Coppice Restoration at Westonbirt Arboretum
- Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Gloucestershire
- 13 Nov 2021 - 14 Nov 2021
Four and a half years ago former Small Woods Association team member, Sophia Perkins, made the decision to leave city life and move to the English/Welsh border with her husband, Pete, to take on a semi-ancient broadleaved woodland.
Sophia and Pete are now bringing up a young family whilst running the The Forager's Cabin, a wood cabin holiday retreat in the Welshpool based woodland, promoting the opportunity to connect with nature.
When discussing a typical day in the woodland, Sophia explained, “We live on the edge of our 10 acres of woodland and run a small eco-retreat business from a little cabin in the woods.
“Our life is intertwined with the woodland every day - from opening the curtains in the morning and seeing my favourite beech tree, to our morning dog walk and foraging.
“Pete and I both work in the woods and, as we moved from the city, we have city friends who stay and help out in the woods. It’s a nice antidote to your desk job! In autumn and winter we’ll spend many weekends doing woodland work however we’ll leave the woods to do their thing over summer for bird nesting season. Woodland work, for us, typically involves cyclical hazel coppicing and processing windblown branches or trees for firewood.”
Since the pair got involved with the woodland there have been a number of changes made as a result of a clear woodland management plan.
“We manage our woodland for wildlife, firewood and dog walks. We have a clear woodland management plan which I wrote in consultation with an arborist as we didn’t have much hands-on experience when we first moved here. Our woodland is on a steep hill and classified as semi-ancient broadleaved woodland and, due to the topography, there are large swathes of the woodland we leave for wildlife and don’t visit or touch.
“When we arrived there was a completely closed canopy as little to no woodland management had been done. We have thinned areas around paths to encourage more varied vertical strata in the woodland for biodiversity, encouraging wildflowers for local flora and fauna. We’ve been rewarded with a thick carpet of wood anemones, bluebells and woodruff as a result.”
Whilst the couple have acquired a range of knowledge and new skills as a result of being so involved in the daily management of the woodland, they didn’t have the same level of hands-on experience when they first started. Fortunately the Small Woods Association provided useful information and training that has come in handy with the day-to-day running of their woodland.
Sophia says, “I was so lucky to work within the Small Woods Wales team as part of their communications department so I could consult with all the fantastically knowledgeable people that work there.
“I learnt so much about woodland management but also fantastic softer skills such as foraging, plant ID, green wood working skills and willow weaving. When my son is older I’d really like to go on more of their courses to expand upon these skills that I’m still a beginner at.”
With such a busy lifestyle, Sophia believes that living in the woodland has definitely had a positive effect on her mental wellbeing.
“Living in the woodland has immeasurable benefits for my mental health. I have a young child, a job and I run the holiday cabin from home whilst Pete works full time, so life is busy! However, everyday I make time to walk our dog in the woods and, as I walk, I daydream with my son in a carrier on my back, taking in the noises and smells, and I can physically feel the stress release from my body. It’s magical!”, she says.
The future of their woodland looks positive with plans to expand their holiday retreat and, in turn, share the physical and mental benefits of nature.
Sophia explains, “We’re so lucky to live in the woodland and I’ve always felt really strongly that it’s important to share this joy. This is why I started our holiday let business - to encourage people into nature and share it’s benefits. I hope to continue this.
“I also hope that the Smallwoods project ‘Actif Woods’ will expand into Powys so we can run sessions in our wood processing area. We have planning permission to build another cabin in the woodland but have no time to do it yet. Hopefully one day!”