Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, local charity Avon Needs Trees is celebrating its first land purchase, and has unveiled ambitious plans to create new, permanent woodland.
The 34 acres purchased, Hazeland, is in the River Avon’s high catchment area, near Calne, Wiltshire. New woodland here will bring benefits to the whole region – more habitat for endangered species, natural flood management, a space for public learning and recreation, as well as critical carbon capture to help combat climate change.
Forest cleared post-1945 will be restored with a mix of planting and rewilding, and a further ten acres of existing ancient woodland will be managed to maximise biodiversity and tree health. Four acres of riverside meadow will be managed for pollinators and other declining UK species.
“We know that critically endangered bat species use this river corridor for roosting and foraging” says Nikki Jones, chair and founder of Avon Needs Trees. “We’ll be managing the site to give them maximum help and using citizen scientists to help monitor the numbers. We’ll be doing the same for the many woodland birds, butterflies, plants and fungi we’ve identified at Hazeland, that we know are in steep decline in the UK. All these species are part of our ‘web of life’: we need them – and we’re enormously grateful to all our funders, particularly the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for giving us the opportunity to help protect them.”
Avon Needs Trees is a Bristol-based charity, founded in 2019. It is on a 20-year mission to create permanent woodland in the catchment of the River Avon. Funding for this first purchase has come from the public, local companies such as Natracare and Bristol Energy Company, and a massive grant of £240,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Nikki continues: “The Avon catchment area has almost no woodland left. That puts us at tremendous risk of flooding, as well as adding to our carbon and wildlife loss. As individuals, we realise we are just ‘ants’ in the face of our climate change and biodiversity crises but together ants can do big things! We’re thrilled to have taken ownership of our first piece of land, Hazeland, which is a really rich and varied mix of habitats, including ancient woodland and wildflower meadows.
“Our long-term vision is to establish new, permanent woodland across the Avon catchment, one ant-sized bite at a time. We’ve chosen to buy the land, rather than plant on other people’s, so that we can guarantee the trees will still be there in years to come, protected, permanently.”
Avon Needs Trees will be celebrating its purchase of Hazeland on Sunday 13th September with funders, volunteers and engagement partners. The BBC’s natural history presenter and ANT ambassador Miranda Krestovnikoff will be hosting the event.
“This project is a brilliant example of the tremendous power of community action,” said Miranda Krestovnikoff. “A small charity with big ambitions is harnessing the power of trees to mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve the landscape and create a fantastic new nature reserve for everyone to enjoy.”
Avon Needs Trees will be welcoming people to Hazeland in managed events, so that the public can take part in monitoring the biodiversity and learn about woodland management. Forest schools, volunteer work days, tree planting and a wide variety of learning events are planned. There is strong support from local schools, GP surgeries, walking and ‘green’ groups who will be using Hazeland for a variety of activities.
“At The Springfields Academy, a specialist school for children with autism in Calne, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to use Hazeland for our ‘outdoor learning’, a key daily part of our activities,” says Learning Mentor Ann Berrett. “Our children come from a very wide area and, at the moment, we have to travel long distances to get to suitable woodland. Being able to use Hazeland is brilliant for us – less travel, more time in the open air, less money spent on fuel – and a lower carbon footprint, which is very important to us.”
Avon Needs Trees is already looking to its next land purchase and has recently launched a crowdfunder to help buy 19 acres at Seend, near Melksham.
“This is 19 acres where we can really add value,” says Nikki Jones. "It’s ideal for tree planting and already has great hedgerows and two pond areas that we will use to attract and monitor wildlife. We’re particularly excited about being able to offer a substantial area for community orchard and engaging the local community in the planting – as well as harvesting!”
Avon Needs Trees is hoping to raise £200,000 for Seend before Spring 2021. Baseline ecological reports are currently being commissioned, but anecdotal evidence from the community already points to the recent loss of key species such as cuckoo. New, permanent woodland at Seend would offer a foothold for such species, while providing some of the carbon capture and natural flood management that the catchment area needs.
To find out more and get involved, visit www.avonneedstrees.org.uk or join the conversation online on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.