Forest highlights of 2022
At a time when our work creating and conserving the Forest for the environment, wildlife, and people has never been more important, the Forest continued to grow. As 2023 begins, Beth Brook, our Chief Executive, looks back on her top 10 highlights of 2022.
1. The 2 millionth tree was planted
We reached an important milestone in our mission to create a 30,000 acre Forest to benefit the environment, wildlife, and people – the planting of our 2 millionth tree.
A landmark moment like this is a good time to both reflect back and look to the future. Work like ours takes years to reach maturity and reversing the damage we have done to our natural world cannot be achieved overnight. But from the moment the first tree was put into the ground 26 years ago, it was making a positive difference.
We will continue to champion the role of forests and diverse natural habitats in combatting climate change, boosting biodiversity, and promoting mental and physical wellbeing in those who spend time in nature.
2. Funding secured to enable more trees to be planted in the local area
In addition to our work growing the Forest, we successfully secured funding from the Trees Call to Action Fund (TCAF) to get more trees planted across our local landscape and community spaces.
We were delighted to not only be awarded the £499,446 grant, but to be working in partnership with three district councils: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, and Wychavon – a first-time collaboration of this type. A dedicated team has been recruited, based at the Heart of England Forest, to encourage local people, landowners, and communities, to access the information and grants available to plant and maintain trees and hedgerows. Meet the team
3. Young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities were supported
Our first-ever supported internship programme was successfully delivered last year. Five young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) completed the 10-month internship with us, which was made possible thanks to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund (GRCF) project.
Working alongside the interns’ colleges, and in partnership with local charity ThinkForward, we developed a programme that ensured that the young people had the opportunity to work with different teams across the charity and learn a variety of skills, with full support to ensure they got the most out of their experience.
The fact that only 5% of adults with SEND are in full time employment motivated us to do something to help address this shocking statistic. We are delighted that four of the interns secured paid employment with the charity and have joined our team permanently.
4. Valuable habitat was created and restored
Whilst every tree we plant brings us closer to our goal, the creation and conservation of the mosaic of habitats found in the Forest is equally as vital. One of the main areas of focus for our biodiversity team throughout 2022 was creating wetlands, which provide some of the most biodiverse habitats in the Forest.
This year we worked with contractors to create new ponds and scrapes at Netherstead (pictured). This is just one of five wetland creation projects located in various areas of the Forest, which over the past couple of years have resulted in the creation of eight ponds, five scrapes, four leaky dams, three re-landscaped ponds, a desilted pond, and floodplain reconnection at two sites.
Sadly, the UK has lost over 90% of wetlands in the last 100 years. The good news is that newly restored wetlands do not take long to recover and recolonise with both plant and animal life, and even within a year we can expect to see big changes in the types of species found in the pools across the Forest.
But these were not the only habitat achievements we celebrated in 2022. In addition to the baseline work we have done at Naunton Beauchamp to plan how we will improve Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); we ended the year with the news that Gorcott Hill Wood had gained Local Wildlife Site (LWS) status.
Ancient semi-natural woodland is of special value, not only at Gorcott Hill, but across the Forest because of its long, continuous history. These woodlands are the nearest we have to our original natural woodland and are irreplaceable natural assets that support many rare plants and animals and make a vital contribution to conserving biodiversity. Now, under the Heart of England Forest’s care, and as an official LWS, the woodland at Gorcott Hill will be conserved and protected for future generations.
5. Volunteers recognised with Queen’s Award
In June 2022, the Heart of England Forest was awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, recognising the amazing contribution that our volunteers make to our work. This is the highest award a local voluntary group can receive in the UK and is the equivalent to an MBE.
Our ever-expanding volunteering programme provides a wide variety of ways for people to give their time and support the creation and conservation of a huge new Forest to benefit the environment, wildlife, and people, whilst gaining skills, getting fit, and meeting new friends.
Our volunteers gave nearly 11,000 hours of their time in 2022. Everyone here at the Forest is very proud of their tireless work to help us achieve our ambitious vision, which has been recognised by this very special accolade.
6. More children and adults engaged with the Forest than ever before
Creating a Forest for people is one of our core aims and something we are passionate about. The myriad of benefits of connecting with nature are well documented and creating future guardians who will care for the Forest for generations to come is essential.
Last year was the busiest yet for our learning and skills team. Gorcott Hill, our flagship site for young people, became an additional location for our formal learning programmes, with the team working with both established and new school partners to deliver curriculum-linked learning in the Forest.
Engaging more with our existing visitors and supporters, as well as expanding the reasons for people to discover the Forest, was a priority in 2022. We undertook our first winter car park survey, interacting with visitors and getting their feedback, added three themed audio trails, and expanded walking routes in the Forest, giving visitors more opportunities to spend time in the woodlands.
We were once again able to throw open the gates to the Garden of Heroes and Villains following a two year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We continued to bring the Forest to people at home with virtual events, with last year seeing our best attended online event yet about careers in conservation.
In addition, our first-ever Midsummer Reception saw us welcome and engage with friends and supporters old and new, in the spectacular setting of the Forest Arboretum, and we welcomed local District and County Councillors to come and plant trees whilst learning more about how our work benefits the communities close to the Forest.
We also expanded the ways that people can stay in the Forest and connect with nature for longer with our two eco-friendly holiday cottages. Achieving over 70% occupancy and being awarded a Customer Choice Award based on exemplary guest feedback scores in the first year, we are excited to welcome many more people to stay in 2023.
7. Celebrated species success
We are creating a Forest for wildlife to thrive, so we were delighted that 453 species were recorded during the 24 hour Forest BioBlitz in June 2022, even more than the 363 recorded last year at our first-ever BioBlitz.
It was also a year of species firsts in the Forest:
- The willow emerald damselfly was spotted in the Netherstead area
- Two Red List bird species of conservation concern were heard: turtle dove and nightingale
- At the Binton tree nursery in October, a grey phalarope was spotted. This Arctic-breeding wader is only sometimes seen in the UK and normally on the west coast, although occasionally at inland wetlands. No more than a few hundred birds per year tend to be seen and generally due to them having been blown off-course by bad weather and strong winds. We believe this is the first Warwickshire record since 2018
- Harvest mouse nests were found on our land at Sheriffs Lench and Bearley. The smallest rodents in Europe, harvest mice are near threatened in the UK, but the long grass habitats in the Forest provide safe haven.
8. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work expanded and integrated
We have committed to improving Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) within the Heart of England Forest as one of our core priorities. Whilst we are mindful that we cannot achieve everything overnight, and meaningful work on this area takes time and thought, we have made several commitments and achieved progress during 2022.
To create stronger, more resilient charities, ACEVO – the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the industry body representing charity leadership – has created eight leadership principles that address equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Heart of England Forest has made a public commitment to sign up to these principles.
Our Board of trustees has adopted the Charity Governance Code and committed to EDI as one of its two priority areas of work in 2022, providing leadership to the charity. This has included Board training, and a commitment to engage external expertise to support the charity to develop an effective EDI strategy, linking directly to the charity’s mission and objectives.
Our aim is to ensure that our staff, volunteers, supporters and visitors reflect the diverse range of communities living in and around the Forest, and we are keen to work more to understand how we can ensure the Forest is accessible and relevant to all. We are particularly proud of our work around neurodiversity, and we have seen a significant increase in neurodiversity across our staff and volunteer team following our pioneering Supported Internship programme.
We are also very proud of our activities with children over the summer, working with partners to offer Cook in the Woods sessions thanks to funding from the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme inspired by Marcus Rashford. By working with some of the most economically disadvantaged communities in Redditch, we have deepened relationships and have been able to use our minibus to overcome transport barriers for schools and youth groups for whom travel to the Forest is a barrier.
9. The Forest continued to grow
We acquired 203 acres of land in 2022. Roundhill Wood, an Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland, adds 92 acres to the existing 600 acres of ancient woodland that we protect in the Forest. A 111 acre site at Parkfield Farm was acquired in November, bringing the area that the Forest currently covers to over 7,000 acres. That is 23% of the journey towards our 30,000 acre goal.
Spernal Hall Farm, a central jigsaw piece linking up three permissive waymarked routes in the Forest, was identified as a new planting site. 34,000 trees will be planted here this winter season.
To effectively manage the growing Forest, the forestry team has also grown and has been restructured, so there are now five dedicated teams around the Forest.
The establishment of a commercial tree nursery operating as social enterprise was a key achievement last year. Growing 2.5 million trees annually, the tree nursery will enable the Heart of England Forest to grow a native stock of trees and shrubs for our own ambitious Forest. It will also create a sustainable income stream for the charity in the mid to long term by selling stock to other tree planting schemes.
The nursery also created employment opportunities, with the recruitment of a Tree Nursery Manager and an Assistant Tree Nursery Manager in 2021, and is now part-staffed by adults with SEND. Matt and Rhiannon, two of our Supported Interns, have since been employed as Tree Nursery Assistants. Not only are they contributing to our important work as valued members of the team, but they will also be role models for other young people.
10. Accessible and inclusive opportunities to visit and volunteer
2022 saw us take great strides in our commitment to enabling more people to benefit from time spent in the Forest, thanks to our Growing Future Forest Guardians project, funded by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund (GRCF).
New volunteering groups were launched at Gorcott Hill for adults who are currently out of work and/or seeking employment, neurodiverse adults, and young adults (aged 16 - 25 years). These tailored groups aim to ensure that everyone can get involved and overcome any barriers they might have, getting outdoors and undertaking practical conservation tasks in a supportive and engaging environment.
This funding also enabled the purchase of a minibus, which means we can bring people to the Forest that otherwise would not be able to get here. As well as being used with some of our school partners, we offered transport for sessions during Stratford-upon-Avon’s Great Big Green Week for families to attend Mini Foresters and young people aged 12 – 18 years old to come and try a Young Foresters session. They learnt new skills, got creative, and explored the natural world, hopefully giving them a taste of the benefits of getting into the great outdoors that will encourage them to continue to visit the Forest or their local green spaces.
16 year old Jess from the Stratford-Upon-Avon Youth Club came to the Young Foresters taster session, and since visiting the Forest has been inspired by nature. She has written this poem for the Heart of England Forest.
When the jackdaws caw the biting bitterness creeps
Swirling into caverns and to where two crows meet
When trees touch branches on branches, no leaves for warmth
A forceful wind invades swiftly from the north
Into perilous darkness, the desperate night falls
Where far away mountains and valleys are no more
Upon the forest floor the moon casts a shadow
Over freshly lain blankets of oranges and mellow
Inside a great Juniper tree; now turned to frost,
A solemn tawny owl swoops out sweetly and lost
But now a lonesome light guides its way:
like hope is to our lonesome day.
Even at Christmas.
Looking to the year ahead
We face a raft of ongoing challenges creating and conserving a huge forest in the climate and biodiversity crises. Add to this the impact of the rising cost of living, and costs of fuel and materials, we are experiencing especially tricky times.
Despite this, significant progress was made in delivering our charitable objectives and growing the Forest in 2022. We cannot wait to see what 2023 brings, and we look forward to your help and support to enable us to grow the Forest even more to benefit the environment, wildlife, and people.
Find out more about our work and achievements in our latest annual report.