Visiting the Woodland Trust headquarters in Grantham, Lincolnshire, immediately gets you thinking of trees - it is surrounded by young silver birch trees and the walls are clad in wooden panels and even the reception desk is a sawlog that has been cut into planks for seasoning The footprint of the building at Kempton Way is C-shaped, said to be in the shape of an unfurling fern enclosing a sheltered woodland garden. Inside, about a hundred people, predominantly young, sit in open plan offices in front of their screens, avidly organising and tapping out the Woodland Trust message mostly fundraising or campaigning – the other staff are out in the field managing their estate of over 1000 woods or working with landowners.
We met the chief executive, Beccy Speight, who has been at the helm for a year and is clearly immensely capable and knows woodlands inside-out - her previous job was managing a chunk of the National Trust where she was always keen to do more with their landbank so moving to the Woodland Trust which owns hundreds of open woodlands has helped her fulfil this dream. Beccy showed us round the offices which are really bright and airy but you can see how much importance is attached to the website with a large screen showing in real time how many people are visiting the WT website and how many are browsing in their online shop.
Considering the enormous power of the Woodland Trust in shaping and harnessing public opinion it's odd to hear Beccy Speight say "I would hate us to be just a lobbying organisation", but she goes on to explain that as well as protecting woodland they also restore sites of ancient woodland and create new woodlands. But she realises that they don't have the resources to do this on their own so they often do new plantings and restorations in order to set an example to others of how to get things done. They then use their lobbying power to encourage others to follow suit and to persuade the government to help create the conditions that will make farmers and others want to do more to manage their woodlands and plant more trees.
It struck me when I met Beccy how similar her objectives are to those of Woodlands.co.uk albeit through a different route. Our own aim is stated in our strapline, "woods for conservation and enjoyment". Beccy says of the Woodland Trust, that their vision is a "UK which is rich in native trees and woods for people and wildlife." If there has been a change of emphasis in the work of the Woodland Trust Beccy says it is taking an interest in trees themselves as well as woodlands and she wants the Woodland Trust to be more involved in urban trees in particular. "Focusing on trees as well as woods has two effects - it makes the landscape on a larger scale more resilient and it can help rekindle people's love of trees and woods."
Speaking candidly she admits that, "we don't always have capacity to manage all our woodlands on our own" and they often work with local people so that they can adopt their nearby woods and help to manage them through the immediate community. Similarly they don't have the resources to buy, plant and retain lots of new woodland so they have developed what they call a "PPP system" of woodland creation where they purchase land (P1), plant it with native trees (P2), and pass it on by selling the new woodland (P3), hoping to break even overall. Addressing some criticisms, the CEO says, "occasionally people have portrayed us as maniacs, only keen on woodland creation, accusing us of favouring wall-to-wall planting, but we're much more concerned about context. We see woodland creation as one approach amongst others towards creating a more resilient woodscape and building a social movement of people who will take positive action in some way for trees and woods."