Community spirit in Wenhaston takes a bow as Blyth Wood's woodland project takes root
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:16 01 February 2017
(C)James Bass 2017
A virtually constant procession of traffic rumbles north and south on the A12 through Blythburgh, near Southwold, with the stunning Blyth Estuary and the village's "Cathedral of the Marshes", the imposing, impressive Holy Trinity Church, being familiar sights for the millions of passers-by.
While the estuary, with its teeming birdlife and eye-catching beauty, stretches away to the east, to the west lies the often unnoticed, frequently under-rated and little-visited Blyth Valley. Beside the busy road is a vast expanse of valley-floor grazing marsh criss-crossed by reed-fringed ditches, the valley sides gently, almost imperceptibly, rising in the distance.
In the heart of this valley land is the small village of Wenhaston – the home of the community involvement project that is steadily taking root and flourishing four years after the seed was sown.
The “acorn” of the Blyth Woods project began sprouting in the closing months of the environmentally innovative Wenhaston Energy Support Group when villagers decided to create wildlife “corridors” in their area to connect habitats and so help species expand their range and thrive. More ambitiously, the villagers dreamed of establishing a community woodland where young and old could have the chance to connect with nature.
While the search was on for a suitable site, Blyth Woods devotees set about building community support and involvement. A tree nursery was established at Wenhaston Primary School, producing saplings that have been planted around the village to help natural connectivity, while at the same time inspiring a love of nature in many of the village’s children.
Now, after a huge village fundraising and awareness-raising effort, there is a strong feeling that the community wood dream will become reality.
On a dreary, wet January day an enthusiastic band of Year 5 and Year 6 pupils from the school, together with teachers, parents and Blyth Woods volunteers, trudged into the muddy middle of Grove Piece, a 2.28-acre field for which the project has been awarded a Licence to Occupy - and which Blyth Woods is edging closer and closer to buying.
Twenty oak saplings from the school’s tree nursery were planted for the project by the pupils. Teacher Analisa Dekker said: “It’s a cold and wet day but no-one is moaning or groaning – being involved in the Blyth Woods project is something all the school enjoys and the children gain a lot from it.”
Project steering group member John Rolfe said the initiative’s support from the Greenlight Trust and its link-up with the school and the wider community was helping it towards its aims. Volunteer support had been “outstanding” with a total of about 2,500 volunteer-hours amassed in the past two years.
He added: “There is a four-bed tree nursery in the school grounds where reception children plant acorns they have collected locally. Year 1 and Year 2 pupils weed and mulch the tree nursery, learning what trees need to grow well and identifying trees from leaf shapes. Years 3 and 4 pupils take part in activities such as bug hotel building or spotting tracks and trails to help their understanding of ecosystems and food chains. Years 5 and 6 plant the oak saplings into the locality – and here we are at Grove Piece. It’s a rolling programme that each of the school’s 84 pupils have at least one woodland-based activity each year.”
Grove Piece was adjacent to the slightly larger Vicarage Wood, a coppiced-in-part area where oak, ash, hornbeam and hazel grew, and the result of the hoped-for Blyth Woods purchase would be a contiguous woodland block that was highly beneficial to wildlife, Mr Rolfe said.
Ann Edwards, who chairs the Blyth Woods project, said the initiative had been offered the chance to buy Grove Piece by its owner, the Town Estate Church Charity, with the farmer who had been cultivating the site relinquishing his lease. Under the renewable Licence to Occupy Blyth Woods had instigated a management plan for the site and fundraising was approaching its target.
“The Blyth Valley is a beautiful area – it’s quiet and off the beaten track,” she added. “It’s quite unspoilt and hasn’t got a major road running through it. It’s maintained its character and we are trying to help its wildlife. Hopefully, in due course, we will have a nice woodland area here that people can enjoy over the years to come – we want to leave an additional wild space as a legacy for the future.”
The project has been given a major boost by a matched-funding offer of £7,500 from Essex & Suffolk Water. Other amounts secured include £2,000 from the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s Suffolk Secrets Fund and £1,000 from local county councillor Michael Gower. A recently established Friends scheme has raised about £1,500 and other funding applications are in the pipeline. So far about £19,500 has been raised – and an additional sum of about £3,000 is still needed.
Further information about Blyth Woods is available through links on the website wenhaston.onesuffolk.net