Woodland Improvement Team volunteer stand in cleared area

Spotlight on The Woodland Improvement Team

Ruth Coxon
Article date
26 May 2021
Primary interest

As part of a new collaboration between Reading Voluntary Action and the Caversham Bridge Newspaper, we recently shared this introduction to the Woodland Improvement Team with its readers.  We will be sharing further items shining a light on different volunteer lead projects in the coming months. 

The Woodland Improvement Team are a volunteer group led by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) in Berkshire, to improve the condition of five mixed deciduous woodland priority habitats in Reading and Woodley, in response to rail side habitat loss incurred by Network Rail’s electrification works along the Greater West line. Two of the sites where works have been occurring since January 2020 are in Caversham, at Bugs Bottom and Clayfield Copse and Blackhouse Wood, with support from Reading Borough Council who manage these sites.

The improvement tasks here have involved removing non-native, invasive species (such as laurel, snowberry and variegated archangel), which if left alone spreads and outcompetes native flora, vastly reducing biodiversity. Therefore, with the help of dedicated volunteers, the woodland habitats can be improved for wildlife and plants to flourish in the future. The group have started coppicing hazel in some areas too which is a traditional management technique in which certain trees are cut down to the base at an angle, eventually encouraging shoots to regrow in abundance, both extending the life of the hazel trees and providing better habitats for mammals and birds. The interim years between tree growth also allows a greater diversity of plants to grow without being shaded, since more light is able to reach the understory.

volunteers tree planting

At Bugs Bottom 350-400 young tree whips of a variety of native tree species (in keeping with those found within the Hemdean Valley) were planted by volunteers. These were planted along the central bridleway in early 2020 to bolster the wildlife corridor. More were planted in December 2020, to replace failed trees that suffered due to a lack of aftercare (incurred from the pandemic halting projects last year, in combination with an unusually dry, warm spring). During the Summer months biodiversity surveys are conducted at both sites to monitor changes in plant and wildlife diversity, as a way of monitoring the success of the practical improvement works which generally occur in the autumn-winter months.

While the past 1.5 years have been a bit stop-start with various lockdowns and obstacles in the way, the interest and participation has been incredible – both from brand new and existing TCV volunteers. All banding together and getting on with tasks in a socially distanced way whilst bearing with us to ensure that we have Covid-secure measures in place. Since the resumption of activities last year, 48 volunteers have joined in with 45 tasks, helping us to improve green spaces and woodland for the future.

Project Officer, Ruth Coxon, said:

I can’t thank the volunteers enough for their efforts and time they have already injected into this project, whether it’s been a one-off session they’ve joined or whether they regularly attend. Each and every one of them has been truly amazing at being a great team player, getting really stuck in no matter their age, experience or what hindrances might normally hold them back, just getting involved and having a passion to improve their local green space has really brought us all together. The woodlands are looking much better for it, with the added bonus of improving our own mental health, which has been so important this year. I have been incredibly thankful that I have been able to get out to improve wonderful sites like Bugs Bottom and Clayfield Copse, truly making you appreciate the benefits of being outdoors and connecting with the local community.”

Volunteer, Peter Ainsworth, said:

“It was the most enjoyable three hours I have had in a long time. Using bow saws and loppers we had to clear local woodland of Rhododendron and Laurel. It was really exciting and great exercise, and we made huge strides in cutting down these overgrown bushes. I also had the pleasure of meeting a new group of people. I thoroughly recommend getting out there and trying it. Just three hours can make a huge difference to you and your local woodland.”

Get involved

If you would like to get involved, the group runs regular weekly activities on Tuesdays each week (generally 10:00-14:00), rotating across the 5 sites. In order to fulfil the project aims, the project is set to run until Spring 2023, under funding sourced through TOE (Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment). While the impacts of the pandemic still affect us, we are running activities at a reduced capacity to ensure everyone’s safety, making booking your place essential, after filling out a volunteer form. We try and rotate volunteers if activities are oversubscribed and joining activities can be a one-off or regular thing depending on your availability, no specific commitments are required! Find out more here.