The primary aim of this project is to encourage people to visit their local woods, while providing an opportunity to learn more about the ecological and social value of woodland. The Sheffield Woodland Connections team agreed that there was a real public desire for chances to gain more in depth knowledge about ancient woodlands, one of Britain’s more diverse and complex habitats, but delivered in a fun and engaging way.
We chose Ecclesall Woods because, as the largest semi-natural ancient woodland in South Yorkshire, it makes an ideal outdoor classroom that takes in a variety of different habitats. As a semi-natural woodland, it is also possible to see the how the introduction of non-native trees has altered the ecological balance. The way people have managed and changed the woods over time, using methods such as coppicing, is one of the main themes of our interpretative walks.
In spring and early summer the team focusses on the relationship between trees and groundflora. We look at efforts made by volunteers to regenerate areas of lapsed hazel coppice through selective tree felling and bramble clearance, allowing more light to reach the woodland floor and restoring plant species whose seeds lie doormat in the soil awaiting the right conditions to germinate.
In autumn, just as the leaves are beginning to fall we spend time analysing different tree barks and growth habits, as this knowledge means that a tree can be identified in any season. We study an area dominated by native oaks and introduced sweet chestnut, and discuss why the latter was planted in the 19th century – as a vigorous alternative timber to the sturdy, but slow-growing, oak.
Each participant received an information pack including: the new map created for the project; a timeline of the woodland’s history; a brief guide to recognising notable and veteran trees; and a tree survey sheet – all of which are available here. Armed with this information, and tree ID sheets that were specifically designed for the walks, we encouraged those attending to contribute something in return. These contributions – taking the form of photographs, drawings, tree surveys, a poem and a video – have been added as ‘Points to Interest‘, which are featured on the website map, to enhance the experience of visiting Ecclesall Woods.
Between spring 2017 and spring 2019 we conducted 13 walks attended by more than 200 people and collected nearly 340 signatures of support for the Woodland Trust’s Tree Charter. The feedback from the walks has been really encouraging, here are some of the comments:
“My family and I had a great walk with you through Ecclesall Woods the other Sunday, those running it made it very interesting, never too late in life to learn more! Excellent.” – David Morley.
“My partner and I went along to the Sheffield woodland walk and found it very enjoyable and informative. Fran and her colleague were very knowledgeable and are clearly very passionate about the subject so were able to communicate a lot of information in a clear and fun way. It was really nice to revisit the area in a new light. We loved it, learned a lot and would highly recommend.” – Rachel Read
“A huge thank you to Fran and her colleagues for the most informative and interesting guided tree tour at Ecclesall Woods on Sunday 20 May. I was captivated by the historical and tree management aspects of the information they shared. I walk in the woods fairly regularly; from now on I will get so much more out of my visits.” – Charmaine Myers
“Spent a most enjoyable walk last Sunday, led by Fran Halsall around Ecclesall Woods where we practiced tree identification and learnt something about tree management techniques whilst observing how other wildlife interacts here. The colour handouts were also informative and helpful and I look forward to further understanding and improving my methods of tree identification.” – Richard Kedward
The Sheffield Woodland Connections team – that’s us in the photo below – would like to say a big thank-you to everyone who has joined us in the woods throughout our project.
left to right: Fran Halsall, Christos Papachristou, Jack Brodie, Camilla Allen & Christine Thuring.