Director Paul Nolan, gave a warm welcome before introducing Woodland Trust's Rachael Cranch and Kerry Clarke, who gave an overview of the Community Woodland Northern Pilot Project and the links to the Tree Charter.
Angela Williams followed with an inspiring insight into Scottish community woodlands. As a director of Community Land Scotland, Angela gave a fascinating overview into the politics and progress of community woodland north of the border. Using the title "A woodland that pays is a woodland that stays" Angela presented two case studies including Knoydart Forest Trust on the remote west coast which manages 919ha of woodland.
Four very different case studies of communtiy woodland nearer to home included Alan Redley who spoke about the work being undertaken by Friends of Anderton and Marbury. This volunteer group support the ranger service at Northwich Woodlands, and who have been operating a wood allotment group since 2012.
Kevin O Hanlon and Jan Baird from Friends of Mill and Alder Wood, spoke passionately about the challenges and rewards of managing an ancient semi-natural woodland in Speke, south Liverpool. Brian Newall and Jonathan Halstead told of their experience developing Sefton Wood Allotments Association. Finally, Graham Sweet from Church Wood Conservation Group gave an account of their 20 years of woodland management in Whitegate, Cheshire.
To round up the presentations, a brief overview of wood allotments was given by Community Forester, Yendle Barwise, who joined the Mersey Forest team last month.
After a well earned break, a workshop followed, the results of which included valuable feedback on the support that prospective wood allotment groups require, as well as advice about successful community woodland management by both land managers and existing group members.
With packed lunches firmly in hand, the day was rounded off with a site visit to Spud Wood, in Lymm to see wood allotments in action. Woodland Trust's site manager Neil Oxley introduced to Jo Yellen from the Friends of Spud Wood CIC Wood Allotment Group. The attendees could clearly see the remarkable improvements that wood allotments have made to the health of the wood, as well as watching allotment members hard at work as they weaved their wheelbarrows through the wood to collect their logs.
Back at Risley Moss, contact details were shared over a cuppa before everyone went on their way. All seemed to consider the event a success, and this success was due in no small part to the input and active engagement by each individual. Thanks to all who came, and particularly to the speakers.
'Leaky dams', (also known as Engineered Log Jams), are natural dams made from tree trunks, back-pinned and encased in spilled living willow. They are designed to allow water to pass in low flow, but in flooding conditions temporary hold back and store flood water that would otherwise travel downstream. Together, all the dams installed back-up the equivalent of an Olympic swimming pools volume, around 2,500m3 or 2,500,000 litres!
Both catchments have experienced flooding in recent years. Great Sutton in Ellesmere Port recently flooded, whilst Blackbrook in St Helens has flooded three times since 2000 – with the last event on Boxing Day 2015 (Storm Eva). Both brooks are far from functioning natural ecosystems, and fail EU directives for near natural conditions in the water environment.
Existing leaky dams in the Sankey Valley (St. Helens) have been shown by Newcastle and Liverpool University to reduce phosphate concentration, as well as trap sediment, that could otherwise further reduce watercourse capacity downstream. Excessive topsoil loss into rivers can cause so-called 'muddy floods' which can deposit thick layers of mud during flooding, causing damage to property.
Both catchment areas are developing innovative and proactive methods to improve water quality and reduce flood risk, with the community onside. The wider Natural Flood Management (NFM) initiative in Blackbrook, St. Helens is featured in the forthcoming launch of 'Working with Natural Processes, Evidence Base', an Environment Agency initiative to share and promote the evidence behind NFM in the water environment.
Meanwhile, the wider Sankey Valley initiative was presented in Parliament last year, with Local Authorities in the catchment signing-up to a trans-boundary catchment plan – believed to be the first of a kind in the UK.
Led by Prof. Hirokazu Abe and Dr. Noriko Otsuka from the University of Osaka, the academics have been undertaking ground-breaking research on the work of the Mersey Forest for more than fifteen years. This year they made Northwich's heritage the main focus of their visit, exploring how the town's industrial heritage benefits local tourism and the economy. They also took part in a 'Healthy Soils' seminar and look set to return to the UK next February for a major conference.
The researchers aim to learn lessons from the experience of post-industrial areas in the north west to help in regenerating similar areas in Japan.
The team of academics visited Marbury Country Park, part of Northwich Woodlands, Anderton Boat Lift and the award-winning Lion Salt Works Museum at Marston, Northwich.
The academics were escorted around the museum by Kate Harland, Senior Learning and Operations Officer from Cheshire West and Chester Council who explained the history of the works – the country's last open-pan salt making site. Thanks to a £5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and funding from Chester West and Chester Council, the Museum was restored and was re-opened in June 2015.
Dr. Noriko Otsuka said "It is wonderful to be visiting The Mersey Forest again, and continue our research collaboration with colleagues. The international significance of Cheshire's salt industry and how it has shaped the landscape, local people and economy is a story to be told across the world. Over the past three years we have seen how the Saltscape project has helped to tell that story."
The team also took part in a 'Healthy Soils' seminar with The Mersey Forest and Reaseheath College, presenting on the experience of regenerating post-coalmining cities in Japan.
Funding is being sought to hold a 'Seeds of Hope' conference in Cheshire next Spring to bring together Japanese and UK partners to explore how agricultural communities try to recover from major episodes, such as BSE and the catastrophe of Fukushima.
Clare Olver, from the Mersey Forest Team said "Over the years we've really benefited from this exchange of ideas around brownfield land between our team and our Japanese partners. This conference will take that work one step further. We will hear stories of hope where communities can rebuild businesses and learn lessons for the future."
The Mersey Forest has teamed up with MSP and OpenCacheUK to hide new 'caches' in local parks and green spaces. Geocaching is a great way to enjoy being outside, discovering somewhere new, getting fitter and enjoying the thrill of the hunt!
Danny Woodworth, Physical Activity and Sport Officer, MSP commented:
"MSP are delighted to be working in partnership with the Mersey Forest and local community groups to create this opportunity, which encourages people of all ages to explore their local green spaces and be more physically active in the process. We would encourage anyone to get involved and give it a go – no matter what your age or level of fitness."
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants (Geocachers) use a smartphone with GPS to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches").
These containers have a log book for hunters to record their names and the dates on which they find the stash. The 'treasure' is in the form of all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. The main rule is: if the finder decides to take anything away, they're required to leave something of equal or greater value for the next person to discover.
Local green spaces that feature new hidden treasure include Everton Park, Calderstones Park and Croxteth Country Park in Liverpool, and Colliers Moss in St Helens.
Suzanne Londra, Nature4Health Officer at the Mersey Forest said:
"Geocaching is great activity for the holidays because it doesn't break the bank. It's great fun, free, and gets you out being active in local green spaces. It turns a walk into a treasure hunt!"
Full instructions for how to join in the hunt can be found at www.merseyforest.org.uk/geocaching