Did you know that everyone in England lives within 30 minutes of a public access woodland? This Christmas, why not go and enjoy the woodlands – they’re more than just a walk, or a source of wood fuel for your biomass boiler. We’ve got some advice for things to do associated with all things wood, wooden and Christmassy.
- Well it’s not too late: if you’re stuck for a last minute Christmas present, make a donation to the Woodland Trust to replant new trees. Just the right sort of thing for the person who has everything and an environmental conscience.
- The simplest and easiest thing to do is to go for a walk in a woodland, and burn off some of those Christmas calories. The more energetic and enthusiastic can also cycle, orienteer, or simply run and jog in the forests and woodlands too. The Forestry Commission website has a vast range of details concerning your nearest woodlands, and the things you can do, ranging from easy and fun things that young families can undertake, to more demanding challenges that those with more energy to burn can push themselves on. See your regional Forestry Commission Area website for details. Also, take a look at their Tree Identification Guide to identify trees as well.
- What about visiting woodlands at night? In open areas at night times and away from the glare of city and town lights, they can be great places to observe the night sky. You don’t need a telescope, or to be a Patrick Moore; the naked eye or a pair of good hand held binoculars (10x50) will be quite sufficient. For a simple start, download a Star and Planet Map from the internet to get you going. It’s not just the moon there is to see. Identify the very bright object in the early evening in the western sky that’s currently visible, for instance. Also, find the pole star and see if you can navigate by it. If you stay still for long enough, you may also be lucky enough to get a glimpse of a shooting star before you return to the warmth of your biomass boiler.
- It’s not just the Forestry Commission that has public access woodland. Look at the Woodland Trust and National Trust websites too. The National Trust also has a range of activities at the properties associated with the woodland on estates; and there’ll be a handy tearoom too for when it’s about that time, as Winnie the Pooh would say. And on that theme, a walk in a forest with a river or stream is an obvious place to play pooh sticks or float small boats made from twigs and leaves.
- Test your map and compass skills by navigating through or around a forest and woodland. With children planning and preparing for events such as the Ten Tors or Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition, it’s a valuable lesson to be aware that Forest Tracks and layouts on the map aren’t necessarily those on the ground. Forests and woodlands are living, managed environments and changing all the while, so learn to be aware of this!
- Sport and activity is not just for Christmas, try a new forest or woodland sport and support the Olympic legacy. Archery has seen a real surge in popularity since the 2012 Olympics. There are variants of this family inclusive sport that are very suitable to woodlands (in organised groups only!) such as field archery (simulated hunting) and roving marks and clout archery. These old and traditional forms of archery remain popular and are great fun. Have an introductory taster session for archery at your local Archery GB registered club and learn to shoot safely.
- If woodlands really take your interest, learn a woodland craft or skill. Take a look at centres such as the Green Wood Centre offering courses in woodland management and in making wooden products and goods, including both a longbow from Ash (suitable for Number 5) and a coracle. There is an ever-growing and endless variety of courses available in every region. There are also courses in forest archaeology.
- If you’ve had a real Christmas tree this year, if it’s a living tree make sure you re-pot it and set it in the garden ready for next year with a suitable feed and compost top-up, including a bit of biomass boiler boiler heating system ash (which doesn’t really constitute cannibalism; doesn’t apply to a plant) for good measure. If it’s a non-living cut tree, make sure you take it to your local recycling centre for composting.
- Plan to go back – visit the Forest throughout the year and look at the changing scenery. You can also find out more about other forest and woodland events too, such as live forest concerts.
- And if you do go to a woodland, please leave only footprints, take only pictures , your own rubbish and good memories home with you.
Plan B. Always have a backup plan if the weather is bad, so Plan B is to go and visit something indoors made of wood. Try the new Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth – even the museum is clad in wood. It has to be one of the best museums around, and is fun and interesting for all ages.
So, a starter for ideas, and a by no means inexhaustible list! We seem to be making more of our woodland and forest resources, in an ever more novel variety of ways. Using our woodland in every sense of the word all helps to keep them in management and ecological balance. Even our footprints and kicking up fallen leaves help to turn over the undergrowth and stir up bugs and insects for birds and animals to eat.
Our forests and woodlands were once thriving centres of industry and food production. As we rediscover them for both their leisure and economic value, we add to the drive and support necessary to keep them as part of both our heritage and our economy. With as much woodland cover as we had in the middle ages, there has never been a better time to get out and enjoy what a woodland has to offer. And what better to go home to a real wood fire, or even better still – wood fuel heating.