'Fantastic' team revitalise area of north Essex with woodland scheme
PUBLISHED: 17:08 15 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:08 15 February 2019
Rural skills students have helped a local landowner with a devastating illness to create the wildlife haven of his dreams.
John, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, decided to buy a large plot of land including wooded areas at Halstead in north Essex in a bid to alleviate his symptoms.
He hoped to create a thriving woodland, but realised that it would be a difficult challenge because of the limitations of his condition.
MORE – Our land will continue to be farmed in future – but how? Farmers face Brexit dilemmas
He approached rural skills charity Abberton Rural Training (ART) and the Essex Rural Skills Project (ERSP), which is funded by the European Social Fund and Big Lottery Fund to help people aged 45-plus to get closer to the workplace.
As a result, the two bodies, based at Wormingford, near Colchester, set up Essex Rural Skills Woodland courses on site.
Their goal is to remove around 300 trees, and plant more than 3,000 on John’s land. The students are working under the guidance of a dedicated woodlands and conservation tutor, who is teaching them about woodland management.
John joins the students when he is able, and is thoroughly enjoying the company and the results, she said.
“When I saw the place, I fell in love with it, and didn’t realise just how much work it would take to transform the land into something amazing both for me and the local wildlife,” he said.
“There is no way I could ever have done this by myself. The team are fantastic – hard working and a joy to be around. I will never move from this place and as I look at it every day in the years to come, I will be eternally grateful to all the people who have helped me turn my dream of a life in the beautiful countryside into a reality.
“It really is a win-win situation for us all. It is great to know that they are gaining so much from being here, and I am too. I am happy to have more the award-winning ART charity, said the project had been beneficial for both sides.”
Jacqui Stone, chief executive of ART, which was founded in 2014, said the project was going ‘great guns’ and the students loved being at the location.
“It is wonderful that we have been able to work with John to help him work towards creating the woodland that he dreamed about, and make so much improvement to the natural habitat at the same time,” she said.
“The students come back beaming from being here, and they are all gaining so much from this joint working and getting a real opportunity to make a difference, from all sides, makes it so positive for all.”
During the last academic year, 72% of ART participants had a registered disability. It also supports people who are lonely, and in many cases severely isolated and vulnerable.
Despite all the setbacks in their lives, more than 85% of participants have moved into further education, training, employment, volunteering and/or self-employment after attending the courses, the charity said.
ERSP has supported many vulnerable people, including those with drug and alcohol issues and the homeless. The aim of both projects is to help people to make better choices and turn their lives around.
ART’s initial funding came from a regulatory obligation or Section 106 requirement imposed on Essex and Suffolk Water Company as part of the establishment of the Abberton Reservoir.
The water company agreed to provide an education centre, and partnered up with Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, Rural Community Council of Essex, Essex Wildlife Trust and Writtle College to launch the scheme.
Rural Essex is estimated to have lost 400,000 young people over the last 20 years, and a number of its districts in mid and north Essex are far more rural than perceived, at around 72% rural for the whole of Essex, and mid and north Essex in the region of 85% to 92% rural depending on the district, ART points out.
The educational organisation delivers practical and skills training to residents of Essex and surrounding areas.
The charity says it is always struggling to find suitable woodlands to train people in, offering real life situations, and is currently seeking more sites, particularly in the Witham/Chelmsford areas, Uttlesford and Tendring.
It wants to help more groups to learn key skills, while also improving their mental health and other issues.