitted within Government restrictions, and have ensured the safety of all visitors, volunteers, and staff.  Despite the Covid-19 pandemic we held a total of 17 public events – 7 in 2020 and 10 in 2021.  In 2020 nearly 300 people attended our events, and in 2021 that rose to over 650 people.  

“There was a really warm welcome and the maps were great. I used to come where when I was little and it has changed so much. It is good to see so many new trees being planted. I’d love to think my kids might bring their kids here. I’ll definitely be coming back. Thank you for being open safely during lock down.”

We are proud that the overall visitor experience is improved, with better paths, better signage, and three different visitor maps available on site and on our website: ‘Top Trees’, ‘Seed Map’ and ‘Oak Map’.  We have been able to share events with more people having increased our audience on social media and our mailing lists, and gained more traffic to our website.  We’ve used our website to share information on our tree collection and the wildlife of the site.

“A brilliant time was had by all. What an amazing space and so nice to feel that you can access the woodland and feel so welcome.”

In response to visitor feedback, in 2021 we introduced Visitor Days – a regular opportunity for people to come and explore the arboretum using our new visitor maps.  We ran 6 of these, which along with our 4 Open Days meant we ran 10 monthly public events in 2021, from February to November.

Our final Open Day of the year was a real celebration of the season, our project, and the freedom from restrictions.  Our resident folk singer returned and dozens of people took part in community tree-planting.  Lots of people had a turn at axe-throwing, and we had drop-in Forest School activities available for all. Our staff led tree walks and heritage walks. It was our biggest Open Day to date, with over 200 people attending.

“An amazing afternoon spent in the woods 3 generations of us and we all loved it!”

Looking to the future

The end of our National Lottery Grant for Heritage marks the start of the next chapter for Tortworth Forest Centre. Thanks to the grant we have expanded our staff team, and the skills and knowledge that we have inhouse, and the site is looking better than we’ve ever seen it.  We are working hard to develop an events programme for 2022, and fundraising tirelessly to ensure the continuation of our volunteer days which will restart in January.  In the new year we hope to have a new Events Officer in post, and will share an exciting announcement about a new project for the next 12 months. We want the tree collection to continue to thrive, as well as the volunteers involved, and the people who visit.