Lone Ranging- a personal reflection
If you were to read one paragraph of this blog entry; it would be this one. I would genuinely welcome an introduction, or indeed any message from FOGW members or local residents; as I seek to land in and serve the community I have become a part of. I can be contacted on 07375920508 or by emailing email@example.com
When I moved to the area from the Isle of Mull in late January, 'Wuhan' was either a misspell on my spotify playlist or a curious & niche news item on the world service as i drank my morning coffee and prepared to start my new role as community Forest Ranger.
Little did I know how much the world was to change.
Kindling the Hearth
It can be said there was a plan before lockdown, insofar that my first requested task was to 'present some priorities to the board'. They were met favourably and; armed with the most excellent PAWS report I felt a firm foundation to start as we meant to go on:
They were simple:
Cut what rhododendron I could in the birch-woods before the midges arrive; then move on to the oakwood.
Buy the basic tools and safety equipment to begin work and recruit a local craicsquad of eager volunteers to undertake invasive cutting; make it fun & engaging and mix it up with pathwork occasionally.
Work in with Mick Eyre, our development manager; in his production of a forest management plan for the wood.
Put on a community festival, on the last Saturday of the month; with a heritage or seasonal species as theme so it can be built on and repeated each year. This I reckoned, would be a means of meeting members of the parish, hearing their hopes & wishes; and doing things together socially.
The first few weeks were a flurry of activity. Meeting folk, building relationships, organizing with them, sorting insurances, drafting operating procedures, risk assessments and; by the 29th February we'd a few tents up and a fire lit with a team of autonomous groups having fun running our community sign making day which we called 'Make your Mark'.
Special thanks to Mark Bamford and Nicola Greenall, and of course Don McInnes for their inclusive and quality workshops. It was a great turnout for February and I looked forward to the next one.
Those few weeks in March before lockdown were a bit of a blur if I'm honest. Work continued procuring tools for glenan, getting to know the ground, & the idiosyncrasies of mapping software. Thankfully I'd started practical work on the Ponticum clearance back-to-back with a drive to recruit conservation volunteers.
However, things on the BBC world service was hotting up, with Radio 4 starting to take up much of the content; I turned Spotify off. In my non work days, I secured a hire car and begun to put our family affairs in order and prepare for the worst. With most of my peers believing it to be some sort of hoax and me not knowing so many people on the area; i was extremely unnerved by 'business as usual'. In my certainty of a crisis, based on what i saw unfolding in Italy, plus a whisper from a civil servant friend in London; the writing was on the wall.
With the spring sap on the rise, I was going to theme the next community festival around the Birch tree; what with a significant amount of Glenan being closed canopy birch forest. With a menu of sap-tapping,showcasing the immune boosting properties of the birch polypore & fomes-formentaris; and special guest Bob from the Kyles Garden Group popping down to demonstrate running mushroom spawn on birch logs; i was confident of a cracking family day out. Yet, as motivated as i was for the event to happen, I could see world news becoming increasingly more localised and I pulled the plug.
It was a psychologically difficult period of preparation which thankfully passed quickly, and, by the PM's national announcement that fateful Friday, I began to relax a bit; at least now that it signaled the beginning of taking things seriously.
Being a ranger for a community woodland, and having little to no opportunity to meet the parish I serve has been a difficult mental stretch. Inclusivity is a value that is important to me and, having lived in rural communities most of my life, i am painstakingly unwilling to adopt the profile of a 'parachuting in expert'; telling folk who have lived with the knowledge of place what they should do.
Glenan Wood belongs to the Kilfinan parish; held by FOGW in charitable aims for the residents of the parish. So I was, and remain very keen to find a means to hear from locals to help inform my service as a ranger. I continued with the rhododendron work, taking pains to 'mask-up' between Millhouse and the wood; and deemed it non-harmful since I wouldn't see anyone or touch anything except the handlebars and pedals between Millhouse and the Glenan canopy. It was a strange time, of going solely between only work and home; save for our 'hour-a-day' play/foraging with my daughter in the woods behind our house.
My colleague moved to furlough, as the opportunities for seeking funding evaporated. We counted the months where we refrained from going to the village. I sharpened the billhook and blunted it on the ponticum.
This continued until & beyond a short 'staycation' where we undertook a house move; no small feat to pack, locate and make the transition without causing harm to self or others. Moving was an undesirable situation that we could not avoid. I'm thankful to say our actions were impeccable, having caused no undesired concentric ripples; and we are grateful for all offers of assistance & support we received over that period.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Following the move, I continued with cutting the rhododendron, as well as some surveying work in the plantation, this time accessing the wood via our local forest track networks;until a point where I fell upon ill health and was diagnosed a Lyme infection. The past five weeks of antibiotics have now ended and my work-at-home-ranging has proved fruitful and productive despite an illness that has been severe at stages.
Over this period of physical incapacitation I have worked up a deer management plan for the wood, based on the consensus reality of the local experts I have managed to consult with by email and telephone. A particular vote of of thanks goes to veteran stalker Paul Davies who has been invaluable in his dispensation of advice borne from considerable practical experience.
I hope to attach the report on the FOGW website for public viewing as soon as possible.
I also have been researching and developing a project which could focus on the production and sale of biochar that can pay for the conversion of the plantation at Glenan into broadleaved woodland. As part of that process, I wrote a small grant to the Coop to fund a portable retort kiln and equipment for volunteers to convert the rhododendron we cut into charcoal and charcoal fines in the winter months. Those interested in an introduction to the potential benefits of biochar could start here.
Business as Usual?
As I write, Scotland is in the heady phase of stage 2 in our phased exit from lockdown; and like everyone else this is a disorientating moment in what has been a huge upheaval. Whilst one would hope we continue in a positive linear direction, this is by no means certain; and like many I wish to do all I can in my sphere of influence to arrest a dreaded 'second wave'.
With the reality of asymptomatic carriers of the virus, I am extremely keen to exercise restraint and have detailed conversations of what constitutes safe working practice; particularly in relation to groupwork at Glenan.
Like Tolkien's Treebeard I would urge we 'Not be Hasty'
Going forward, crossing any threshold is now met with difficulty. Entering premises for toilets, exiting a vehicle, passing a tool, taking shelter under a tarp, dispensing hot drinks, disinfecting tools, work gloves and other PPE; all now need careful attention to the minutia of good protocol. These are all modalities which I once took for granted as inevitable parts of a working day managing groups safely; right now i'm left scratching my head.
Of course the government will offer us sensible guidelines, but decisions will also involve acting in good conscience, with a fully informed perspective and with the well-being of the whole community in mind. That said, I will not be resuming working parties or community gatherings simply because our government is allowing us too. If you are interested in volunteering please get in touch.
Creativity: a leading edge
That's not to say that physical distancing hasn't yielded some creative ideas for our community putting the shoulder to the wheel of the community woodland in a phased post lockdown style; as it were.
Please let me hear your ideas.
Some which have surfaced over recent weeks involve developing some roles around volunteering on ones own or within (y)our existing 'bubbles'.
Bracken Squad: A small group of committed volunteers have been slashing bracken at Glenan; on different days to each other with reports of therapeutic benefits of whacking! Scaled up, it would be possible for me to manage tackling different areas of paths strategically; without need for volunteers to be working on the same day or the same section of path.
Project wolf: Our deer management strategy is vital to the succession of trees in the wood, with the closed canopy sections of oak forest being under critical threat from the deer arresting the growth of trees. This has been an issue over decades and leaves us in our position of our community woodland having an age class crisis. One of the solutions to this is 'disturbance methods'. Thats where project wolf could come in...
This would essentially mean volunteers walking (alone, or in their bubble) to different parts of the woods; thus keeping the herd 'on the move'; rather than in habitual patterns of undisturbed and persistent browsing. I could coordinate this with other parts of our strategy, ensuring that areas highlighted for regeneration are visited; and all are informed about who is operating on site.
Photography and Monitoring: Glenan could do with updating its inventory of species for the NBN atlas. This would help the wood in so many ways, not least in us determining any species in need of protection or support. One way of doing this is to have folk who are interested in photographing things of interest growing in different areas of the wood.
Thanks for reading this blog entry, I would genuinely welcome an introduction, or indeed any message from members or local residents; as I seek to land and serve the community I have become a part of. I can be contacted on 07375920508 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,