It’s not often that gardeners get a chance for an overnight outing in early July when everything in the garden screams for attention. However we left it all in the capable hands of one of our gardening volunteers and headed over to Lotherton Hall near Leeds this week to attend the award ceremony for the Royal Forestry Society’s Excellence in Forestry Awards. Gary’s work in Sawrey Ground Plantation here at Yewfield had won him the gold award in the Small and Farm Woodlands category. The judge (standing on Gary’s right) was impressed by the many different and connected fronts that Gary has been working on - economic activities with the felling of thinnings that are sold for woodchip or firewood, the ecological concerns exemplified by the use of horses for extraction, planting hardwoods in protected groups to increase biodiversity and leaving some dead wood and open clearings for the same reason, as well as the emphasis on maintaining access and educational ties.

Gary receiving his beautiful oak leaf award

It was in fact the Education awards that most moved the members of this ‘learned and learning’ society as its President calls it, and the gold and silver were both won by Cumbrian organisations. The gold went to the Bill Hogarth Memorial Apprenticeship Trust which takes on people in a three-year apprenticeship at the end of which they are qualified to set up their own coppicing business. So far the charity has awarded 12 diplomas, thus keeping alive a traditional skill and the business of coppicing here in the Lake District where it was once such an important industry. Silver was won by the Full Cycle project which works with disadvantaged young people over a period of 15 months and takes them through a full coppice year, cutting coppice sticks and making woodland products such as charcoal. Many of those participating had not been in a natural woodland before, while some did not know there was more than one kind of tree. It was truly inspiring to see how woodlands could serve as such an exciting learning opportunity and confidence boost, with the help of this committed group of people.

A very happy group of Cumbrian winners with far right two women from the Full Cycle project and next to them two others from the Bill Hogarth Trust

Altogether it was a warm, friendly and inspiring occasion and affirmed our confidence in the Royal Forestry Society as an inclusive, self critical and forward thinking organization - not just a bunch of folk who are ‘male, pale and stale’, as those in the forestry industry are traditionally typecast. Gary was urged to join the Society by Peter Naylor, a gardening client of his in Far Sawrey, who is in his 90s now but still devoted to the walled garden his late wife created. In a bizarre twist of connections, it was Peter’s grandmother, Lady Royden, who planted back in the early 1900s a very special arboretum on her estate in Hampshire. Known as ‘The Fuzz’ back then it is now the Grove at Brockwood Park School where Gary lived and worked for 15 years before coming up to the Lake District. That delightful arboretum, with its grand sequoias, rhododendrons, a splendid handkerchief tree and other unusual specimens was the first bit of woodland that Gary ever looked after.

Heading home we took the northern route through a traditional Yorkshire landscape of meadows peppered with hay barns. Many farmers were taking a first cut of haylage and we felt jealous of their weather - back here I’m afraid there is no dry spell forecast. Did I mention that we spent the night away on this outing? At our campsite a piece of antique hay-cutting equipment was on display, yet another reminder of what we had left behind and what we were coming back to.

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