See our latest case study – of Graigwen Woods above Pontypridd.
This group of ‘rank amateurs’ formed in August 2018 with the aim of purchasing a local woodland, protecting it from built development and improving access to the space for local people’s recreation and education purposes.
The site, on a hillside at Graigwen, to the North west of Pontypridd is around 5.6 acres and boasts commanding views over the town. The woodlands were under private ownership and news spread about plans for building on the land. Following a great deal of local opposition the land was put up for sale and a local business person, and sympathiser of the group, stepped in and bought the land in the interim at auction to keep it safe from developers, until such time that the Friends of Graigwen Woods could raise the capital to purchase the woodland for the community.
The group’s aim is to manage the woodland in such a way as to improve its ‘condition’, while also enhancing the number and quality of wild edible plants for foraging by local, potentially also offering educational opportunities for local school children. They recognise that as local residents get more involved in using and maintaining the woods area, it should have a positive impact on their health and well-being, due to be being outdoors and amongst nature.
In order to begin the process of buying the woods, the group received support from the Wales Co-operative Centre and Interlink to establish an appropriate governance structure and legal entity, forming a Community Benefit Society. Social media sites were also set up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep local people and members up to date with happenings. They now boast over 300 supporters on Facebook.
The group needed to raise £20,000 to buy the land from the current owner and so they embarked on a community shares scheme, again with support from Wales Co-operative Centre. The share offer was launched on 1st July 2019 and closed at end of August 2019 with £16,000 raised from around 100 contributors. They were a bit disappointed that more individuals did not buy shares but delighted that Pontypridd Town Council invested the maximum allowable amount in the scheme. Because the Town Council had followed the necessary due diligence process into the groups finances and governance it gave the group real credibility and confidence.
Renew Wales supported the Friends of Graigwen Woods by providing a mentor who could visit the site, observe it and produce a report for their future reference. Claire Turner was chosen as the suitable mentor and she walked around the site with members of the group pointing out details and helping to identify which types of trees and shrubs were present. She offered them suggestions on how to better manage the woods on an on-going basis, how to improve the light coming into the space, together with some ideas for increasing its biodiversity. In one of her reports, she also outlined some examples of foraging and how plants and leaves can be used medicinally and invited the group to visit other woods in the area and Coppicewood College to get experience of using tools and learning skills.
Claire says “…I suggested managing the woods using coppicing which is an ancient, sustainable woodland management practice. This could improve the biodiversity of the site, increase the mix of trees and create green wood which can be made into products like faggot bundles, charcoal, seating, spoons etc. It needs careful and considered management and I suggested the group undertake some training and linked them to Llais y Goedwig who may be able to connect them with local practised ‘coppicers’. The use of hand tools can be very enabling as they are cheap, and with some direction and practice, easy to use to manage the woods. This work would then develop a skilled working group who may want to develop these skills further.”
As part of their research into ‘how to do it’ the group also visited another woodland, hosted by Welcome to our Woods in Treherbert. This demonstrated a very different ‘model’ and set up to what the Graigwen group was planning. Welcome to our Woods is a limited company, and generates various products from the trees, including firewood, as well as having a hydro-electric system in place. The Graigwen group found it worthwhile and interesting to learn from such a different project.
So now in 2020, the Friends of Graigwen Woods have just been awarded a grant from Trivallis Community Investment Fund which means they now have the money needed to buy the woods. The hard work starts here!
They plan to start by clearing the brambles and other overgrown areas and generally tidying up. Then they aim to improve some paths so that they are wheelchair and buggy friendly, and to link them up with the Pontypridd Circular Walk, which runs across the lower part of the land. They may also place some benches for walkers to rest and enjoy their surroundings.
As a group they feel more focussed on climate change and sustainability issues through having support from Renew Wales, although they felt they were ‘fairly switched on’ to these issues previously. Talking through the issues helped to highlight the connections between their local ambitions for the woodland and responding to climate change e.g. locking up carbon, dealing with water run-off, soil erosion, and improving the wellbeing and resilience of their community.
Gill Simons, the group’s Vice-Chair commented: “It’s been hard work to get to this point but we are very grateful to all the organisations who have supported us and we now look forward to rolling up our sleeves, improving and protecting this valuable land for our community use in the future….which was probably taken for granted in the past.”