Woodworkers transforming Surrey’s woodlands

PUBLISHED: 15:50 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 13:38 14 May 2015

Foggy Surrey countryside (Photo: Ingram Publishing)

Foggy Surrey countryside (Photo: Ingram Publishing)

Archant

Celebrating all that is good about wood, the Surrey Hills Wood Fair brings our county’s woodworkers together in Bramley every year. Here we meet five people who spend their working days in Surrey’s woodlands and discover what it is that so inspires them...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2014

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David Vickers

Forestry and arboriculture trainer

 


How did you first get involved in working with wood?

 

Ignoring my attempts at woodwork in school over 30 years ago, I started playing around with bits of wood once I began studying forestry and arboriculture around 10 years ago. That brought me back into contact with wood in general, and I became inspired to start woodworking again.

The whole reason I got into tree work was to get away from a job that I’d had enough of! Previously, I’ve always been in training of one form or another, and so 
it was a logical step to start training others, and I now run Drivelink Training teaching people practical forestry and arboricultural skills.

What inspires you about it?

I love the fact that we can use this amazing renewable resource to create things – whether that is a small wooden whistle or a spoon, or whether it’s used in some major construction project. I also love the fact that it can be used to keep us warm, and that it provides a habitat for so many creatures. Wood is also such a tactile medium to work with, and whether it’s creating a new oak stable door, or climbing around in the canopy of a tree, there’s a real sense of connection there. Actually, that sounds a bit ‘hippy’, doesn’t it?!

Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey?

Woodland is taken for granted all over, not just in Surrey. We’re incredibly lucky in Surrey as it is England’s most wooded county and woodland cover in England has doubled from 1870 to 2000. However, I see so much over-stood, under-managed and derelict woodland that it’s a shame more isn’t being done to make this viable again; cutting and using over-stood coppice can be a great source of biomass for wood heat generation, but it is slow and expensive compared to plantations of conifer. There is a need for people to explore the woodlands, make them popular again and find out more about the habitat they offer.

Where are your favourite woodland walks in the county?

There are some fabulous wooded areas, and they may only be small, but each one has its own unique character. There is a broadleaf wood near to me in Farnham that has a little stream running through it; during the year, the character of this small woodland changes quite dramatically but it always retains a certain charm. The feel of that woodland is quite different from others such as the conifer stands at Bourne Wood.


Susanna Carter

Woodworker using reclaimed materials

 

How did you first get involved in working with wood?

 

I began working with wood about 10 years ago. I have always had an interest in natural materials and also in reclamation, but it wasn’t until I was given some beautiful old oak fencing that I began to develop my ideas into solid form.

What inspires you about it?

I really love the grain and feel of the wood that I work with and I believe this depth of character can only be found in materials that have aged through natural processes. It means it has its own story to tell and being able to expose the beauty of the wood once it has served its utilitarian role is also a great pleasure.

Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey?

I think it depends who you talk to really. For my part, I am lucky enough to live at the bottom of Holmbury Hill and certainly around here people appreciate this special area. I do think though that perhaps more information could be available within our schools about the huge benefits and beauty of our local woodlands, so that the next generation is aware of it too.

Where are your favourite woodland walks in the county?

Obviously, for me, Holmbury Hill is a clear favourite, but also Pitch Hill, Leith Hill and Blackheath are all very special places. Even having grown up around here, I still find new places to explore, especially now with my children.

John Sinclair

Coppice worker in the Surrey Hills

 


How did you first get involved in working with wood?


My first contact with coppicing was as a richly-deserved punishment duty at my school, Rendcomb in Gloucestershire, in the 1970s. I then picked it up again, professionally in 2002 after leaving the corporate world. I always say it is bad for the back, good for the soul, and we don’t discuss the bank balance.

What inspires you about it?

The coppice world is full of diversity; there is always something useful and productive to do whatever the season, whatever the weather, and it all contributes to the long-term future of our native flora and fauna for generations to come. It’s hard graft but in a worthwhile cause.

Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey?

Yes; many people think that their beautiful woods will just stay the same if they do nothing. They won’t. The reason we have such rich diversity is because of the hundreds of years of cyclical management by foresters and coppice workers. If we want to conserve the flora and fauna that we have, the best way to do it is to continue with the same management practices that have created and maintained it over the last few hundred years. In short, to support your woodlands, you have to support your woodland workers by buying sustainably harvested local products.

Where are your favourite woodland walks in the county?

My all-time favourite woodlands are the Sheepleas in East and West Horsley. Not only do I have the pleasure of working there but it has some of almost everything – from ancient beech to chalk grassland; a true hidden gem.

Sean Harrison

Surrey Hills woodland advisor

 

How did you first get involved in working with wood?

 

As I was growing up, I witnessed the dramatic loss of my local rural areas through development. This saddened me greatly and I decided that I would change career in order to help to conserve what was left. I was very lucky to eventually go on to become the manager of the Sheepleas in West Horsley (predominantly a woodland and meadow open space) for over 20 years.

What inspires you about it?

Personally, it is helping to inspire the next generation to appreciate the world of life around them. These moments of wonder are what we all carry forward into adult life and is what makes us appreciate and, when necessary, band together to protect our local woodlands and other green spaces.

Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey?

I don’t think that the woodland is taken for granted in terms of recreation and ecology. In Surrey, the woodland areas, that are open to the public, are very well used indeed. The main issue is with the diverse interests associated with this use and the lack of understanding between each group.

It is the woodland resource, in terms of building materials, crafts and fuel, which is not fully appreciated and taken for granted. Partly due to economics and partly due to a natural aversion to felling trees, the full potential of our woodland has not been explored. Education and interpretation are the keys to garner support for long-term, sustainable woodland management.

Where are your favourite woodland walks in the county?

I don’t have a specific favourite walk, as I really enjoy walking in all woodlands. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to walk around many privately owned woodlands, when meeting with the owners. Every wood I visit is different and this is due to species composition, geology, archaeology, aspect and the landscape position. I always approach each new woodland with open eyes and an open mind. I never know what I’ll find within.

Theo Tramblinas

Woodland ranger and naturalist


 

How did you first get involved in working with wood?

 

From a very young age, I wanted to be outdoors. I love nature and Sir David Attenborough is my hero. It was whilst taking groups on safari in South Africa that I realised how important my job was, creating memories for the guests and how the tiniest things can make the difference in what was seen on a game drive. It no longer became about the lions or the cheetah, beautiful as they are, but about what my guests experienced. This was the point where I realised my role in nature. It is to show people the wonder of the world around us just as my hero did for me.

What inspires you about it?

What inspires me is the simplicity; the changing of the seasons and its smell is what I think we all love the most. Also, the practicalities found in something that starts off as a piece of wood and becomes my favourite spoon or yet another Christmas present for my girlfriend Beth.

Do we take our woodland for granted in Surrey?

I don’t think we take it for granted. We just don’t understand it. Know it. Realise what it is that makes a woodland so special. If I go to other places in the UK, the first thing I notice is how open their landscape is compared to our woody wilderness. Here in Surrey, I have been running ‘Naturedayz’ for two years now and it teaches and demonstrates to children and adults about the wildlife that can be found in a pile of logs or a hedgerow. Once we know that pile of logs is known to house voles, or that those droppings belong to a badger, then the pieces of the puzzle suddenly start to fit together in what could easily be seen as an empty landscape.

Where are your favourite woodland walks in the county?

I am a keen angler, so anywhere woody next to water is pretty much paradise for me!

 

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Have your say!

And tell us about your own favourite Surrey woodlands for a walk at facebook.com/SurreyLife or twitter.com/SurreyLife

 

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Need to know...

For details about the 2015 Surrey Hills Wood Fair at Birtley House, Bramley, see surreyhillswoodland.co.uk



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