Being a site manager at the Woodland Trust means there's no such thing as a dull day - and I've been doing this for over 5 years! Many of the sites I look after are around towns in the North West of England. In fact, people are often surprised to hear that a third of Woodland Trust sites lie in urban spaces. Let me tell you about what I do and some of the different challenges that come my way on a typical day. My job is incredibly varied and no two days are ever the same.
The role of an urban site manager
As you’d expect, we protect and care for urban woods by working directly in the woodland. We also work with the local residents, community groups and local authorities involved with the site. I’m responsible for nearly 70 woods across Merseyside and Cheshire, of which more than two-thirds are located in urban areas.
Some of our woods might be small but they are mightily important for the people and wildlife that visit them. Looking after and protecting these small woodland sanctuaries in and around towns is so important. They provide space for people to relax, stroll, breathe and get close to nature. As havens for wildlife in busy concrete jungles, they are also well visited by our furry and feathered friends.
Unfortunately not all people who visit our woods show the same respect. So it’s also part of my job to make sure their actions don’t impact the woodland, visitors or wildlife that enjoy the woods. But support from local people and organisations and the value of these sites to people and wildlife makes my job worth it! Getting to visit these beautiful urban gems and seeing how much they mean to the people living near them is very rewarding.
8.30am: a fly-tipping incident starts the day!
I’m in the office when my phone rings - it’s not good news. A local neighbour phoned to let us know about a fly-tipping incident in our of our sites. We have to deal with it as soon as possible to avoid any damage to the site. And I don’t want to attract more fly-tipping, so I arrange for contractors to go to the site to clear it up.
Unfortunately this isn’t unusual. In 2016, we spent £162,000 across our estate clearing up littering and fly-tipping. On this occasion it’s a site where litter has been building up quite regularly. I begin to make arrangements for a litter pick with the support of the local ‘friends of’ group who help me look after the wood. Absolute champions.
10am: working together to protect woods from development
Quite a few of my sites are currently facing increased pressure from new local housing developments. Houses built directly adjacent to a wood can lead to more recreational pressure with associated issues such as littering, fly-tipping of garden waste, vandalism and fires.
Building houses and gardens directly next to our woods can also mean complaints from neighbours. Prompts for trees to be removed or cut back are common, and all of this can result in illegal felling of trees. This results in increased costs to the Trust as we have to carry out more tree safety work and thinning work along the woodland edge.
Over time new developments can lead to substantial damage to our woodland.
I spend some time on the phone discussing these challenges with our head office team. Together, we can work with local planning authorities to set a ‘buffer zone’ around our woods. This will help to protect the woodland from any new developments while also providing improved air quality and a green space for the new residents to enjoy.
12.45pm: forest school catch up
A forest school in the local area uses our woods to encourage local children to play and learn outdoors. I try to meet with them once or twice a year and keep in touch regularly to make sure that everything is going well. It's also important to check their visits are not having a detrimental impact on the wood.
One forest school has generated over 10,000 visits to our woods by local children and adults! This is a great way for us to help new people to learn about and enjoy trees and woods. It also shows the value of these woods to the community.
2pm: visiting a wood to prepare for tree work
One of our sites is due to have some thinning work completed, so I’ve headed over to monitor the work is being done correctly and safely - and check everything is on schedule.
To keep our urban woods accessible, it’s crucial that enough natural light is reaching the forest floor. Good sight lines are also important – these allow people to see into and through the wood and make it feel safer. This keeps our sites safe for the public to use and enjoy. It also helps ground flora to thrive and provides animals with the ground shelter they need.
In fact, site visits are a great opportunity to spot lots of local wildlife and today I was lucky enough to spot several herons perched in the trees by a pond in one of my woods.
4pm: conference call
I join a conference call with some fellow urban site managers across the UK. Many of my colleagues deal with similar challenges at their urban woods. These calls are an opportunity for us to:
discuss issues or threats to our urban woods
share information and best practice
make the right decisions for each site
make sure our woods are cared for as well as possible
help each other where we can.
The nature of my job means I’m often alone, so it’s really valuable to catch up with other site managers on these calls. It’s good to know that support is there, and to hear how local communities have helped support woodland in other towns and cities across the UK.
Help care for our urban woods
Urban woods are crucial. They are a haven for wildlife in our busy towns and cities and allow us to take a break from our busy lives and get close to nature. But keeping them clean, accessible and protected isn’t always straightforward.
We work hard to look after them. By becoming a member, you can help us to keep caring for our valuable woods. Together we can make our urban woods a better place for people and wildlife.