Tottington Woodlanders is a group of volunteers which was formed in 1992, and is affiliated to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT).
The group was formed to assist West Sussex County Council in the management of 13 acres (5.26 hectares) of Tottington Wood in Small Dole, West Sussex. This wood is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and is managed using a coppicing programme, which regenerates neglected woodland.
How it all started…
In 1991 Adur District Council promoted a project to develop the Adur Valley, for both conservation and recreation. The Council engaged a young graduate in Forestry, Richard Lord, to run the conservation side of the project. A reception was held to launch it and the Chairman of Upper Beeding Parish Council. She met with Richard who was interested in Small Dole because he had heard there was some ancient woodland there; which he would be interested to see. He visited the following week and was delighted, both by the age and variety, of the trees he found. He explained that such woodland, although small, should be properly managed and if possible a Nature Reserve created.
The Parish Council was very interested in this, and in February 1992 it sponsored a Public Meeting to discuss the scheme. At the meeting a lot of local interest was generated, and a group was formed with Richard Lord as leader and Ken Schrouder as Treasurer. Ken later became the Chairman and was the driving force behind the Tottington Woodlanders; as the group had now called themselves, until his death seven years later.
It was arranged that the 13 acres of Tottington Wood should be leased to West Sussex County Council, by Hopegar Properties (Mackley’s), and designated a Local Nature Reserve. Richard Lord acted as the agent fo the County Council with the support of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and the Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT).
Starting up a society is quite an undertaking!
Ken Schrouder became the first Chairman and had great expertise in finding and recruiting suitable people to make up a competent committee and working team. Likewise our mentor and advisor, Richard Lord, was able to give us practical and technical advice and to tap into numerous resources which showed us how to run a conservation organisation. Very soon it became obvious that Ken had persuaded the right person, Jean Avery, an ex-journalist, to be our first secretary and cope with the unbelievable amount of paperwork generated by a new society. There were start-up grants to apply for, minutes to take, umpteen letters to send out, not to mention a constitution to be written and a membership list to be compiled. Ken and Jean beavered away ceaselessly.
The floral and other surveys….
One of the first tasks thought to be necessary was to have a comprehensive survey of the plants in the wood. At first, all we knew was that we had an interesting piece of ancient woodland. Richard had already identified various plants – called “Ancient Woodland Indicator Species” – which proved this to be a fact.
On paper, we divided the wood into compartments, each having a Group Leader, proficient in plant identification; who could take a small number of members with them to search out, identify, and record every species of plant, its location, diversification and any interesting fact about it. We were lucky in being able to find enough knowledgeable people who would be willing to give their time and expertise.
It was decided to do a preliminary overall survey in the spring when the majority of plants were in flower, then do Spot Surveys monthly throughout the summer. Consequently, after a season we had a comprehensive knowledge of what we had in the wood. This task, needless to say, created another heap of paperwork. These surveys proved so successful that they were continued for some 5 years, giving us a record of how the wood was developing and changing, both due to our coppicing cycle and any extreme climatic conditions. For instance, after one very wet season, the wood showed an abundance of ferns and mosses, whereas during the following two very dry winters these decreased considerably.
Other surveys included:- bats, birds, fungi, molluscs, sedges and grasses. All these survey are lodged with the archives of the Sussex Biodiversity Recording Centre and can be updated when new species are noted.
Of all the surveys we have undertaken the first floral survey sticks in the memory. Tony Whitbread (Sussex Wildlife Trust) led a tutorial and walk on 7th.April 1992. It was the first major event of the Woodlanders, and an occasion for individuals to meet and get to know each other.
Progression into rural crafts….
By the summer we were itching to start coppicing, but as it was too early in the season a group of four attended a day course, led by Mick Freeman, on pole-lathe turning. This marked the start of our progression into rural crafts and green woodworking, which has been a significant feature of the group ever since.
Nature Reserve Status Granted!
Gradually the inaugural year rolled by and in November we were granted Local Nature Reserve status by English Nature. This both raised the profile of the Woodlanders and provided the wood with an enhanced degree of environmental protection. As the month progressed we had our first experience of cutting coppice, under the tutelage of Bob Lomas, and planted 439 whips of native tree species on the mounds around the pond, a our contribution to National Tree Week. After a year we felt able to develop a comprehensive guided walk leaflet, which was published to coincide with the Small Dole Horticultural Show of 1993. The leaflet was associated with numbered marker posts beside the various paths in the wood.
Unfortunately, one of the low points in our history was the vandalising of these posts in the following year. This was the first episode of vandalism that dogged our activities for a number of subsequent years.
Certificate of Achievement!
Despite the gloomy spectre of vandalism the organisation was developing a high profile, and in 1994 was shortlisted for the Shell Best of Britain Award. Sadly we did not win the award, but we were presented with a Certificate of Achievement, and a photograph of the wood featured in the Shell calendar of that year, which was their Silver Jubilee. They also presented us with a grant of £500, which paid for the two green barrows we use in the wood.
Tree Warden status and the South of England Show….
The following year we were successful in applying for Tree Warden status. This means that as an organisation we are known as a Collective Tree Warden. This gives us access to various training events and specialist advice which has proved very useful. Later in the year we made the first of two appearances on the West Sussex county Council stand of the South of England Show, where we had 1500 visitors over the course of three days.
1998, our annus horribilis…
The next couple of years saw us attending a range of fairs and continuing our coppice cycle. In particular the Members Winter Wassail was developing its distinctive much loved character. Then came 1998, our annus horribilis! February saw the departure of Crispin Scott, our great advocate from the County Council, to take up the post of Warden of Whitley Common. Within a month another of our champions, Margaret Mackley, had died, sadly very young. As we regrouped from these two losses tragedy struck for a third time, with the death of our chairman, Ken Schrouder. The year concluded in somber mood. Many thought the Woodlanders would collapse after so many blows, but this was not the case.
Margaret Mackley Memorial Path and BBC Radio 4….
Before he died Ken had initiated the development of a disabled access path. On his death Judith Goodinge took up the negotiations for funding with ENTRUST; and the Margaret Mackley Memorial Path was opened on the 8th. May 1999. Not only had the Woodlanders survived we were moving into high gear! By the end of the year we were featured on the BBC Radio 4 programme changing Places, which attracted national acclaim.
The millennium and the “Green Gym”….
To mark the millennium we produced a wall hanging, which we proudly hung in the village Hall, along with contributions from other organisations, on 14th. September 2000. Later in the year we arranged specific work days for organised groups of young people. This fitted well with our constitutional aims of providing education and practical conservation opportunities. At this point we also entered the early stages of negotiations to set up a Green Gym; which is a nationally recognised scheme for using conservation projects to promote fitness.
The sadness of the Foot and Mouth outbreak (which excluded us from the wood for a period) did not daunt us , and 2001 was spent largely planning the celebrations for our tenth birthday year. Our tenth birthday was celebrated with events in the wood, a celebratory publication.
So these are the highs and lows of our first ten years. Essentially the Woodlanders started as a strong and galvanising force, and despite a number of setbacks, have gone from strength to strength. The future of the wood is healthier and more secure now than it has been for a number of years. However, it is not the wood that makes the Woodlanders, it is the people. It is the membership which enabled all the fine achievements of our first ten years and it is those same people who continue to guide the wood safely into the future.