Planning a woodland site is really rewarding, and every new site and new year poses it’s own unique challenges. Sadly 2021 is no exception...

By Jo Roberts ǀ Community Engagement Officer, Forest of Marston Vale

Because of national lockdown restrictions, this will be the first year in a long time that we won’t be able to hold any of our popular public tree planting events. Instead we’ll be working with trusted contractors to get trees planted, and taking all necessary precautions to be operating safely and within the government guidelines.

Our planning, however, has largely remained the same – it’s a process we’ve tweaked over many years, using the expertise of everyone in our team. A huge amount of work goes on behind-the-scenes even before the project reaches my desk, and this is done by James our Forest Director (and expert on all things Forest).

First, we have to identify areas of land which are available through constant dialogue with local landowners. James will look at the options and work with a various specialists to commission surveys and studies to assess the suitability our chosen plot, e.g. soil surveys, landscape analysis, Environmental Impact Assessments, any archaeological considerations… This can often throw up some interesting (and challenging!) results, and will ultimately inform a lot of our planning around what gets planted where (and why). These studies, the results and our plans will then go to the Forestry Commission for review.

We also go through a consultation process with partners – invested organisations and statutory bodies like Historic England, the Local Authority, the Internal Drainage Board, the Highways and Rights of Way team, amongst others – where we invite them to comment on our draft plans. This opens up discussions and gives us chance to address any concerns or make any necessary adjustments in plenty of time.

Another vital step is a public consultation, which is our opportunity to tell local people what we’re planning – it’s really important to us that we get their input on the process. Often this stage of planning throws up interesting things about the site, like local information that we may not have been aware of (for example, historic local names of the site). It’s also where we get to find out about what it is about that site that people might already value, and what people would like to use the new woodland for: horse riding, dog walking, cycling etc. I’ll also specifically ask people adjacent to the new site for their feedback and comments, as they will be our new neighbours!

Once these have been completed and plans approved by the Forestry Commission, we get to the logistics of planning the public tree planting day…                                                    

Once we have chosen the date, the first thing I always start with is logistics. I’ll contact our transport provider - getting hundreds of people to site can be interesting! – and sometimes I’ll go with one of their staff to the site so that they can see the route, and identify any issues they might have with getting the big double deckers there. Once they’re happy with the route we start looking at timings, to try to make sure people can get to and leave the site at regular intervals, and aren’t waiting around for too long.

Once the timings of the day are roughly planned I’ll let our communication and reception team know the date, so that we can starting telling visitors and publish the information on our website and they know to expect big crowds - remember them…?!

My next task is facilities: I’ll book the portaloos (absolutely essential!), and our refreshments provider - we use the fantastic John, who runs ‘S And J Bars’. He brings a trailer, all the kit to knock out lovely coffee and hot chocolate on the day and seating for our hard workers. Often I’ll do a site visit  in advance, again to identify any issues he might have getting the trailer on to site. In addition to this I usually also book a marquee to use for information.

Finally I’ll work with our comms team to get leaflets printed (sustainably, of course!) and arrange for volunteers to do leaflet drops around the local area. I’ll let the local Parish Council know, so that they can advertise (and also make people aware that the village might be busy in some areas on the day). I also send the information about the event to every outlet we have in the Forest – village Facebook pages, newsletters etc. I’ll also do more specific letters to people living along the road that foot traffic or buses are likely to be accessing: apologising for any inconvenience, asking them to get in touch with me if they have any comments, and letting them know we hope they’ll join us to create the new woodland on their doorstep!

Then I'll order the trees, do a tool audit and start gathering any materials, and eagerly wait for the day to arrive…!

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Jo will be writing another blog about what happens on tree planting day - be sure to sign up to our newsletter to find out about updates.

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