Update & response to the letter to all Councillor "Concerning the Future of Raincliffe Woods"
1. Background: Community Asset Transfer Policy
The decision to transfer Raincliffe Woods into community management was made in accordance with the Council's Community asset Transfer Policy. Raincliffe Woods is one of a number of assets that have been transferred in recent years.
Details about the Council's Community Asset Transfer policy and information about specific assets can be found at: http://www.scarborough.gov.uk/CAT
For information the cabinet decisions in relation to Raincliffe Woods can be found at: http://democracy.scarborough.gov.uk/ieListdocuments.aspx?cid=108&Mid=5780 (Cabinet Tuesday 20th January 2015)
& http://democracy.scarborough.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?Cid-108&Mid=4418 (Cabinet Tuesday 10th December 2013)
2. Raincliffe Woods Community Enterprise (RWCE) is a social enterprise, established in 2012 and is a locally based group made up of local people and organisations, such as Groundwork North Yorkshire, and Coast and Vale Voluntary Action. The Woodland Management plan and associated works are managed through an agreement with the Woodland Trust, which is the UK's largest woodland conservation charity. Further information about RWCE can be found at: http://www.communitywood.co.uk
The group have a range of individuals and skills within their Board structure. There have been some changes in membership over the year but positively the group have attracted new members in their first full year of operation since transfer. The Borough Council has two representatives on the Board of RWCE (this was a condition of the transfer) Councillors Bill Chatt and Andrew Jenkinson.
The Group held an AGM in April 2015, with this year's AGM provisionally scheduled for 13 April 2016.
3. Woodland Management Plan
The Woodland Trust has just completed the first phase of the Woodland Management Plan. This was included as part of the Business Plan approved by Cabinet and is supported by all of the relevant agencies including Natural England, Forestry Commission and National Park Authority. The Woodland Trust also secured a £100,000 grant from WREN's FCC Biodiversity Action Fund to undertake non-economic restoration work.
Over the years, much of the native broadleaf woodland which once covered Raincliffe Wood, Row Brow Woods and a small part of Forge Valley have been felled and replaced with a mixture of non-native conifer species. The aim of the woodland management plan is to put in place a sympathetic managment system, with a programme of gradual non-native tree removal. Selective 'thinning' enables greater levels of light to penetrate the tree canopy, which in turn encourages a wide variety of native plants, trees and wildlife.
Around 50% of the woodland will be managed as continuous cover forestry, which is where the canopy of trees is maintained through the careful selection of trees for felling. This avoids any clear felling areas and large scale impact on the landscape. Income from the timber extraction is reinvested in the woods to support the sustainable management of the woods and the wider work such as education, events and improvements.
There have been some concerns raised about the scale of the recent works. Cabinet approved no more than 1,000 tonnes per year of timber to be extracted and this was written into the License under which RCWE (and the Woodland Trust) are operating in the woods.
The Woodland Trust has confirmed that less than 800 tonnes of timber has been felled in the first year of operations. This is around 600 tonnes as a result of harvesting operation and around 150 tonnes as a result of the uneconomic thinning work (fell to waste). Overall the thinning intensity was below the 20% considered normal for such activities.
There were some concerns raised about the impact of the harvesting works on some of the paths, and the impact was compounded by very wet weather during the period of operations. However, resinstatement works have been undertaken to level the ruts. There are some areas of bare earth, however this is a short term issue and these will green up come the Spring. We would expect to see a healthy influx of new growth where the tracks have been disturbed as a result of seeds being brought to the surface.
The 2016 programme is likely to be of a similar scale (up to 1,000 tonnes) and will cover a similar sized area. However, the intention is to work to the old sawmill site which should avoid disruption to the carparks.
The letter raises issues about "run off, flooding and landslip". I have asked for the views of the Woodland Trust in relation to these issues and their response is reproduced below.
Interception of Rainwater by Trees.
The crowns of both conifer and broadleaved trees do act as interceptors reducing the speed of water run off during periods of heavy rain. The difference in run off between broadleaves and confirs over small areas is marginal. It should be noted that no clear felling operations are proposed but very light thinning of the trees to encourage the development of the natural ground flora, which is many areas is very sparse with areas of bare earth.
The conifers have two problems in relation to them acting as long term interceptors of water. Firstly in many places all that exists is tall slender conifer trees with small crowns, a trunk and bare earth beneath. During heavy rain the bare earth is prone to gradual soil erosion. In comparison bradleaved woodland can have an improved woodland structure. This would include the crown of the tree, beneath which you would have understory shrubs and than a dense ground flora. These 3 elements together would provide a much improved interceptor of rain water.
The second risk with the even aged conifer trees is that they will reach an age and size where they will start to collapse, both individually and in large groups. This might not happen for a while, but it is a risk for the future. The pines and spruce whilst they do adapt to external features such as wind and exposure are not normally as receptive as broadleaved trees. Indeed if you visit the part of the escarpment which does contain bradleaved trees you can see how the exposed oaks and other species are much smaller and have compacted crowns. In addition the strong northerly wind which hit the woods at the end of 2015 has uprooted a number of conifers. Fortunately at the moment this seems to be restricted to odd indivudal trees rather than groups.
The recent fell to waste work undertaken on site will have resulted in no change to the system. The brash on the ground still acts as a water interceptor.
In summary the work undertaken and proposed within the conifer blocks on the escarpemnt of the woods will not have any significant impact on the interception of rain water. However, in the long term this work will help to ensure a much more robust woodland develops for the future.
The Woodland Trust held a number of public meetings in relation to the restoration and harvesting works and there was some publicity within the local press. Plans were available showing the areas where restoration work was to be undertaken. In addition walks were held in the Woods where people who were interested in the work could find out further information and comment.
Information Boards have been erected in The Woods explaining about the Woodland Management programme and these are attached.
4. Community Activity
In the first year RWCE have been working on a number of activities and initiatives around their key themes of Wildlife, People and Enterprise. These include:
* A successful application to the People's Health Trust, resulting in the first employee, Will Watts, who will deliver the 'Wild about Wooods' project. This includes engagement with local schools (including Northstead and Barrowcliff) who will be designing and building projects. The first project is likely to be a seating area and viewpoint up from Throxenby Mere. There will also be a programme of Easter activities.
* Footpath Improvements - this will be undertaken on a phased basis with volunteers. Starting at Cunsey Gate and moving on to Raincliffe Gate. Volunteers are meeting once a week on Fridays between 10-2pm starting on 19th Feburary 2016.
* Volunteers from Scarborough Archaelogical and Historical Society have been surveying and mapping the historical features in the Woods, to scope out potential heritage projects and improve the mapped data. Work is also ongoing in relation to GIS mappring to build up a comprehensive GIS map of the woods with paths, features, heritage and woodland data which will assist with future planning. Joint working with the National Park Rangers is scheduled to progress this further.
* RWCE have identified a desire to further develop their communications over the coming year and encourage more volunteers and feedback for the local community. They have a growing Facebook page with increasing activity, likes, comments and visitor posts, which are positive in tone. The group are keen to develop this as a key source of information for the local community and will be looking to update their website with a front page Facebook to keep website users updated.
The Community Asset Transfer Panel continues to have oversight of the progress of the transfer. The Council nominated Board representatives provide support to the Group and ensure that the interests of the Council as landowner are protected.
The group are currently operating on a short term licence, pending the completion of the final lease documents which will be for a period of 25 years intitially (as approved by Cabinet). Should there be any major breaches of the terms of the lease there are mechanisms in place to deal with these.
RWCE/Woodland Trust would be happy to provide any further information if required:
Meak Feather: Woodland Trust: MarkFeather@woodlandtrust.org.uk
Robert Sword: Chair of RWCE firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information about the Council's Community Asset Transfer programme, please contact:
Jo Ireland: Customers, Communities and Partnerships Manager
Martin Pedley: Asset and Risk Manager
(posted to all Council Members on Tuesday 15th February, composed by Jo Ireland 12th Feburary 2016)
Apologies for any typos's file would not open ;-)) ?? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHpYR-3gnUg
Well Done to Jane Strutt for bringing this to full Council's attention. There is to be an internal review at the end of the month and yours truly will update as appropriate.
Many Thanks also to Jo Ireland for a comprehensive 'factual' history of RWCE to date, that should answer a few questions...
Could be fun? PS: Volunteers are meeting once a week on Fridays between 10-2pm starting on 19th Feburary 2016.