16 Feb 2010

Woodfuel project in Randwick woods

Well our hopes to have a wood fuel project in Randwick are moving ahead - 8 of us met recently one very snowy night at the Vine Tree - 14 more have expressed interest but snow and ice prevented any car movements that night. We hope to set up a group that meets monthly to cut wood for use at home. The details are still being worked out but in the meantime I have been given permission to post here details of two proposals that were put together by a different wood fuel group in Stroud.

Photos: First pic taken as leaving pub after meeting and pics of Randwick woods - or rather Standish Woods as they are properly known as....

The Stroud group had two proposals that I think could be useful models for others. There is also a Transition Minchinhampton group that works on the Common with the National Trust - see here - they work to help improve the area but also take some wood away in return for their labour. By all accounts this is also a great project but more casual in that folk don't turn up every month.

Anyway I've edited the Stroud groups' notes to remove names and particular details as they requested. First up is a pilot proposal for a Community Wood Fuel Project in a private wood followed by more details about how the project developed. The second proposal is for a Pilot Proposal to the National Trust that wasn't pursued due to the success of the other proposal.

1. Community Wood Fuel Project in a private wood

Aims of the Community Wood Fuel Project
The project is intended to benefit both community members and the woodland owners, a local college, by sensitive extraction of firewood from the woodlands. The main aims are to:
* provide an opportunity for local households to cut their own firewood at low cost
* reduce fuel miles
* supply firewood for college
* maintain and improve the woodland landscape around the college on a sustainable basis

Pilot Project
A small-scale, half-day pilot session is suggested, as it will bring to light many of the practical and administrative issues that could arise in a longer term project. Six households will be recruited, each of which will need to provide one 'worker'. In return for a session fee of £10 per household, they will be entitled to a share of the wood that is cut and hauled to the road. A share will be set aside for the woodland owners, which will also receive the session fees. For the pilot, a qualified chainsaw operator will operate the chainsaw and provide a tractor, trailer and tools for the volunteers.

This first session will focus mainly on wood that has already been cut down, which will otherwise rot with no benefit to anyone. Future sessions would focus on coppicing or thinning of mature trees (to allow the woodland to regenerate) and the volunteers will be required to re-plant where appropriate. Cut wood will be hauled by tractor and trailer to the access road and volunteers will be responsible for moving from there to their homes and storing it. Volunteers will also be responsible for moving the landowners share to an on-site store.
Health & Safety
The college will give a compulsory health and safety talk to volunteers and will cover the project with its volunteer insurance policy. Only the college staff member will be allowed to use a chainsaw. Households can bring children to the session but only if they can provide a second adult who will be responsible for their care full time. Children will not be permitted into the actual work area while there is work in progress.

Project gets established
The College Wood Fuel Project started in 2008. It is a community-based group which uses voluntary input to harvest fuel on a sustainable basis for wood-burning stoves in the Stroud area. There is a maximum of 12 members, of which 8 - 10 typically attend work sessions. These are held each month (except July & August) and members pay £40 pa to cover the costs of chainsaw use, depreciation of equipment etc. There is an additional fee of £5 for each session where wood is taken home (some sessions focus on preparation, replanting etc). The wood is shared equally amongst those attending and, because of the voluntary labour, is generally worth substantially more than the total fee. A share is also provided for the College.

Benefits of the project
1. Sustainable energy supply: wood is harvested from the College's woodlands at a rate that can be replaced by regeneration and fuel miles are very low, as members live close by. Since CO2 equivalent to that released by burning is recaptured in new growth, net carbon emissions are very low. (From the wood itself they are zero; some net emissions result from vehicle and chainsaw use but at a much lower level than conventional domestic heating systems or industrialised wood fuel supplies.)
2. Woodland management and biodiversity: the project works in accordance with a woodland management plan which includes coppicing, replanting and removal of invasive species such as laurel and sycamore, all of which encourages diversity of native species and maintains the interest of the College woodlands - and their value as a teaching resource.
3. Woodland skills: participants are learning a variety of woodland management skills including species recognition, felling, coppicing, planting and axemanship.
4. Community building: the project is valued for its social aspects as well as for the fuel supply and has already expanded its membership. The low cost of participation and net savings on fuel expenditure means that it is open to households on low incomes.
5. Personal fitness: cutting and hauling firewood is physically demanding outdoor work which, with sensible health and safety precautions, improves personal fitness and wellbeing.
6. Replicability: The approach could be used as a model (with modifications, if necessary) in other woodlands.

Details of wood
Area: approx 5 hectares. Woodland type: NVC W12 Fagus sylvatica - Mercurialis perennis. Altitudinal limits: 110-170 metres. Status: AONB. General description: A horseshoe shaped woodland on sloping ground around the main house at the College. The southern/ south-eastern arm is quite steep and is mainly older beech (100+ years) with some encroachment of sycamore and ash. There is some understorey of box, hazel and yew, quite dense in places. There is little ground flora due to the shading. Moving northward there is slightly more sycamore (40-80 years) and an area of yew with laurel understorey, and some elder where light permits. Moving to the northern arm there is younger plantation on more level ground. This was planted in the early 60s after clearfelling and is beech with larch as a nurse crop. There is a fair quantity of ash, elm and sycamore as well. Closest to the buildings there is a group of yew. There is more ground flora here including dogs mercury and ramsones. Soil: Thin calcareous soils on Cotswold brash, getting more clayey further down the slope Land use: In the past few decades there has been minimal management - mainly clearing windblown or dangerous trees, or clearing undergrowth. The beech trees planted in the 60s have in places been overgrown by the larch nurse crop. The wood surrounds the main house and borders organic farm land on the inner part of the horseshoe and has conventionally farmed land on the outside of the horseshoe. A short distance to the north is further woodland. Access is possible from the track along the northern boundary as well as from the field on the inner part of the horseshoe. Evaluation: The woodland is extremely important on a very local level. For the college itself the wood as a backdrop and resource for tranquil relaxation is invaluable. The wood is fairly visible from further away and is close to Stroud and used by many walkers. No rare or unusual species were found, but the wood's value in it being a fairly representative local woodland. Its value for the college would be increased through further firewood production.

Management aim
To maintain a broadleaved semi-natural woodland that produces firewood and occasional boards, whilst ensuring the peaceful woodland atmosphere and quality is not compromised.

Management objectives
Primary objectives:
To maintain a beautiful accessible woodland
To maintain beech high forest in soutern/ south-eastern arm
To instate system of coppice with standards to replace young plantation in northern arm
Secondary objectives:
To provide informal, low impact public recreation.
To provide firewood for college
To allow the running of the local firewood co-op.

No rights of way are present in the woodland. Vehicular access is difficult to the south/ south-eastern arm. There are certain areas where work should be minimised in order to maintain the atmosphere around the house and the meditation centre.
Resources: The firewood co-operative could be developed to carry out a certain amount of work. Further fund-raising/grant application by the College may result in further resources.

Primary - General: Favouring a variety of appropriate native species of different ages and different management principles
In southern/ south-eastern arm: Selective thinning, mainly of sycamore to maintain beech, encourage natural regeneration of beech and allow some light to the ground. Control of the understorey to reasonable levels. Will include clearing/thinning some yew/holly/box
In northern arm: Clearfelling very small coupes of plantation and replanting with coppice - mainly hazel but utilising ash and elm regrowth.
Area around centre: Some thinning and clearing to maintain a natural amenity woodland.
Yew trees adjoining buildings: To maintain.
Secondary - To maintain existing paths through the woodland
Felled wood to be processed for firewood

Sessions and payments reviewed
We will plan for 10 monthly half-day sessions, with no meetings in July & August. Sessions will normally be held on the second Sunday of the month and will run from 10am - 1pm. (But the June session will be on 21st.). In deciding a payment structure, we tried to satisfy three requirements:
* ensuring that the chainsaw operators are adequately recompensed;
* using payments as a way of establishing commitment;
* ensuring fairness by creating an incentive for people to turn up on days when no wood will be taken, as well as days when it is.
The decision we reached is that all members (except chainsaw operators) should pay an annual 'joining fee' of £40 in advance plus a further £5 on days when wood is taken.
The money collected in advance would be used to pay each chainsaw operator £20 for each session. Any surpluses arising could be used to make additional payments to the chainsaw operators, cover deficits, buy equipment or put in the beer kitty.
The £40 advance payment would be required by the next session (21st June). Where the payment is not made within a reasonable time, that person's place would be offered to someone else.

Plan review
Due to this being the first plan for some time, it will be reviewed in 2012 by all parties.

2. Stroud Community Wood Fuel Project - Pilot Proposal to National Trust

Aims of the Stroud Community Wood Fuel Project
The project is still in the early stages of development but, when up and running, is intended to benefit both its membership and local landowners by sensitive extraction of firewood from land that is not suitable for commercial forestry. This will be managed so as to enhance the conservation value of the land whilst supplying members with free (or low-cost) firewood with very low 'fuel miles'.

Pilot Project with the National Trust
A small-scale one-day pilot scheme is likely to bring to light many of the practical and administrative issues associated with this kind of project and therefore seems a sensible first step. The National Trust (NT) has substantial holdings of forestry land in the vicinity of Stroud, much of which is of limited commercial value, due to access difficulties and the NT's conservation objectives. The pilot will focus on NT woodland at Ebworth. This is predominantly native broadleaf on steep hillsides, with some problem species, and particularly sycamore. The project will involve felling of sycamores and their removal for firewood, bringing the following benefits:
For NT
* Removal of an invasive species, with consequent improvement of the conservation value of the land
* Involvement of local people with the land and activities of the NT
For community members
* Greater understanding of woodland conservation and forestry practice
* Access to free (or low-cost) wood fuel
* Use of a local and renewable fuel resource

Practical Arrangements
For the pilot project only, based on previous discussions, the proposed arrangement is that NT will provide access to its land, a qualified chainsaw operator, volunteers' insurance cover, safety instruction and appropriate tools and protective equipment. The Wood Fuel Project will provide a small (say, 6 - 10) group of able bodied, responsible adults and the transport necessary for taking away the firewood. If all the cut wood cannot be removed that day, it would be helpful to keep open the possibility of a return visit to collect it.
Initially at least, it would be helpful to target trees that are reasonably close to access roads and preferably uphill from these if the land is steep. It may be sensible not to select some older trees in order to avoid complications with possible bat roosts.
The most suitable time would probably be a Saturday or Sunday morning in September. This will allow time to set up the group and complete any paperwork required. It will also take the pilot well clear of the nesting season. For the pilot at least, no payments are envisaged between NT and the project.

Next Steps
The following actions will be required to progress the pilot project.
* NT to comment on this proposal and request any amendments or clarifications
* NT to meet again with the project representative and to visit potential work sites
* Project to recruit a suitable group of volunteers
* Project to arrange for transport of the wood from site
* NT and project to agree date for pilot work day

Follow up
If the pilot work day is successful, it is likely that NT and the project will meet again to consider terms for an ongoing arrangement. Issues such as safety, insurance and transport are likely to need particular attention.

Big thanks to Nigel Westaway for sharing his work on these projects.

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