March 16, 2021
Over the past year a simple walk in the woods has probably never been more valued by so many people. For many it may even have been literally a lifesaver. If you’ve been using a local woodland as a respite from lockdown it’s very likely that you’ll have been walking in one of around 200 woodlands in Scotland that are either owned or managed by the local community. Every community believes their woodland is special but only one can win the accolade of being the ‘finest community woodland in the country’. Closing date for nominations is approaching.
Angela Douglas, Executive Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods, offers her reflections on the Community Woods Award. The deadline for entries this year is 31st March 2021.
No-one needs reminding that our local woods have been a life-saver for many people during lockdown. They nourished our souls when we needed it most and provided beautiful places to exercise, and to breathe fresh air amid trees and birdsong.
So more than ever, in 2021, everyone involved with Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards is delighted to honour our very best community woods and what they do for our bodies and souls.
What always strikes me when looking at photographs of previous winners of the Community Woods Awards is the happiness etched onto everyone’s faces, young and old. Sometimes, those faces show concentration and focus instead, as volunteers work together to create a path, or a bench, to enhance people’s experience of their woodland.
It’s also striking that our winners have come from all across Scotland. Indeed, the 2019 winners were almost 500km apart, even by drawing a straight line between them!
Michaelswood Public Amenity in Aith, Shetland – the small community woodland group winner – is only slightly nearer to Gifford Community Woods in East Lothian (which took the large community woodland group award) than it is to the Arctic circle.
The judges who made the long, but rewarding trip to Aith said Michaelswood encapsulated how a small woodland could become a valuable asset for the wider community (young and more mature!), which is “both novel and fun as well as thoroughly engaging and educational”.
Michaelswood was also noteworthy, the judges said, because it “boldly and successfully demonstrates that, in a largely treeless landscape, woodland establishment is possible”.
Gifford, the judges said, was an exemplar for biodiversity-led woodland management by a community group, which had brought “a neglected mature woodland back into long term sustainable management” The approach was “biodiversity-led whilst also delivering a wide range of community benefits” and “underpinned by strong local community support, including a large group of volunteers”.
Doune Ponds, in Perthshire, the 2019 runner-up and 2017 winner of the Small Community Woods prize, was also praised for its volunteering effort – and especially its efforts at succession planning, with numerous new, young volunteers now regularly participating in work parties.
Other winners since 2015 have included two in Knoydart (Airor Common Grazings and Knoydart Community Forest), Abriachan Forest Trust in Inverness-shire and Evanton Community Wood, Ross-shire – plus Kilfinan, Argyll, K-Woodlands in East Kilbride and Castlemilk Park in Glasgow. Truly a broad church!
Will it be you in 2021?
The winners of both the large and small Community Woodland Group Awards each win £1000 while the overall winner takes home the spectacular Tim Stead Trophy to enjoy for a year. All entrants can also choose to highlight their environmental credentials by putting themselves forward for Finest Woods’ first Climate Change Champion award – in the year that global green summit COP26 comes to Glasgow.
I hope we will see some excellent entries, from all across Scotland, to help us recognise and honour the true wonder of our community woods – and everything they do for body and soul.