Those are questions that are crucial to the future growth of The Mersey Forest, which is why we invest in promoting and conducting research on how we work with volunteer community groups who look after and manage sites of green infrastructure.
Community involvement, participation, and ownership are absolutely fundamental to our work. Since 1998 through our Friends of the Woodlands project we've been supporting communities over a sustained period to take an active role in their local woodlands and green space for the benefit of people, the environment and the local economy. We connect researchers with that project to learn about what works.
Over the past few years The Mersey Forest has been generously supporting a PhD student in the Department of Geography at the University of Liverpool through the Mersey Forest Graduate Scholarship. We spoke to Gemma Jerome now in the final year, about her research and what it meant to receive this support and what she's going to do next:
My research is about the factors and forces which affect the resilience of volunteer groups who look after green spaces in their local community. I am interested in resilience and longevity, and why some groups manage to continue their voluntary work over a long period of time, and others face challenges that are too big for them to overcome, and are faced with the unfortunate decision to discontinue their project.
My research is looking in depth at the experiences of four different community groups who have been managing small areas of green space in their local community over the last ten years. I have interviewed volunteers in the setting of their project to get a good sense of what their motivating factors are, and what challenges they face on a day to day level.
I also decided to interview other stakeholders who invest time and resources in the outcomes of these small scale voluntary projects, such as funders, local government officers, and representative of supportive community organisations.
The main finding from the research shows that the key factor affecting community groups in their capacity to continue working voluntarily to protect, manage and enhance local green spaces, is access to support and training, both during set up and continuing throughout the life of the project.
This is significant for the environmental sector, and for supporting organisations like The Mersey Forest, as they increasingly have to justify the allocation of funds to small scale projects such as those being led by volunteers in a local community. As such, this research adds weight to the argument that community members make an important contribution to the management and maintenance of local green space, which in turn provides opportunities for people to access nature for health and wellbeing benefits, as well as benefits to the quality of the local environment and resilience against threats to quality of life through climate change, such as flooding.
However, community members working alone, find that the many responsibilities involved in looking after a green space in the long term can become too difficult without the additional support provided by expert organisations, even if this support is minimal and low cost, such as attending events and offering advice over the phone or via email.
At a time when policy guidance is encouraging community groups to take more responsibility for 'non-essential' services such as local parks and green space, this research makes recommendations for how community groups may be best supported in a time of budget constraints to make the best possible use of limited resources available to ensure the resilience of small scale projects which provide benefits to people and nature at the local level.
Fantastic! It was such a privilege to be given the opportunity to spend time exploring an area of research which I feel really passionate about. I have admired the work of The Mersey Forest for many years, and I was very excited about the opportunity to work with such an inspirational organisation.
I am very happy as I have just started a new job working for the Wildlife Trust in Gloucestershire. I am developing a Green Infrastructure product for their ecological consultancy. It aims to positively influence the ways in which space for nature will be included in all new residential and commercial developments, for the benefit of both wildlife and people.
I am writing up my research alongside this new job, so I am very busy, but also very pleased to be working in an area which I feel is so important for the health of humanity and the planet. And The Mersey Forest scholarship was a crucial launch-pad for me jumping off into the world of work after my PHD, thank you!
The Mayor and Mayoress of Warrington, Councillor Geoff and Mrs Jean Settle, have helped pupils at Croft School to plant a new orchard.
More than thirty pupils and teachers were joined by the couple and The Mersey Forest team as they planted a collection of apple and pear trees, together with flowering bulbs and a stretch of hedge to provide a windbreak for the orchard.
Head Teacher Anne Mains said: "The orchard the children have planted today is our latest step in improving opportunities to learn outdoors - an important part of our curriculum. We hope to start Forest School sessions in our grounds in Spring. The sessions help to improve children's confidence, interpersonal skills and knowledge of the natural world. Our new trees will enhance our growing area; we are looking forward to our first harvest of fruit!"
The school had additional support from Bents Home and Garden who provided the bulbs and TCS UK who have helped to fund the trees that were planted.
Mersey Forest Steering Group member, Cllr Settle, said "It was great to see the kids getting involved with the planting day – they really enjoyed it and the new trees are a great addition to the growing area."
The new charter will be launched in November 2017, which marks 800 years since Henry lll signed the original Charter of the Forest. This influential charter protected and restored the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests.
Today, our nation's woods and trees are facing unprecedented pressures from development, pests and diseases and climate change. They risk being neglected, undervalued and forgotten. Now is the time to create a new charter, a broader charter that recognises the importance of trees in our society, celebrates their enormous contribution to our lives, and acts now so that future generations can benefit from them too.
The coalition's ambition is that the principles set out in the 2017 charter will articulate the relationship between people and trees in the UK in the 21st century. The charter will provide guidance and inspiration for policy, practice, innovation and enjoyment. Redefining the everyday benefits that we all gain from woods and trees in our lives, for everyone, from Government to businesses, communities and individuals.
Local groups, clubs, councils and committees will be encouraged to take part by bringing people together to celebrate the woods and trees at the heart of their communities and help feed ideas and stories into the building of the charter. The 43 Charter Steering Group organisations are also looking to recruit local 'Charter Champions' who will ensure their community is represented in this ambitious project, able to seize this unique opportunity to define the future for woods and trees in the UK and make their voices heard.
Guidance and information will be provided during the campaign to inspire and support local activities, and to help people create a lasting legacy in communities across the UK. Funding will be available for local events, activities and projects that reconnect people and trees. Anyone involved will be part of a UK-wide network of groups leading local events and will represent communities in this UK wide conversation about the future of woods and trees.
The charter will be rooted in stories and memories that show us how trees have shaped our society, landscape and lives. To kick the campaign off, the organisations involved are asking people from all corners of the UK to share their 'tree stories' of treasured or significant moments in their lives that would not have been possible without trees, to help create a charter that reflects the true meaning and value of trees and woods to the people of the UK.
Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust CEO said: "Our collective ambition is for a charter that puts trees back at the heart of our lives, communities and decision making -where they belong. The charter will provide guidance and inspiration to allow us all to appreciate, preserve and celebrate our trees and woods for what they do for us in so many different ways. Inspired by something that happened 800 years ago, there is no better time than now to shine the spotlight again on the benefits that trees and woods bring to us all today and to future generations."
Paul Nolan, Director, The Mersey Forest added: "The Mersey Forest is all about getting more from trees - recognising their role in climate change, health and wellbeing, economic development and more. We're really pleased to be part of this major new campaign to get even more people involved in championing trees and woodlands"
Each year England's Community Forests host a national conference to discuss the progress community forestry is making, identify issues and develop opportunities.
Our 2016 conference will be held at the Birmingham Midland Institute on Wednesday 23rd March 2016.
This year our conference focuses on the Urban Forest with the launch of a new document by the Urban Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee. We will also look at professionalism in community forestry, with ICF Chief Executive Shireen Chambers.
There is lots of time for discussion and questions too.
Once again we are delighted that our conference chair will be Sir Harry Studholme, Forestry Commission chairman.
For further information and to book to attend please use this Eventbrite link. There is a small charge to help cover the costs of the event:
Yesterday saw the first Partnership Event for our Nature4Health project bringing together representatives from community organisations, land managers and academics from across the Forest.
Community officers, forest school leaders and researchers from a wide range of organisations including Riverside Housing, the Cass Foundation, TCV, the Land Trust, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool University, Knowsley Council, 1st Enable and Ecolibrium descended on Risley Moss for a morning of presentations and presentations.
Nature4Health is a three year project funded by The Big Lottery's Reaching Communities Programme to tackle health inequalities. Over the next three years a series of activities will take place in targeted communities across The Mersey Forest including Liverpool, Sefton and St.Helens.
The scheme provides high quality, evidence-based sessions utilising the assets of the local natural environment. It's about providing health-promoting, enjoyable group activities in a green, therapeutic environment.
The first activity for 2016 kicked off today with a TCV Green Gym session at the Countess of Chester Health Park.
For more information about Nature4Health see our new website: http://www.nature4health.org.uk/