WYRE FOREST NATIONAL OPINION LEADERS’ WORKSHOP, BEWDLEY 22 NOVEMBER 2018
Helen Jackson reports:
A life raft for species, a sleeping giant, diverse and exceptional array of wildlife and superb unique habitat, were just some of the words used to describe the Wyre Forest at an event designed to showcase the 2400 hectare area. Just under 150 years later, the words of John Ruskin describing his hopes that a corner of the forest might be ‘beautiful, peaceful and fruitful’ still resonate today.
Around 50 experts in forests, land management, academics, both at national and local levels, and others who simply call themselves Wyre ‘enthusiasts’, came together for the first time on Thursday 22 November with a core aim; how do we better put Wyre Forest on the map.
The brainchild of Guild Companion Chris Baines, leading environmentalist and Chair of Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership, the workshop also aimed to build an informal network of influential ambassadors and to develop the scope for Wyre to become a national centre for applied research.
There are strong foundations to build on; Wyre forest is the first place where an agreement is in place to jointly manage the forest between The Forestry Commission and Natural England, the workshop is also supporting the exploration of new ideas for the future of the forest by Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership set up to help sustain this very special corner of the countryside.
Worcestershire County Council Archaeologist, Adam Mindykowski spoke passionately about the ancient woodland that is Wyre Forest, delving into its pre-historic settlements, industrial past including coal mining, charcoal and tanning, the important role of its railway and its rich orchard and fruit, something which is being currently being re-energised by the Wyre Community Land Trust (WCLT).
Brett Westwood, author and radio 4 wildlife reporter imparted his considerable local knowledge on the scale, variety and landscape of Wyre. He painted pictures of the forest for the audience with tales of beautifully sounding species and habitats such as the plated snail, ballerina wax caps (fungi) and wet flushes.
Tim Selman, Managing Director of the Wyre Forest Community Land Trust spoke about the management of the land and of its economic value, touching upon the work underway to diversify the use of the oak dominated landscape. Jenny Joy, Wyre Forest Facilitation Fund provided an overview of work bringing landowners together to manage private land to share the vision for Wyre, whilst reminding us of the vast array of butterfly species within the forest, including England's largest colony of pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies.
John Iles, Guild of St George Director and Grow with Wyre, tasked the audience with the responsibility of being stewards of this precious asset and to ensure that it is protected and sustained for future generations to use and enjoy.
And that was just the morning session! Lunchtime further provided an opportunity to showcase the resources of the Wyre, with local chef Darren Bale providing a lunch sourced from local suppliers, including his own garden, with zero food miles.
The afternoon saw groups enthusiastically debating the key issues for Wyre and generate ideas for short, middle and long term actions that can stimulate Wyre’s national potential. There was consensus in the room that this hidden gem has largely gone uncelebrated and unrecognised, a need for greater collaboration across other sectors such as health and the collation of a list of ideas for future academic research. There was a real enthusiasm from delegates to take forward the actions and continue as a network of ambassadors for the Wyre.
After all, in the final words of Brett Westwood, ‘you won’t find another Forest like it’! In short, Wyre Forest is one of Britain’s exceptional places.
Read more about the Wyre Community Land Trust here.