The Story of the Nettleham Woodland Trust
Guest Post by: Chris Williams, Chairman of the Nettleham Woodland Trust
Our story starts in 2006 when two Nettleham neighbours in the appropriately named Beech Avenue were chatting about the shortage of trees in the area and agreed to try to do something about it. Nearly two decades later the Nettleham Woodland Trust (NWT) is continuing to prove that a small group of dedicated volunteers can make a big difference to the local environment, wildlife and the health and well-being of its community.
Lincolnshire is one of England’s largest and least densely populated counties. It is perhaps best known for its magnificent cathedral, once the tallest building in the world, and being the birthplace of Isaac Newton in whose garden a falling apple led to the theory of gravity.! It lies to the east of the remaining areas of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest while its North Sea coast is increasingly populated by windfarms. Today, Lincolnshire is noted for its big skies and “big agriculture” on the dark, rich soils of the Fens and its gently undulating hills, a maximum height of 551 feet at Wolds Top. At 4% tree coverage in Lincolnshire in 2021 is well below the national averages (U.K. 13.2% and England 10%), lower even than the national figure of 4.7% back in 1905!
Nettleham is an expanding commuter village just north of Lincoln. Its population has increased since the 1960s from about 1000 to 4128 in 2021. It is surrounded by arable land, but this is under constant pressure from developers keen to build more houses. Consequently, in its formative months, when the newly constituted NWT enquired as to whether any landowner would sell us land to plant some trees, we were quickly and firmly rebuffed. With an offer of financial support from a large retailer we later attempted to buy land at an auction, but the pockets of those who wanted to create paddocks for horses were much deeper.
These first ventures were disappointing, but it was an important period for creating strong foundations. We spoke to others who had made similar journeys in earlier years and visited their woodlands. From these insights, we devised a mission statement, wrote a constitution, registered as a charity, opened a bank account and established a pattern of monthly committee meetings and the required Annual General Meeting.
The long-term aims were to
- buy, lease or manage the land around Nettleham to plant trees, shrubs and meadowland for the future enjoyment of the people of Nettleham;
- provide new and larger wildlife habitats;
- develop recreational facilities for walking and picnicking, cycling and bird-watching;
- give educational opportunities for children;
- help reverse the effects of climate change;
- enrich the community as set out in Nettleham Parish Plan 2007’
Our committee, then as now, included people from varied walks of life, one of whom fortuitously had worked for the Forestry Commission for 43 years before retiring to a neighbouring village, and was keen to plant trees for his own local community.
The first breakthrough came in 2008 from an unexpected source, the Lincolnshire Police Headquarters (HQ), based in Nettleham, opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1980. NWT’s Chairman and Secretary approached the HQ Estates Manager and asked if we could organise community tree planting on two sides of the Police field. Permission was given. Lincolnshire County Council agreed to pay for half the cost of 400 native trees and shrubs, stakes and guards; the remaining cost came from Lincolnshire Co-operative and a private donation. We invited villagers to “bring a spade and come and plant a tree” on 23rd February 2008. We thought it would take all day, but about 200 people of all ages turned out, and we’d finished long before lunch! Four months later the Deputy Chief Constable presided over an inauguration ceremony, attended by the splendidly uniformed police band, at which the new trees were appropriately named P.C. Wood, the suggestion of a local cub. There was some positive media coverage too. From such small acorns, mighty oak trees grow.
At the end of September and early October with the help of primary pupils, we planted over 8,000 bulbs along the footpath which enters the Police HQ from Green Lane. Bulbs included winter aconite, anemone, bluebell, daffodil, snowdrop, fritillaria, oxalis and wild garlic. More trees, shrubs and a community-sponsored picnic table were added in the following year.
From 2008 to the present day we have been involved in a number of local initiatives. These have included planting sessions at local primary schools, the development of Bishop’s Meadow in Nettleham adjacent to an ancient monument, presentations to community groups and advising at least one new group in another village. In January 2022 we even returned to P.C.Wood to plant another 750 whips of which over 80% remarkably survived the great drought of the summer months. However, these were dwarfed by the commitment to the Ashing Lane Nature Reserve from 2009.
With land in Nettleham itself beyond our means, our enthusiasm had been stymied until another surprising opportunity had emerged in Dunholme three miles away off the A46 Grimsby Road. A local farmer had decided that three of his less accessible fields partly on heavy clay were insufficiently productive for his own operation and chose to sell them. Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) already owned the adjacent 8.7 hectares (21 acres) called Pickering’s Meadow and Watts Wood and were able to receive a grant to buy the farmer’s three fields covering 19 hectares (46 acres) at the end of a very rutted and rural Ashing Lane, a bridleway. LWT took direct responsibility for a quarter of the area to enlarge its own meadow while NWT was given a 125 management lease on the rest which we named Monks Wood in memory of the former chairman of the grant-awarding body.
Events moved very quickly at the turn of the year. On 21st January 2009, we gained access to the land, the immediate project being a French drain through a swampy area at the main entrance. Future paths were planned and raised, planting rows were marked – “nature doesn’t do straight lines” -, trees, guards and canes were ordered, volunteers recruited, a welfare unit hired, and the first 12,000 trees and shrubs planted in Middle and South Woods by the end of February. Most of the planting was done by school and university students and local families with a smaller section planted by a contractor. North Wood was planted by the end of the year with 2,566 trees in one hour as part of a Guinness Book of World Records attempt called “Tree O’Clock”. The main threshold entrance and a bridge over one of the becks were built based on designs by schoolchildren, a new pond was excavated, and a seasonal wetland was scraped. Funding and other support came from private donors, commercial interests and public grants, Farm Woodland Payments from the Forestry Commission provided steady income for fifteen years.
In 2011, as part of its 150th-anniversary activities, the Lincolnshire Co-operative bought a four-hectare (10 acre) field on the east side of Monks Wood where evidence of three failed drainage systems and rampant willow showed that creating a wet woodland would be more productive than agriculture. The Co-op agreed a 125-year management lease with NWT and Forestry Commission and Coop funding enabled us to create raised walks and dig a five metre deep one-hectare lake. 5,000 more trees suitable for wet woodlands were planted. Swans and dragonflies were on the lake by mid-summer.
In July 2013 the achievement of NWT in developing the area was publically recognised when we won the top prize in the county’s annual Lincolnshire Environmental Award scheme, receiving the trophy from its patron, the late Professor David Bellamy.
From the Big Bang of creation we are now in a long-term maintenance phase with small projects and enhancements to enrich the site for wildlife and human visitors.
Milestones since 2013 have included:
- 2011 – All Abilities Area with stone paths and suitable seating for people in wheelchairs
- 2015 – the Book of Oaks Stone recording the promise from NWT of 100 oak trees in 100+ years for Lincoln Cathedral’s roof
- 2017 – Cathedral Copse – a further 100+ oak trees were planted for the Cathedral roof
- 2021 – the planting of the supporters’ tree, a Midland hawthorn and plaque on a glacial erratic.
- Winter 2021-2022 – the creation of run-off ponds in North Wood to capture water and alleviate flooded walks
- 2022 – The Tower was built providing shelter and nesting facilities for owls, raptors, smaller birds and invertebrates
What works for us? NWT has a current working committee of four Directors, seven Trustees and four other committee members responsible for:
- the necessary business of a charity
- fund-raising – we have a grants officer
- publicity through the website, Facebook and elsewhere
- presentations to external audiences
- developing education facilities e.g. information boards, a nature trail, an orienteering course
Regular maintenance of our woods includes volunteers helping with:
- mowing, coppicing
- workdays – two days per annum
- weekend work mornings – monthly
- Project teams – whenever!
- Others pro bono e.g. Coop teams Corporate Social Responsibility engagement, Lincoln Conservation Group, Daniel Charles Construction, Ashlin Farm Barns and many more
- Contractors e.g. paths
Recording the wildlife that has moved into the Reserve:
- Monthly bird survey since 2014
- Specialist surveys – amphibians, moths, bryophytes, butterflies (weekly for six months in 2022) and visits by Lincolnshire Naturalists Union.
Impact of our work:
- regular users e.g. walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, bird watchers and novice orienteers soon
- 2020-2021 – the pandemic years – a huge surge in visitor numbers when shops were closed, the Reserve providing a contribution to community wellbeing
Like tens of thousands of similar groups across the planet, the Nettleham Woodland Trust has shown that a huge amount can be achieved for wildlife, people and the environment by a small group of dedicated and passionate volunteers. It’s been a labour of love!