With the arrival of Spring just around the corner, and our focus honing in on the sap season, the woodlands will be a crucial setting over the next few months for Buck & Birch.
We sat down with our good friend, Neville Kilkenny - the woodland project manager out at Gifford, to ask him some important questions about the impact we are having on the woodland itself.
Tell us about yourself....and the woodland
The woodland is 22 hectares of predominantly broadleaved, of semi-natural origin and was purchased in 2017 by The Gifford Community Land Company on behalf of the local community. Grants from the Scottish Land Fund supported the purchase, although 5% of the purchase price was raised from within the community. After extensive consultation it was agreed that as a community we wanted to care for, learn from and share our woodland and stated that our long-term vision was to create “a restored native woodland supporting broad biodiversity which is an asset to the local community for leisure, health and learning.”
Part of the funding applied for was to cover the cost of a project manager to oversee the first few years of community ownership.
My background is in Mycology, and I saw the woodland project as an opportunity to investigate the challenges of woodland and conservation management, particularly from the perspective of the fungi. Conservation ambitions and targets require a fine balance of resources both financially and practically.
I find my role very interesting and constantly challenging, but it also gives me the opportunity to work with some fantastic partners, contractors, and funders.
How does Buck & Birch currently fit in with the woodland? What benefit does it bring?
Buck & Birch contribute to the woodland project on all three targets of our mandate to care for, learn from and share our woods. Managing a non-commercial woodland has specific challenges, where health and well-being, recreational, and environmental benefits outweigh commercial timber productivity. Although some revenue can be realised through sale of wind fall trees and safety work, the woodland is mainly dependant on financial support from within the community through its friends’ scheme and realising the value of the woodlands non-timber forest products. By donating to the woodland in return for tapping birch trees for sap, Buck & Birch provide useful extra income to pay for conservation work. From Buck & Birch led foraging events the community learn about the value of other non-timber forest products. Buck & Birch wilderness inspired catering at our AGM, enables us to share our woodlands in greater depth as our community literally can taste their woodland!
How does the community benefit?
Financial assistance is vital now that the woodland project extends beyond its funded phase. Conservation work which includes managing invasive rhododendron, storm damage, and plant disease such as ash dieback, requires financial, material and labour resources. Buck & Birch have supported us with donations to pay for volunteer organisations to carry out this kind of work, they have volunteered for conservation work and also supplied native primroses to supplement and bolster the wildflowers within the woodland.
What are the challenges of maintaining and running a community woodland?
Community projects have their own specific challenges as they inherently need to reflect the vision and goals of all the community rather than a chosen few. Some community members feel very protective of their woodland and are averse to change or more widespread use, others believe the woodland should be shared with a broader community and would like to see more things happening, engaging with a greater diversity of woodland users, such as elder and younger people and community members with specific needs. Managing the woodland sensitively with all those views in mind can be difficult, particularly as some management interventions can appear quite intrusive. Fund raising opportunities are also limited without changing the intimate nature of the woodland.
How does working with Buck & Birch help?
As already indicated, sensitive realisation of the value of our non-timber forest product resources helps us pay to care for our woods. Working with Buck & Birch also gives us opportunities to learn from and celebrate our woodland.
How did you start working with Buck & Birch?
As with most working friendships and partnerships in the woodland project, it all began with a walk in the woods!
Do you like working with Buck & Birch?
I particularly like working with the Buck & Birch team as they consistently demonstrate how much they appreciate and care for the woodland, not only in the ethos of their products but also in the way that they underpin the harvest of our birch sap with careful monitoring of the health of the trees, potentially developing the first ever model for tapping birch trees sustainably. It feels a very natural partnership to the woodland project, as they are aways aware of the impact of their relationship with the woodland and with the community.
And finally...what is your favourite Buck & Birch product?
Birch, of course!