Woodland working parties

We’ve had between 6 and 8 people, on each of the Sundays through the month of November attending our first block of woodland working parties at Oxlip Wood in East Northants.  They proved so popular that we carried on running them until the end of February, each session being quite varied in the type of woodland management work undertaken.

To understand more about what’s involved and how woodland working helps grow well-being I thought it would be helpful, especially for those of you who might be interested in volunteering, to listen to feedback from the first members of the Outdoor Tribe woodland working party team.

As you’ll hear, the benefits delivered to the volunteers was broader than just earning new skills and being outdoors. Various well-being outcomes were delivered –  getting active, learning new skills, being social, not to mention enjoying the social interactions and shared laughter..

Join the Outdoor Tribe to benefit your health

Improving individual well-being through being outdoors isn’t just about getting more active, there are wider aspects concerned with the the health benefits of being outdoors. Government policies over the past few years have increasingly been influenced by a growing body of evidence proving that spending time interacting with nature can provide protection against quite a range of diseases, including Depression, Diabetes, ADHD, Cardiovascular disease and Cancer.

Be Social

Human beings are generally wired to be social animals, with needs to have friends, beyond the family unit, where feeling understood and valued in their own right is important.

three people sitting in woodland drinking teaJust mixing with other people in an informal way is good for improving wellbeing. Evidence shows that being social with other people is important and can increase feelings of happiness and self-worth.

Meeting like-minded people, sharing in with a mixture of work-based tasks and relaxation periods is a great way to get social. Even if someone is quite shy or feels unconfident at mixing with other people, it’s not long before there’s shared laughter to be enjoyed, not to mention Penguin biscuits at regular intervals..!

Get Active

Getting involved in light woodland management tasks provides a source of good physical exercise. Whether walking the boundary around edge of the wood, snipping off the encroaching plant growth, or joining a coppicing or hedge-laying party, there’s plenty of gentle stretching that goes on and exercising of various muscle groups required.

Tree planting and hazel coppicing can be very rewarding activities to be involved with, providing a great sense of satisfaction in surveying the work that’s been completed over the course of a woodland working party session.

Being outdoors and involved in a physical task can be great for mental relaxation too through the act of focussing on a practical task that engages the whole being, driving a way feelings of anxiety.

Keep Learning

If you don’t know what hedge-laying is all about, take a look at the hedge in this photo that the group started and completed on the 29th November. By their own admission, it might not be the best example of hedge-laying, but it will do the job it needs to – keeping out the farmer’s sheep and deterring the deer from coming into the wood to snack on succulent new tree growth.

hedge laid on the edge of a woodMost people attending woodland working parties have never attempted the task of hedge-laying. However, by the end of a hedge laying session there’s a air of group satisfaction at a task achieved, each individual contributing to a team outcome.

Woodland working party volunteers can also learn how to layer Hazel bushes, to encourage replication and new plant growth.

The process of layering involves bending  long hazel stems from the main growth centre down to the ground, then pegging the pliable stems into the soil, from where new plant growth should begin.

There’s even opportunity for learning about outdoor cooking, helping to provide the refreshments and a hearty lunch to keep the woodland workers going if the session is one that runs for half a day, rather than a couple of hours.

Care for wild places

trees in tubes in woodlandThere’s something very satisfying about caring for wild places, creating habitats for nesting birds or chopping back undergrowth along the tracks to provide butterfly bays.

The woodland working parties that ran through November helped plant some of the 400 new trees, required works after felling as part of our Forestry Commission management plan. A mixture of Cherry, Oak, Hornbeam, Hazel and small-leaved Lime were planted, tubed and staked.

We started providing Woodland Working Parties at Oxlip Wood and the 20 acres provided enough scope to offer a variety of management jobs. We are currently in discussions about delivering Woodland Working Parties at other woodland in the East Northants area. If you’d like to be kept informed about this please send us your contact details.

If you’d enjoy learning some light woodland management skills, to improve the biodiversity to benefit the flora and fauna, whilst meeting a few new people and doing some gentle socialising – register for one of our future woodland working party dates in East Northants.

Notice small things

primroseSlowing down enough to notice what’s going on around us is something most people find challenging, because most of us are focussing on what we need to do next!

Just being outdoors, feeling the breeze, the sun or even the rain on your face, helps somehow to  deepen breathing and encourage relaxation of both mind and body. Some people describe spending time in woodland as “breathing in calmness”.

Once you allow yourself to tune into the wildness of being in a woodland environment it’s surprising how the small, but beautiful little things that live in the wood become visible.

We’ve observed many times that the finding of small things in the woodland, especially if they’re not what’s expected, causes delight for both adults and children alike. Delight is a lovely emotion to experience, one that has a positive effect on well-being.

During the Autumn woodland working parties some really interesting small things were noticed. For example, a tiny Primrose that was flowering in the second week in November, when not expected to be seen until the New Year. The finding of the little Primrose delighted everyone and from the number of photographs taken I’m surprised it didn’t turn pink, blushing from all the attention!

Give to others

line of people in woodlandHelping improve the woodland environment at Oxlip Wood is providing benefit for other groups that will visit the wood in the future.

Outdoor Tribe is a CIC, a Community Interest Company. This means that any profits made are ploughed back into the company, to help us improve delivery of our objectives to individuals and community groups.

Volunteers have helped to manage the woodland areas where children attend Forest School, noticing hazards and helping to reduce any associated risks for the children. For example, trimming of thorns from the trunks of trees, where underneath small children might build a mini-beast home.

Woodland working party volunteers, having helped to manage these areas and learning more about Forest School, have then expressed interest in becoming Forest School volunteers, helping children keep safe in the wonderful, but very wild woodland environment of Oxlip Wood and other venues where we will be delivering in the future. If you’re interested in the type of work we do with children you can read more about what Forest School is all about.

On the last Sunday in September 2015 we welcomed over 70 visitors to Oxlip wood, as part of the Nene Valley Festival and without our team of volunteers the event would undoubtedly not have been the success it was.

We’re running two free afternoon sessions at Oxlip Wood during this year’s Nene Valley festival and will be looking to recruita variety of volunteers to help with people-management and even do a spot of role-play if they’re so interested  (we need a WW2 Home Guard). If you’re interested, please contact us

Joining the Outdoor Tribe and becoming a member of our woodland working parties, at Oxlip Wood or elsewhere, isn’t just about woodland management tasks, it can lead to so much more. What’s for sure is that you’ll not only benefit the woodland environment where you’re working, but your own well-being too.

How you can join the Outdoor Tribe

Send us your details and we’ll contact you and ask you to come along for a visit. Woodland Working Parties will be running from September 2016 (we don’t do work in the woodland during the bird nesting season). You’re welcome to dip in and out to suit – but be warned, woodland working parties can be addictive!

Other posts that may be of interest

Woodlands for well-being

How woodlands can help those on the Autistic Spectrum

What is Forest School?



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